Conflicts of Interest
It is important to remember that certain conflicts of interest are not merely an Ethics Board issue – they are a matter of state law. Under Wis. Stat. § 946.13, any public officer or public employee who does any of the following is guilty of a Class I felony:
(1) In his private capacity, negotiates or bids for or enters into a contract in which he has a private pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, if at the same time he is authorized or required by law to participate in his capacity as such officer or employee in the making of that contract or to perform in regard to that contract some official function requiring the exercise or discretion on his part.
(2) In his capacity as such officer or employee, participates in the making of a contract in which he has a private pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, or performs in regard to that contract some function requiring the exercise of discretion on his part.
Examples of conduct that violates Wis. Stat. § 946.13 include:
An official may avoid liability under this statute by abstaining from voting on or debating the contract or any matter relating to the contract and refraining from personally or by agent negotiating or entering into the contract in a private capacity or performing in regard to the contract some official function requiring the exercise of discretion. HOWEVER, an official may not avoid liability by abstaining from participation in the award of the contract if the official’s duties mandate that the official have some aspect of decision-making authority with respect to the contract and/or its implementation and execution.
For more information on conflicts of interest, please refer to the State Government Accountability Board or the District Attorney’s office. The Ethics Board does not have jurisdiction to prosecute violations of Wis. Stat. § 946.13.
In addition to Ethics Code issues, county officials and employees must be mindful of State Law related to their positions. Wis. Stat. § 946.12 provides that any public officer or employee who does any of the following in his or her official capacity is guilty of a Class I felony:
(1) Intentionally fails or refuses to perform a known mandatory, nondiscretionary, ministerial duty within the time or in the manner required by law.
(2) Does an act which the officer or employee knows exceeds his or her lawful authority or which the officer or employee knows he or she is forbidden by law to do in his or her official capacity.
(3) Exercises a discretionary power in a manner inconsistent with the officer’s or employee’s duties or the rights of others and with intent to obtain a dishonest advantage for himself or herself or another.
(4) Makes an entry in an account or record book or return, certificate, report or statement which in a material respect is intentionally falsified.
(5) Under color of the officer’s or employee’s office or employment, intentionally solicits or accepts for the performance of any service or duty anything of value which the officer or employee knows is greater or less than is fixed by law.
Examples of misconduct in public office include:
Performing campaign-related work using government resources.
Accepting money for official action.
Knowingly permitting a business or individual to operate in violation of the law.
The Ethics Board does not have jurisdiction to prosecute misconduct in public office. Any questions about misconduct in public office should be direct to the District Attorney’s office.
State Ethics Code
Wis. Stat. § 19.59 is the state ethics code. In general, Wis. Stat. § 19.59 contains two types of restrictions: those that restrict an official from personally profiting from holding public office (apart from salary and permitted expenses); and those that restrict an official from participating in a decision in which he or she has a personal financial interest.
The county Ethics Board does not have jurisdiction to prosecute violations of Wis. Stat. § 19.59. For more information on State of Wisconsin Ethics Code visit their website at http://ethics.state.wi.us/.
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