81.40

OPINION NO. 81-40

An opinion has been requested as to whether an employee of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene may lease office space to the Maryland Veterans Commission.

The Requestor here is a therapist for the Holly Center, a facility of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH). She is a resident of Crisfield, Maryland and owns an office building there. She operates a private business (unrelated to her DHMH job or to this request) in one of the two offices in the building. The Requestor indicates that these offices were designed to comply with State specifications regarding accessibility for handicapped persons. She states that this was done to meet the needs of her private business as well as in response to indications from the Maryland Veterans Commission (also located in Crisfield) that it would like to relocate its facilities in her building.

Though its plans changed and it decided against its original move, the Veterans Commission has again more recently determined to relocate its Crisfield facility in the Requestor's building. Contractual arrangements for negotiation and execution of the lease are handled for the agency by the Land Acquisition Division of the Department of General Services. The Crisfield office of the Veterans Commission deals primarily with veterans benefits claim processing. The Requestor's agency is involved in provision of health services. Her responsibilities with the Holly Center relate solely to work with the mentally retarded. She does not in her official duties have any relationship with the Veterans Commission or the Department of General Services, nor are the Veterans Commission or its activities regulated by the Holly Center or DHMH.

It is our opinion that the facts presented here do not raise a conflict of interest under the Maryland Public Ethics Law (Article 40A, Annotated Code of Maryland, the Ethics Law). In our Opinion No. 80-12 we considered a similar request involving a lessor/lessee relationship between the State and a State employee. In that case, a Division Chief in the Drug Abuse Administration in DHMH sought to lease space in a State office building for a private business. The Department of General Services handled the lease for the State. We concluded in that case that neither§ 3-101 (prohibiting employee's participation in matters in which they or business entities with which they are connected have an interest) nor§ 3-103(a) (prohibiting employees from holding certain interests in entities that are under the authority of or contract with their agency) of the Ethics Law per se prohibits an employee from having business dealings with the State. We also found that the facts of that situation did not present an issue regarding the Ethics Law's§ 3-104 prohibition against use of the prestige of one's office for one's own personal gain or that of another.

We believe that the principles discussed in Opinion No. 80-12 apply to the situation presented here. Nothing in this proposed lease transaction appears to fit within the prohibitions set forth in the applicable provisions of the Ethics Law, or to otherwise involve the Requestor in improper relationships between her private interests and her public duties. Nor is there any action here, involving the lease, in which she would be participating as a DHMH employee. Further, nothing here appears to involve the Requestor in a contract with an entity subject to DHMH regulation, nor does the proposed lease seem to place her in a position where her impartiality or independence of judgment would be impaired. Moreover, there are no facts presented to indicate that the Requestor improperly used her office to obtain information or otherwise advance her private interests in the proposed lease.

We therefore conclude that the situation presented by the Requestor regarding this proposed lease does not result in a conflict of interest under the Maryland Public Ethics Law.

Herbert J. Belgrad, Chairman
    Jervis S. Finney
    Reverend John Wesley Holland
    Betty B. Nelson
    Barbara M. Steckel

Date: October 15, 1981