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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Oath of office upon the appointment of a public officer or a public employee


Oath of office upon the appointment of a public officer or a public employee
A NYPPL review

When Lance Eggleston was appointed to the Village of Hamburg's Environmental Commission, he said that he wanted to postpone his filing his oath to support the Federal and State Constitutions until he had a chance to read the New York State Constitution. What, if any, impact could a delay in his filing his oath of office have on Eggleston's status on the commission?

First, some background concerning the filing of an oath of office by a public officer or a public employee.*

Individuals are typically required to execute an “oath of office” upon their initial appointment to a position in the public service. Section 62 of the Civil Service Law, for example, requires “every person employed by the state or any of its civil divisions” to execute a “Constitutional Oath of Office.”

If the individual refuses or willfully fails to file the “Section 62 oath”, his or her employment is to be terminated until the oath is taken and filed with the appropriate body.**

Similarly, Section 10 of the Public Officers Law mandates that “every officer” take and file “the oath of office required by law” before he or she may “enter upon the discharge” of any official duties.

What is the penalty if a public officer does not file a timely oath? Section 30.1 of the Public Officers Law provides that if an individual refuses or neglects to file his or her official oath within thirty days of the beginning of his or her term of office, the office becomes “vacant.”

In contrast to Civil Service Law Section 62's provision for the “reinstatement” of the terminated individual to employment once his or her oath is filed, nothing in Section 30.1 of the Public Officers Law provides for “automatic reinstatement” of the individual upon his or her filing of the required oath once the position becomes vacant “by operation of law.”

Presumably the individual must be reappointed to the position if he or she is to hold the office, at which time he or she would be required to file a new and timely Constitutional Oath of Office.

As to Eggleston's situation, it appears that Eggleston wanted delay his filing because he wanted to know what he would be swearing to uphold before he actually swore to support the State Constitution. In explaining his action, Eggleston said “[i]t's like signing a blank check.” In any event, Eggleston, as a public officer, will have thirty days to file his oath or the office to which he had been appointed will become vacant as mandated by Section 30.1.

It is noteworthy that Eggleston had recently retired from his position as a technology coordinator at the Hamburg Central Schools. Presumably he had executed the oath to support the Federal and State constitutions mandated of “any citizen of the United States [employed] to serve as teacher, instructor or professor in any school or institution in the public school system of the state ...” as required by Section 3002 of the Education Law upon his initial appointment by the school district.

The Constitutional oath of office required by the Civil Service Law, the Education Law, the Public Officers Law and similar provisions must be distinguished from so-called “loyalty oath” established pursuant to “anti-subversive activities” laws that were set out in former Section 105 of the Civil Service Law.

Section 105 [originally enacted as Section 12-a of the Civil Service Law of 1909] made individuals advocating the overthrow of government by force or unlawful means ineligible for employment in the public service of the State or any of its political subdivisions.

Section 105 was repealed following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the Keyishian case. In Keyishian, the high court held that State laws similar to Section 105, Sections 3021 and 3022 of the Education Law, were unconstitutional [Keyishian v Board of Regents, 87 SCt 675]. Sections 3021 and 3022 were enacted to provide for the “elimination of subversive persons from the public school system.”

* While not all public employees are public officers, all public officers are public employees.

** An individual affiliated with, or a member of, an Indian nation is permitted to file an alternate to the oath set out in Section 62.

Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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