An opinion has been requested as to whether a social worker in a county department of social services may teach a graduate social work course at a college that has had student interns supervised by him in the course of his State duties.
This request was presented by an Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Human Resources (DHR) on behalf of a Social Worker III (the Employee) at the Montgomery County Department of Social Services (MCDSS or the Department). The Employee is in the Department's Division of Child Welfare Services. He serves as Director of the Monroe Street Shelter (the Shelter), a child welfare institution that provides 24-hour emergency shelter care to mild to moderately disturbed adolescents. The Shelter serves approximately 100 clients annually, and the Employee's duties include administrative duties, supervision of staff (including resident and part-time counselors), program development and evaluation, liaison with the community and other service agencies, and direct diagnostic and service support in care of residents. His duties also include work on an intern program described as "supervision of two students from various schools of Social Work assigned to the program by the agency's Training Division."
The question presented here has to do with the Employee's interest in teaching a graduate course in "Supervision and Administration in Human Services" at a private graduate and undergraduate college (the College) in Maryland. He indicates that the position came about through his contacts with the College as a supervisor of its student interns placed at the Shelter. Basically, this program is part of a cooperative effort between the Department's Training Office and area schools of social work. According to the Department's Training Office, this program is managed based on agreements with the participating colleges. These agreements are coordinated by the Department's Director of Training and signed by the Director of the Department, and as a general matter set forth the school's requirements for supervision of the students.
The Department's training director indicates that this program does not involve any exchange of funds or any direct tangible benefit to the Department. It is undertaken as a moral obligation to train social workers and contribute to the development of future professionals in the field. The decision (within the Department) as to which students will be assigned where, is primarily hers, based on submission by the field supervisors of a proposal outlining how they will manage their regular duties and fit student intern work into them. Interviews are set up between field supervisors and prospective interns, and the training director makes an assignment if there is a match on both sides. During the process of the internship, she meets with field supervisors and also with the students to provide general overview training as to the agency's program.
According to the Training Office, the Department may have three to four students during a year. The Department recruits students from three local schools (University of Maryland, Howard University, and Catholic University) that grant master's degrees in social work. Other institutions, such as the College, may approach the Department, or an internship may be initiated by a particular field supervisor. Some students may be assigned for one semester only, though most social workers prefer a longer assignment of one to two days per week for a full academic year. The training director indicates that many social workers do not want to do this because of the time involved and general lack of rewards. She expressed concern that the addition of outside employment restraints could further discourage involvement in the program.
The Chairperson of the College's Social Work Department has described the program from the school's point of view. She indicates that the College offers a bachelor's degree in social work. This degree requires students to have 480 hours of field instruction, and the school must offer this if it is to maintain its accreditation in this field. According to the Chairperson, the Department has approximately thirty social work students. Though some volunteer work is done by underclassmen, the official field experience is part of the senior year course work. It involves sixteen hours (or two working days) per week of field work, for six academic credits. A 3-credit methods course is taken in conjunction with the field instruction. The program is a 2-semester program, with a total of 18 credit hours.
Placements are selected by the Chairperson based on expressions of interest by the student. If a student, for example, indicates an interest in working in a hospital or nursing home environment, she will find a place that provides social work services in this environment, and work with that institution regarding an internship placement. She places students in public and private institutions in her own and two other counties, including Montgomery. She meets with the field supervisors prior to the beginning of an internship and also visits the agencies; she also teaches the methods class and thus sees the students on a regular basis as the internship progresses. The internship placements are made on an academic year basis. Placements are made in the Spring for the following academic year. For the past three years, the College has placed three students in the Department (one per year), all at the Monroe Street Shelter.
The Chairperson indicates that the College does not have any student interns in Montgomery County for the 1984-85 academic year. Though there is an agreement between MCDSS and the College that could be reactivated if a student were to be placed with the Department, it is not operational now, or apparently expected to be in the next academic year. The Chairperson has worked with the Employee in the past, however, and indicates her total dealings with and knowledge of him are the result of these official dealings. The course he has been invited to teach involves human services administration, which is generally what he does for the Department. It is a graduate course, the first one the College has offered, as it does not grant graduate degrees in social work. According to the Employee, he does not anticipate having a continuing relationship with the College; he expects this one summer course to be a one-time effort.
We have evaluated the circumstances of this request under the provisions of the Public Ethics Law (Article 40A, Annotated Code of Maryland, the Ethics Law), and conclude that none of these provisions would apply to bar this activity as the situation now stands. In our view, application of the Ethics Law provisions depends significantly on whether a College intern is placed in the Department. For example, §3-103(a)(1)(i) of the Law prohibits an official or employee from being employed by an entity that has or is negotiating a contract with his agency. Since there appears to be no currently operative agreement between the College and MCDSS, the strictly couched prohibition of this section does not apply.1
Nor do we believe that this situation raises issues under the inconsistent employment provisions of §3-103(a)(1)(ii). We have generally viewed this provision as a complement to the more strictly worded authority and contract provisions of subsection (a)(1)(i), applying it where there is some relationship between official duties and private affiliations that raises clear and serious concerns about the likelihood of a conflict of interest or appearance of conflict. Also, in recent opinions we have looked for some existing State duties that could be anticipated to be impacted by the private relationship. See, for example, Opinions No. 84-7, No. 84-6, No. 84-5, No. 83-39, and No. 83-30. FT#(2). The Employee does not now have any duties relating to the College and we do not believe that his past official involvement with the College, or the fact that his proposed College employment grew out of this official activity, would bring this situation within the inconsistent employment bar, especially in view of his stated intention that this course is a one-time effort.
We have also considered potential application of §3-104 of the Law to this situation. This section prohibits an official or employee from using the prestige of his office for his own benefit or that of another. We have generally applied this section to bar acceptance of fees or other payments for private services that flow directly and immediately from one's State duties, particularly where the private activity could reasonably have been expected to be done as part of official duties. Opinions No. 83-40, No. 83-9, and No. 83-4. We have also indicated, however, that use of general skills and expertise developed in State employment is not forbidden. Opinions No. 84-13, No. 83-11, No. 83-10, and No. 82-36. In our view, the course in issue here relates to the Employee's general expertise and would probably not be done in connection with official duties. Moreover, it is our understanding that the Employee was sought out by the College. We therefore do not believe that this situation presents the type of abuse of office intended to be addressed by §3-104.
Herbert J. Belgrad, Chairman
Reverend John Wesley Holland
Betty B. Nelson
Thomas D. Washburne
Date: August 14, 1984
1 We have, however, said that general exchange of services agreements can be contracts for purposes of §3-103(a)(1)(i), and if there were an agreement, this section could apply. The Employee should be aware of this, if the College were to place an intern in the Monroe Street Shelter or elsewhere in MCDSS, and should also be aware of possible application of the §3-101 participation provisions if his employment relationship with the College were to continue and an intern was proposed to be placed in the Shelter.
2 Except as otherwise specifically cited to the Maryland Register, Opinion citations are to Ethics Commission Opinions published at COMAR Title 19A.