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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Acceptance of gifts by public officials


Acceptance of gifts by public officials
Decision of the Commissioner of Education, Decision No. 15,486

Members of the Board of Education of the Massapequa Union Free School District attended a social event sponsored by the board’s attorneys. Paul Dashefsky, claiming that as the fair market value of the reception was between $200 and $300 per person, complained that such attendance constituted a violation of district policy and General Municipal Law §805-a.

He asked the Commissioner to rule that the board members’ attendance constituted a violation of law and district policy. He also asked the Commissioner to direct the board members “to cease and desist from accepting any prohibited gifts.” Finally, Dashefsky wanted the Commissioner to direct the board members “to publicly disclose all gifts accepted during their term of service;” and to reimburse the district for the fair market value of any gifts accepted in violation of law or district policy.

Although the Commissioner dismissed Dashefsky’s appeal as untimely, he said that “Even if it were not dismissed on procedural grounds, the appeal would be dismissed on the merits.”


Dashefsky had the burden of demonstrating a clear legal right to the relief he sought and the burden of establishing the facts upon which he seeks relief. The Commissioner said that Dashefsky’s claim that the cost of the reception was between $200 and $300 per person was mere speculation as there was nothing in the record to confirm this allegation. Accordingly, said the Commissioner, Dashefsky failed to establish that the dollar limit set out in the statute or the policy had been violated..

The Commissioner, however, said that he felt “compelled to remind [the board members] of the gift prohibitions in the General Municipal Law and their obligations thereunder.” General Municipal Law §805-a(1) states:

No municipal officer or employee shall: a. directly or indirectly, solicit any gift, or accept or receive any gift having a value of seventy-five dollars or more, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment, hospitality, thing or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it could reasonably be inferred that the gift was intended to influence him, or could reasonably be expected to influence him, in the performance of his official duties or was intended as a reward for any official action on his part.

The Commissioner cautioned:

“A violation of §805-a(1) occurs not only where there is an intent to influence or reward an official but also in instances where there is an appearance that a gift will influence the official (Op Atty Gen No. 89-48). Under this standard, it may “reasonably be inferred” that the reception was intended to influence, or “could reasonably be expected to influence” the board’s decision to continue its business relationship with the law firm or to reward the board for past actions, including the retention of the firm’s services.

“As public officials, board members must avoid even the appearance of impropriety. (Op Atty Gen No. 89-48). I thus encourage the individual board members to be scrupulous in their adherence to the gift prohibitions contained in General Municipal Law §805-a(1) and board policy.”

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