Friday, February 10, 2012

Both the New York City’s Conflicts of Interest Law and §§3020 and 3020-a of the Education Law apply to a New York City educator

Both the New York City’s Conflicts of Interest Law and §§3020 and 3020-a of the Education Law apply to a New York City educator
Rosenblum v New York City Conflicts of Interest Bd., 2012 NY Slip Op 00854, Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals held that the Conflicts of Interest Board of the City of New York (COIB) is authorized to enforce the Conflicts of Interest Law set out in the New York City Charter §§2600-2607, with respect to a public servant who is also subject to disciplinary action pursuant to §§3020 and 3020-a of the Education Law.*

Accordingly, said the court, the Appellate Division had improperly barred the City's Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) from proceeding with an administrative trial against a tenured educator employed in the City's public school system.

COBI alleged that the educator had violated §2604(b)(3) of the Conflicts of Interest Law, which prohibits a public servant from "us[ing] or attempt[ing] to use his or her position as a public servant to obtain any . . . private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant or any person or firm associated with the public servant.” It served the educator with a copy of its petition asking OATH to find that the educator had, in fact, “violated the law and to impose a $10,000 fine (the maximum allowed at the time) and grant such further relief as might be just and proper.”

The educator asked OATH to dismiss COBI’s petition, contending that “Education Law §§3020, 3020-a and 2590-j (7),** as supplemented by the collective bargaining agreement between the New York City Department of Education and his union, the Council of Supervisors and Administrators, Local 1, AFSA, AFL-CIO (CSA), was the exclusive method for disciplining a tenured pedagogue.”
 
Noting that §2603(h)(2) of the Conflicts of Interest Law requires COBI to refer an alleged ethics violation to the public servant's employing agency before holding a hearing, and for that agency to consult with COBI before making a final decision, the court said “This certainly makes sense as the employing agency may not otherwise be aware of the circumstances underlying the alleged ethics violation and is free to pursue a wider range of penalties for misconduct than [COBI,]”

However, said the court, this requirement does not mean the COBI is precluded from proceeding if the agency decides not to pursue disciplinary charges against the public servant for an ethics violation. Further, noted the court, §2603(h)(6) of the Conflicts of Interest Law specifically provides that COBI “is not prevented from acting where the employing agency, in fact, decides to terminate or otherwise discipline a public servant.”

As COBI, explained the court, may still act when the employing agency has imposed discipline, there is no basis for interpreting the Conflicts of Interest Law as forbidding COBI from acting where the agency has elected not to pursue disciplinary action, especially since such a decision does not connote vindication.

* The court decided that the Conflicts of Interest Law was not inconsistent with §§3020 and 3020-a of the Education Law and did not address the educator’s argument that “in the event of a conflict” §§3020 and 3020-a would necessarily trump the Conflicts of Interest Law.

** Presumably the same would be true with respect to individuals subject to disciplinary action pursuant to §75 of the Civil Service Law or disciplinary procedures negotiated pursuant to Civil Service Law §76.4, as the court noted that over 90% of the City's workforce “is entitled to the civil service protections afforded by §3020-a or similar provisions of State law.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_00854.htm

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/

Challenging Adverse Personnel Decisions 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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