84.01

OPINION NO. 84-1

The Ethics Commission has been requested to provide advice as to whether a social worker doing intake work in the Montgomery County Department of Social Services (DSS) may work part-time for a private social services agency located in Prince George's County.

This request is presented by a Department of Human Resources (DHR) Assistant Attorney General on behalf of a Social Worker I in the Montgomery County DSS (the Employee), who works as an intake worker in the agency's Adult and Family Service Unit. The Employee's duties are almost entirely directed to serving agency clients in their initial contact or request for services. He indicates that while he may provide some actual services, such as providing general information or assisting in completion of applications, he does not as a general matter do any clinical counseling work in his State job. He states that for any in-depth assistance his responsibility is to refer the client, either to another unit within the agency, to another local agency (such as the Health Department), or to a private service entity. Referrals to private entities are based on reference to the Montgomery County Guide to Community Resources. The Employee states that his agency serves only Montgomery County residents and that he does not and cannot make referrals to Prince George's (PG) County entities.

The Employee is engaged in outside employment in the Marriage and Family Counseling Unit of Family Service of Prince George's County, Inc. This employment, which began in August, was acquired through participation in a social worker's job listing cooperative in the District of Columbia, and involves provision of counseling to individuals and couples at an office in the Family Service main facility. He works Monday evenings and Saturday mornings and is paid on a contractual basis depending on client interviews. The Employee's immediate supervisor at DSS confirms that their office generally does not make referrals to PG County or otherwise deal with the Prince George's County Family Service office. Only Montgomery County residents are handled by the DSS in Montgomery County. Moreover, the supervisor indicates that the major bulk of outside referrals handled by the agency involve housing resources. Counseling referrals are generally to field staff within the Department. The supervisor has indicated that she sees no basis for problems with the Employee's engaging in this type of outside employment with a PG County entity.

Family Service is an entity operating solely in Prince George's County. According to its Executive Director, it is not in any way affiliated with Family Service in Montgomery County. With the exception of its program for the deaf and hearing impaired (operated under contract with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH)) the organization accepts clients only from within PG County. Neither the Executive Director nor the Employee's immediate supervisor at Family Service are aware of any referrals being accepted from the Montgomery County DSS. The Executive Director estimates that referrals from the Prince George's County DSS represent less than 5 percent of its clientele. The agency apparently has no contracts with any DSS or the Department of Human Resources.

This request involves application of the outside employment provisions of §3-103(a)(1) of the Public Ethics Law (Article 40A, §3-103(a), Annotated Code of Maryland, the Ethics Law). We do not believe that either subsections (a)(1)(i) or (a)(1)(ii) of this section would apply here. Subsection (a)(1)(i) bars outside employment with an entity that is under the authority of one's agency or that has contractual relationships with it. Legal counsel in DHR indicate that it does not have regulatory or other authority relationships with private social service entities such as Family Service. Nor apparently does the agency or any of its local departments have contractual dealings with the entity.1 Moreover, though Family Service may accept referrals from the PG County DSS, we do not believe that this referral relationship in itself (without any care actually paid for by DHR) results in a contractual relationship between DHR and Family Service. It is therefore our opinion that the employment involved here does not result in a violation of the strict provisions of subsection (a)(1)(i).

Nor do we believe that the circumstances of this situation bring it within the more general inconsistent employment provision of §3-103(a)(1)(ii). In this regard, we have considered application of our Opinion No. 83-7,2 which involved an individual who performed intake functions for her agency. That situation, however, differed significantly from the circumstances presented here, since the individual's outside employer was within her agency's jurisdiction and actually received regular referrals from intake personnel at the agency. We think that the jurisdictional differences between the Requestor's DSS job (Montgomery County) and Family Service of Prince George's County make this request more like our Opinion No. 82-49. This Opinion involved several social workers in Baltimore City who wished to establish a private practice dealing solely with clients in Baltimore County. In this situation where there was no overlap in client population and where the private activity was unlikely to be in any way impacted by the employees' official duties, we concluded that there was no impairment of judgment as contemplated in §3-103(a)(1)(ii).

We believe that the same approach applies here, and therefore advise the Requestor that his employment with Family Service of Prince George's County is not in violation of §3-103(a) of the Ethics Law, so long as the entity does not contract with his agency, and to the extent that the geographical/jurisdictional circumstances continue to ensure that there is no potential relationship between his official duties and private activities.

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

Date: January 26, 1984

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1 The Ethics Commission's 1982 list of entities doing business with the State lists Family Service of Prince George's County as having two contracts with DHMH.

2 10:8 Md. R. 738 (April 15, 1983); except as expressly cited to the Maryland Register, Opinion citations are to Commission Opinions published at COMAR Title 19A.