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Lowell Folk Festival

The Grant Cycle

Conflict of Interest

This information is not intended as legal advice and only serves as general guidance on how to comply with the conflict of interest law. If a conflict of interest situation arises for any Local Cultural Council member, they should obtain legal advice prior to engaging in any conduct which might violate the conflict of interest law. The State Ethics Commission’s Legal Division is available to provide free, confidential legal advice to any LCC member during business hours every weekday at 617-371-9500. As special municipal employees, LCC members are required to complete the state’s Conflict of Interest Law online training program.

The purpose of the conflict of interest law, Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 268A, is to ensure that public employees’ (including Local Cultural Council members) private financial interests and personal relationships do not conflict with their public obligations. Public employees must also avoid conduct which creates an appearance of conflict of interest or conduct which creates a reasonable impression that they will act with bias.

The LCC program guidelines allow individual LCC members to apply for funds. Some LCCs and municipalities welcome proposals from members, while others develop local policies prohibiting members from being applicants while serving on the LCC. This decision should be based on the resources and interests of the community, local demands for funding, and maintenance of a fair and impartial grant process. If an LCC member plans to apply, it is important to carefully follow appropriate conflict of interest procedures.

Some of the scenarios below indicate that an LCC member must abstain from participating in the review of an application due to a conflict of interest. If the application is awarded a grant, LCC members who abstained from reviewing the application should also abstain from participating in the review of project modifications or extension requests and should not review or approve payments to the grantee. The conflict of interest law regulates the following situations that may arise:

LCC member applying for a grant
When an LCC member applies for a grant from the cultural council on which they serve, there are three important steps to avoid a conflict of interest:

  1. The LCC member cannot participate in the LCC’s consideration of their own application for a grant. The member should make a verbal disclosure at the voting meeting which will be recorded in the minutes and then leave the room during the discussion and voting of their grant application. To protect the LCC from accusations of biased decision-making it is important to record who abstained from which grant decisions in the meeting minutes.
  2. It is possible that their financial interest could be affected by participating in discussion and awarding other grants that are in competition with their grant for a limited pool of funds. To avoid this possibility, the LCC member should abstain from those applications unless, prior to participating in the matter, the LCC member makes a written disclosure to their appointing authority and receives an exemption allowing them to participate in the review of the other grants.
  3. When LCC members are faced with an application from a fellow LCC member, all members who are voting on the grant from the current LCC member should file written disclosures with their appointing authority prior to taking action on the grant request. This will dispel any appearance of a conflict of interest.

An LCC member applying for a grant on behalf of someone else
An LCC member may not apply for a grant on someone else’s behalf from the cultural council on which they serve – regardless of whether they are paid to do so. This prohibition includes signing a grant application and representing or advocating for the application before the LCC.

LCC members may offer standard guidance to applicants (i.e. can answer questions about the guidelines, help with filling out the budget, etc.) but they may not complete or present an application for funding in the capacity of an advocate or agent for that application.

Examples include:

  • An LCC member, who is also employed by the public school, completes the school’s grant application for an enrichment program and submits the application to their own council.
  • To assist an applicant, an LCC member completes the application for them.
  • An LCC member who volunteers for the library completes the library’s application to their own council.

An LCC member, their immediate family, or an organization they are affiliated with has a financial interest in a grant
If an LCC member, their immediate family (immediate family includes the member’s spouse, both sets of parents, children, brothers, and sisters), or an organization they are affiliated with has a financial interest in a grant, the LCC member must either:

Abstain from participating in the review of the grant application. The member should leave the room during the discussion and voting. To protect the LCC from accusations of biased decision-making, it is important to record who abstained from which grant decisions in the meeting minutes. Mass Cultural Council recommends this course of action.

OR

Prior to participating in the matter, the LCC member can make a written disclosure to the appointing authority and request an exemption allowing them to participate. They can participate only if the exemption is approved. A verbal disclosure should also be made at the voting meeting and recorded in the minutes.

Examples include:

  • A member of an LCC’s immediate family applies to the LCC they serve on or will accept compensation to perform in a program funded by the LCC.
  • An LCC member is an officer, director, trustee, partner, or employee of an organization applying for the grant.
  • An organization submits a grant for an event at which an LCC member will be a paid performer.
  • An LCC member is a teacher at a school and another teacher from the same school is applying to their LCC for a grant or an LCC member volunteers at the library and the library applies to their LCC for a grant.
  • An LCC member who owns a company patronized by LCC grant applicants, where grant money is likely to be used to make purchases from their company.

An affiliate of an LCC member or non-immediate family member has a financial interest in a grant
If an affiliate of an LCC member or relative beyond a member’s immediate family (i.e. cousin, aunt, nephew, etc.) applies for or will benefit financially from a grant, the LCC member must either:

Abstain from participating in the review of the grant application. The member should leave the room during the discussion and voting. To protect the LCC from accusations of biased decision-making, it is important to record who abstained from which grant decisions in the meeting minutes. Mass Cultural Council recommends this course of action.

OR

Prior to participating in the matter, the LCC member can make a written disclosure to the appointing authority and request an exemption allowing them to participate. They can participate only if the exemption is approved. A verbal disclosure should also be made at the voting meeting and recorded in the minutes.

Examples include:

  • A member of an LCC’s non-immediate family applies to the LCC or will accept compensation to perform in a program sponsored by the LCC.
  • A friend of an LCC member applies to the LCC for a grant or will accept compensation to perform in a program sponsored by the LCC.

Restrictions for former members
A former LCC member may never act on another party’s behalf on any matter in which they participated while an LCC member. For example, if an LCC member reviewed and approved an application for an arts festival and then after leaving the LCC becomes a volunteer for the festival, that former member cannot submit a request for an extension or project modification to the LCC on behalf of the festival.

An LCC is faced with an application from a former member
When LCC members are faced with an application from a former LCC member, they can award a grant to the former LCC member providing that they act on the merits of the application and not because of their relationship with their former colleague. All LCC members who worked with the former LCC member should file written disclosures with their appointing authority to dispel any appearance of a conflict of interest prior to taking action on the grant request.

Using one’s LCC position to obtain benefits for oneself or others
An LCC member may not award a grant to an applicant if at the same time they are negotiating for employment with the applicant. LCC members also cannot exploit grant applications to create foreseeable future opportunities for compensated work and then take advantage of those opportunities.

Examples include:

  • An LCC member who votes to approve a grant that would create a position compensated by the grant money at an organization cannot then assume that position once it is created.
  • An LCC member who is a musician cannot approve a grant for a group to put on a music festival and then become a paid performer for that festival.

Holding another municipal position in addition to the LCC position, including second positions that are part-time and unpaid
LCC members are considered special municipal employees for purposes of the conflict of interest law. A special municipal employee who is a full-time, part-time, or unpaid employee of the municipality in another capacity must at a minimum file a disclosure with the city or town clerk and may be required to receive an exemption from the board of aldermen, city council, or board of selectmen to serve on the Local Cultural Council.

Giving, requesting, or receiving “gifts” related to LCC work
It is illegal to request or accept anything of “substantial value” (more than $50) from anyone with whom you have or are likely to have official dealings (absent some family or social relationship which would explain the gift) even if the motivation for the gift is to express gratitude for a job well done or to foster goodwill. Items of “substantial value” range from cash, additional compensation, and tips to free tickets and passes to entertainment events. In addition, free or discounted services such as construction or accounting work are considered gifts.

Acting in a manner that suggests one can be improperly influenced
The conflict of interest law prohibits all public employees from seeking or receiving bribes, gifts, promises, or anything else of value in return for an official favor or a promise of action or inaction. In addition, the law prohibits public employees from accepting anything of value in exchange for committing any fraud on a state, county, or municipal agency (or allowing anyone else to commit such a fraud).

A public employee violates this section if the employee acts with “corrupt intent”. As a general rule, whenever there is an agreement that a public official will receive something of value from a private party for certain official action (or inaction), that agreement is sufficient evidence that the public employee is acting with corrupt intent.

Abstentions affecting the quorum
It may occur that an LCC has more than one member who has a conflict and are therefore abstaining on a particular grant application. If such disqualification reduces the number of members who can participate below a quorum (a majority of the Local Cultural Council) please call your staff contact at Mass Cultural Council to determine how to proceed.

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