Special Municipal Employees
The conflict of interest law, G.L.c. 268A, covers all municipal officials and employees, whether elected or appointed, paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time. However, two section of the conflict law apply less restrictively to those part-time or unpaid municipal officials who have been designated as "special municipal employees".
"Special Municipal Employee" status can be assigned to certain municipal positions by a vote of the board of selectmen, board of alderman, town council or city council. Several specific municipal positions are automatically designated as "special" under the law. Your position is eligible to be designated as a "special municipal employee" position provided that:
- you are not paid; or
- you hold a part-time position which allows you to work at another job during normal working hours; or
- you were not paid by the city or town for more than 800 working hours (approximately 20 weeks full-time) during the preceding 365 days.
It is the municipal position that is designated as having "special" status, not the individual. Therefore, all employees holding the same office or position must have the same classification as "special municipal employees". For instance, one member of a school committee cannot be classified as a "special" unless all members are similarly classified
The designation may be made by a formal vote of the board of selectmen, board of aldermen, town council or city council at any time. Votes should be taken individually for each board or position being designated – expressly naming the positions being designated. Once a position is designated as having "special" status, it remains a "special municipal employee" position unless and until the classification is rescinded. A list of all the "special municipal employee" positions should be on file at the town or city clerk's office. This list should also be filed with the Ethics Commission.
Under no circumstances may a mayor, city councilor, town councilor, alderman, or selectman in a town with a population of more than 10,000 be designated as a "special". However, in towns of 10,000 or less, selectmen are automatically considered "special" employees. Other municipal positions in towns with a population of less than 10,000 must still be designated as "special municipal employee" positions by the selectmen.
The Legislature may also designate certain positions to have "special municipal employee" status. For example, board members and part-time employees of local housing and redevelopment authorities are defined by law as "special municipal employees" and do not need to have local authorities approve their designations as "specials". (See G.L. c. 121B, § 7.)
THE CONFLICT LAW IS LESS RESTRICTIVE FOR "SPECIALS"
Only two sections of the conflict of interest law apply less restrictively to "specials" – §§ see 17 and see 20. All other sections of the conflict law that govern regular municipal employees apply to "special municipal employees" in exactly the same way. See the Summary of the Conflict Law for Municipal Managers or the Practical Guide to the Conflict Law for Municipal Employees (PDF) for information on your responsibilities under the law (these publications are available from the State Ethics Commission). Remember that even if you serve on an unpaid part-time board or commission, you are still considered a regular municipal employee, unless your position has been expressly designated as having "special municipal employee" status.
* * * The definition of "special municipal employee" can be found in Section 1(n) of the conflict of interest law (G.L. c. 268A). Note that town councils are empowered by G.L. c. 39, §1 to exercise all duties and powers of boards of aldermen.
* * * Commission Fact Sheets are prepared and issued by the Public Education Division of the State Ethics Commission. They are intended to provide guidance to public officials and employees concerning practical applications of the conflict law. For further information, contact your town counsel or city solicitor, or the Legal Division of the State Ethics Commission.