Ethics

I. GIFTS

What are the Rules?

Please be reminded that the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) through the Public Officers Law has established a zero tolerance policy regarding gifts greater than nominal value, from prohibited or disqualified sources (“disqualified sources”). Accordingly, as a CUNY employee you cannot solicit or accept gifts, of any value, either directly or indirectly, from any disqualified source, regardless of whether the gift was intended to influence or reward you. For CUNY purposes, disqualified sources, such as vendors, students, parents and publishers, include not only those persons and business entities with which CUNY or its constituent Colleges are doing business, but also those persons and business entities interested in doing business with CUNY, or its constituent Colleges, or who have a history of doing business with CUNY or any of its constituent Colleges in the recent past.

Due to recent changes in the New York State Public Officers Law redefining exclusions to the definition of gifts, CUNY employees may accept food or beverage valued at $15 or less without restriction on the source, the place or purposes of receipt (Public Integrity Reform Act (“PIRA”), Chapter 399 of the Laws of 2011).


Definitions:

What is a Disqualified Source?

Under the Public Officers Law, a disqualified source is defined as “a person or entity that is regulated by, does business with, appears before or negotiates with your agency; lobbies or has litigation adverse to your agency; applies for or receives funds from your agency; or contracts with your agency or another agency when your agency receives the benefit of the contract.” This would include a vendor, a company seeking to do business with CUNY, a publisher seeking a favorable review of a proposed textbook, a bookstore, a student or a parent seeking a better grade, or some other preferential treatment, a favorable decision or determination or something else of value.

 

What Penalties are Involved?

A CUNY employee who accepts a gift, in violation of these rules, could be subject to a civil penalty of up to $40,000, and be criminally charged with a Class A misdemeanor. For current enforcement actions which are published on JCOPE’s web go to: http://www.jcope.ny.gov/enforcement/

 

What is a Gift?

  • The term “gift” shall mean anything of more than nominal value given to a public official in any form including, but not limited to, money, service, loan, travel, lodging, meals, refreshments, entertainment, discount, forbearance or promise, having a monetary value [Legislative Law §1-c(j)].
  • You may not designate a friend, family member or entity (for example, a charity) to receive a gift that you cannot receive.

What is Not a Gift?

  • Food or beverage valued at $15 or less[1];
  • anything for which you pay market value;
  • anything for which the State has paid or secured by State contract;
  • rewards or prizes given to competitors in contests or events, including random drawings open to the public; and
  • exceptions to the definition of gift set forth in Legislative Law §1-c(j) as interpreted by the Commission, (Section F, Advisory Opinion No. 08-01) (PIRA, Chapter 399 of the Laws of 2011).

What You May Not Do :

  • You may not accept any gifts of more than nominal value from any source, where it can be reasonably inferred that the gift was intended, or actually does result in favorable treatment to the gift-giver; according to the law, “nominal value” is considered such a small or trifling amount that acceptance of an item of nominal value could not be reasonably interpreted or construed as attempting to influence a State employee or public official.  Therefore, items of insignificant value, as, for example, a promotional pen or mouse-pad, or soft drink are considered nominal. 
  • You may not solicit or accept a gift of any value if it would constitute a substantial conflict with the proper discharge of your CUNY duties.  If you knowingly or intentionally do so, you are subject to fines, suspension and/or removal from your job by your appointing authority.
  • You may never accept, or solicit travel or lodging, even in connection with a business event or to benefit CUNY, such as for a publisher’s conference, or a training session, from a disqualified source.
  • You cannot accept gifts of any amount of money from any student, even if it is appropriate or culturally acceptable to do so in the student’s native country.
  • You may not solicit or accept a gift, such as a laptop computer, in exchange for reviewing textbooks for a publisher.
  • You may not, after reviewing a textbook for a publisher, in exchange for a modest reviewer’s fee, which is acceptable, ask that publisher for multiple copies of the textbook and then resell the textbooks to the college bookstore. Additionally, you may not ask that publisher for copies of any unrelated books for your own personal interests, to then distribute as gifts, in exchange for a favorable review of the textbook you are reviewing in connection with your work at CUNY.
  • You may not enter into an agreement with bookstores to only stock and sell new, not used, copies of textbooks that you have authored so that you may benefit from full royalty fees.

 

What You May Do:

You may accept:

  • reasonable and customary presents given on special occasions (not acceptable if given by disqualified sources or from CUNY colleagues whom you supervise);
  • gifts given by someone based on a family or personal relationship with you;
  • invitations to attend personal or private events from colleagues or friends from the office;
  • meals received when you serve as a participant or speaker in a job-related professional or educational program and meals are available to all participants;
  • complimentary attendance, including food and beverage, at a bona fide charitable or political event that is widely attended or was in good faith intended to be widely attended, where food and beverage of nominal value is offered but it is other than as part of a meal (for example: coffee and cookies);
  • modest items of food and refreshment offered: tea, coffee, donuts, chips, fruit, soda, bottled water, etc., other than as part of a meal;
  • in exchange for reviewing a textbook, a modest reviewer’s fee, as well as a copy of the book you reviewed;
  • complimentary attendance, food and beverage offered by the sponsor of an event that is widely attended or was in good faith intended to be widely attended[2];
  • unsolicited advertising or promotional material of little intrinsic value such as a pen or mouse pad;
  • most awards and plaques presented in recognition of your service;
  • rewards or prizes given to competitors in contests or events, including random drawings, widely attended and open to the public;
  • under some very narrow circumstances, meals and hospitality, but never travel or lodging, from a disqualified source when your participation at an event is for a CUNY purpose and related to your official Faculty duties--that is, when your participation will further CUNY programs and the event is widely attended, by other than just CUNY faculty.

What if I Am Still Not Sure?

If you are offered or receive a gift, you should consult with your College ethics officer or the Office of the General Counsel (“OGC”) to determine whether you can accept it, and for guidance on what you should do. More information is on the CUNY OGC website at: http://www.cuny.edu/administration/legal-affairs/ethics.html . A list of College ethics officers and phone numbers is available at http://web.cuny.edu/administration/legal-affairs/ethics/ethics-officers.html . To reach the OGC call (212) 794-5382; say you have a “gift” question.

You may also go to the JCOPE website for more information on gifts at: http://www.jcope.ny.gov/training/Interim%20Guidance%20on%20Gifts%20w%20Addendum%2011_29_12.pdf <pdf> to see the Interim Guidance on Gifts.


[1] Advisory Opinion No. 08.01 as amended by PIRA. See JCOPE’s Interim Guidance on Gifts: http://www.jcope.ny.gov/training/Interim%20Guidance%20on%20Gifts%20w%20Addendum%2011_29_12.pdf <pdf>

[2] For our purposes: “A widely attended event” is an event offered by a sponsor at  which at least 25 individuals who are not from CUNY attend or were, in good faith, invited to attend and is related to the CUNY employee’s duties and responsibilities.




II. HONORARIA

Honoraria – Pertains to all CUNY employees whether they are policy makers or not. [There is an exception for faculty and scientists.]

Basic Rule: Always prohibited from entity or person doing business with CUNY, including vendors, potential vendors, unions, and individuals. If travel beneficial to job, campus should pay.

Honoraria are not gifts; receipt of compensation, travel and lodging expenses or reimbursement for such expenses may be accepted. There are procedures to seek approval of and to report honoraria annually. CAN NOT be related to official duties.

Definition of Honoraria: Honoraria is a payment, fee, or compensation given to a CUNY employee by a private entity for services rendered (giving speech, authoring an article, serving on a panel at a meeting or a conference) not relating to the covered individual's official duties. Payment may be in the form of a gratuity, fee, travel or lodging expenses (or reimbursements of such expenses).




III. CONFLICT OF INTERESTS

YOU may not do anything against CUNY's best interest. Your first loyalty and duty must be to CUNY.

Basic Rules:

  1. You may not disclose confidential information acquired on the job to further personal interests. You can't sell goods/services over $25 to State or Public Authority (e.g, DASNY) except through competitively bid contract.
  2. You may not use or try to use official position to secure unwarranted privileges or exemptions for self or others.
  3. You may not give reasonable basis for impression that someone can improperly influence you or that you are affected by kinship, rank, position, influence of person.
  4. Public Employees Ethics Reform Act added a new section (nepotism and political affiliation section) prohibiting all covered employees from participating in any decision to hire, promote, discipline, or discharge a relative for any compensated position at, for or within any state agency, public authority or the legislature. Included in this sections are prohibitions against:
    1. any state contracting decision involving payment of more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) to that individual, any relative of that individual, or any entity in which that individual or any relative has a financial interest;
    2. or participate in any decision to invest public funds in any security of any entity in which that individual or any relative of that individual has a financial interest, is an underwriter, or receives any brokerage, origination or servicing fees.
    3. Cannot do business with a relative, unless there has been open competitive bidding performed by the family member for contracts greater than $ 25.00
  5. No state officer or employee shall, directly or indirectly, use his or her official authority to compel or induce any other state officer or employee to make or promise to make any political contribution, whether by gift of money, service or other thing of value.
  6. Employment outside regular duties [Policy makers Only]: You cannot work for or accept employment with an outside entity which would require you to disclose confidential information you have acquired during the course of your employment with New York State.
  7. Doing business with others:
    1. Appearing before other State agencies
    2. If you work for New York State, it may be a conflict of interest to be paid for representing someone else's interest before a New York State agency. Prohibited appearances include but are not limited to:
      1. Purchase, sale, rental or lease of real property, goods or services.
      2. Obtaining grants of money or loans.
  8. Licensing.

WHAT CAN YOU DO

Ministerial matters ok (e.g., assisting with filing for Medicare for a family member, getting new plates at the DMV, or Access-a-ride)

CONFLICT OF INTEREST - SOLICITING VENDORS:

1. Fundraising

Staff or Offices or Departments that are involved in selecting or working with banks or lending institutions should not contact vendors for fundraising purposes – this conflicts with their regular duties. (For example, Purchasing, Business Office, Budget, Financial Aid and other student support professionals, Facilities, Buildings and Grounds, or others who select or work with vendors.) Only designated employees may do so (development staff, College foundation staff that is not involved in College procurement, College Financial Aid, and other "neutrals").

2. Attending College Gala Events

If Bank buys table and has seats left over, may offer seats to President or designated neutral official at college for distribution.

Must be written protocol, and only those college employees with a "State agency purpose" may attend. Should not be staff that are involved in selecting or working with banks or lending institutions.

FREE ATTENDANCE AT CONFERENCES for CUNY employees only:

"Free conference for CUNY employees only! Free lunch served!" – This example of an invitation is a Violation! If attendance serves campus purpose, campus should pay. E.g., "JP Morgan Chase has an Employee Benefits for CUNY Day at the Grand Hyatt Hotel; all expenses paid." Not acceptable.

However, if conference widely attended by others in field outside CUNY and campus concludes that employee's attendance is so beneficial that it outweighs likelihood of improper influence, employee may attend. E.g., "JP Morgan Chase has 'Government Employee Benefits Day' – all city, state, federal HR directors are invited." Is acceptable.

Reimbursements of travel and lodging expenses are NEVER appropriate. Complementary cost of enrolling and modest meals okay only if offered to all, including non-CUNY. Siemens has a conference on construction on campus for all NYS higher education entities: SUNY; NYU; Pace; CUNY; Columbia, Parson, etc. attend, is acceptable because CUNY is not carved out.

Consult your Campus Ethics Officer or OGC beforehand.

ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS

  • Allegation
  • Investigation
  • Notice of Reasonable Cause
  • Fact Finding
  • Notice of Civil Assessment
  • Disposition Agreement
  • Prosecution thru District Attorney
  • Notice of Civil Assessment
  • Penalties are up to $ 40, 000 plus value of gift or benefit

Enforcement Actions:

JCOPE investigations may result in enforcement actions. If, after investigation, the Commission finds that there is reasonable cause to believe that a violation of the ethics law has occurred, it may issue a Notice of Reasonable Cause ("NORC"), which formally charges the individual.

A hearing is held regarding allegations of violations of Public Officers Law §73. Thereafter, the hearing examiner issues findings of fact and a recommendation to the Commission, which may then issue a Notice of Civil Assessment. In some cases, a matter is resolved between the Commission and the subject by a Disposition Agreement. Certain violations of Public Officers Law §73 may be referred to a prosecutor and punished as a class "A" misdemeanor. Notices and Disposition may be examined at the website http://www.jcope.ny.gov/, please see the Enforcement Actions section.

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