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Section 20
Restrictions on Having an Interest in Contracts with your City or Town
Section 20 generally prohibits municipal employees from having a direct or indirect financial interest in a contract with their city or town.  However, there are many exemptions in this section of the law.  For instance, a municipal employee may own less than 1% of the stock of a company that does business with the municipality.

Also, a municipal employee may have a financial interest in a contract with a municipal department which is completely independent of the one where he works, provided that the contract has been publicly advertised or competitively bid, and the employee has filed a disclosure of his interest in the contract with the city or town clerk.  Note that there are additional requirements for personal services contracts:  contact your town counsel or city solicitor or the State Ethics Commission’s Legal Division for more information.

            However, if you are a “special municipal employee”, you have two additional exemptions to § 20:

  • As a “special municipal employee”, you may hve a financial interest in a contract with a department which is completely independent of the one where you work, provided that you file a disclosure of your interest in the contract with the city or town clerk (there is no “public notice” or “competitive bid” requirement for this “special municipal employee” exemption).
  • As a “special municipal employee”, you may even have a financial interest in a contract with your own department (or with a department which has overlapping jurisdiction with your department), provided that you file a disclosure of your interest in the contract with the city or town clerk and the board of selectmen, board of aldermen, town council or city council vote to grant you an exemption to § 20.

Example:  You are a member of the School Committee, which has been given “special municipal employee” status.  You also own a hardware store in town.

  • You may sell light bulbs to the town’s Department of Public Works, because Public Works is not under the jurisdiction of the School Committee; however, you must file a disclosure of your interest in the light bulb sales with the Town Clerk
  • You also may sell light bulbs to the School Department (which is under the School Committee’s jurisdiction), but only if you file a disclosure of your interest in the light bulb sales with the Town Clerk and the Board of Selectmen vote to exempt your light bulb sales from the restrictions of § 20.

For more information about restrictions on holding an interest in municipal contracts, contact your city solicitor or town counsel or the Legal Division of the State Ethics Commission.

Restrictions on Holding Multiple Municipal Positions
Because the restrictions of § 20 also apply to employment contracts, municipal employees are generally prohibited from holding more than one municipal position.  However, there are many exemptions to this general prohibition.  If you are a municipal employee – regular or “special” – you may:

  • hold any number of unpaid positions, because you do not have a financial interest in any of the positions (however, if you hold even one paid appointed position, you must look for other exemptions);
  • hold any number of elected positions, whether paid or unpaid, because you serve in those positions by virtue of your election, rather than because of an appointment or employment contract (however, if you hold even one paid appointed position, you must look for other exemptions); and
  • in some instances, you may hold more than one paid appointed position, provided that the jobs are in separate departments (which do not have overlapping responsibilities) and all paid jobs have been publicly advertised.  However, your board of selectmen, board of aldermen, town council or city council must vote to exempt you from §20, and there are also other requirements you must meet.  For more information, request Advisory No. 7: Multiple Office Holding from the State Ethics Commission’s Legal Division.
  • If you serve in a town with a population of less than 3,500, you may hold more than one position with the town if the board of selectmen formally approves the additional appointments

If you are a “special municipal employee”, you may also:

  • hold any number of other “special municipal employee” positions, provided that the positions are with totally independent departments and you file a disclosure of your financial interest in all the positions with the city or town clerk;
  • hold any number of other “special municipal employee” positions, even if the departments’ jurisdictions overlap, provided that you file a disclosure of your financial interest in all the positions with the city or town clerk, and the board of selectmen, board of alderman, town council or city council vote to exempt you from §20.

Example:  As a Cemetery Commissioner, you are a “special municipal employee”.

  • You may also hold “special municipal employee” positions on the Board of Library Trustees and on the Waterways Commission, because the three positions are completely independent of each other.  However, you must file a disclosure of your financial interest (e.g., stipends, per diem payments, salary) in the positions with the Town Clerk.

If you wish to hold a “special municipal employee” position with the Department of Public Works (which maintains buildings on the cemetery grounds) or as the town’s Tree Warden (who cares for the trees on the cemetery grounds), you must file a disclosure of your financial interest in the positions with the Town Clerk, and the Board of Selectmen must vote to exempt you from §20.

For more information about holding more than one municipal position, request Advisory No. 7: Multiple Office Holding from the State Ethics Commission, or contact your town counsel or city solicitor or the Legal Division of the State Ethics Commission.