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Section 17
Acting on Behalf of Others
Section 17 generally prohibits municipal employees from representing a private party before municipal boards or departments.  It also prohibits municipal employees from acting as agent (or attorney) for a private party in connection with any manner of direct and substantial interest to their city or town.  Finally, it prohibits municipal employees from accepting pay or other compensation in connection with any matter of direct and substantial interest to their municipality.

However, if you are a “special municipal employee”, you may:

  • represent private parties before municipal boards other than your own, provided that you have not officially participated in the matter and the matter is not now (and was not within the past year) within your official responsibility;
  • act as an agent for private parties in connection with the matter of interest to your city or town, provided that you have not participated in the matters as a municipal official, and that the matter is not (and has not been, during the past year) within your official responsibility;
  • receive pay or other compensation in connection with matters involving your city or town, provided that you have not officially participated in the matters and they are not (and have not been, within the past year) within your official responsibility.

Example: You are a Conservation Commissioner.  The Commission has been given “special municipal employee” status.  You are also an engineer in private practice in town. 

  • You may be hired as site engineer and represent a private development company at a Planning Board  hearing, as long as the hearing does not in any way involve Conservation Commission matters.
  • However, if the hearing is about a wetlands dispute, you could not represent the developer before the Planning Board because the matter is under your official responsibility as Conservation Commissioner. 
  • Also, if you prepare site plans, blueprints, structural analyses or other professional documents, you may not allow the developer to submit those materials to the Conservation Commission (or to any other municipal boards, in connection with matters under the Conservation Commission’s responsibility). 
  • Also, you may not be paid for giving the developer advice about how to get his project approved by the Conservation Commission, or for any other activity related to the Conservation Commission process.

Note that the prohibition against “acting as agent” covers any type of activity that involves representing someone other than your city or town.  Activities which can be considered “acting agent” include:  serving as someone’s spokesperson; making phone calls or writing letters; acting as a liaison; affixing professional seals or signing supporting documentation; and participating as an electrician; plumber or other contractor during municipal building inspections. For more information about § 17, see Advisory No. 13: Municipal Employees Acting as Agent from the State Ethics Commission.