Ethics and Elections Commission Wayne Barnett, Executive Director
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Getting Advice

  1. If I ask for advice, could my question trigger an investigation? Im afraid that if I ask for advice about what my co-worker and I are doing, well get in trouble.

    Answer: SEEC staff will not initiate a complaint investigation in response to a good-faith request for guidance. If staff believes that the activities raise issues under the Ethics Code, you will be told of those concerns, and will be advised to stop the activities. If the SEEC receives a complaint, it is obliged to investigate.

    The Commission and staff want to support the public's trust by helping you comply with the law. Staff provides training and advice, and the Commission issues advisory opinions to respond to questions and to provide guidance. Summaries of those opinions are posted at You may also get a copy of advisory opinions from the Commission office. Note that different facts or circumstances may result in a different opinion, and July 2009 amendments to the Code may render some previous opinions obsolete. Contact staff before acting.

  2. How can I be sure the advice I get is correct?

    Answer: It is important that you give all relevant information when you ask your question. Advice will be given based on the facts that you present.

    The best way to get complete and accurate advice is to e-mail your inquiry to the Commission office. You may also call staff directly, but e-mailed questions and responses help staff to accurately understand the specifics of each situation. Be thorough in your e-mail describing the situation. Different facts or circumstances may result in a different conclusion.

  3. Will my question be confidential?

    Answer: Yes, to the extent possible. Staff won't release your identity except in response to a public records request.

  4. What if I follow the advice given to me, but I still get in trouble?

    Answer: If your department receives a complaint, your management may or may not ask for the Commissions opinion. Your department may still hold you responsible for your behavior under internal workplace expectations and discipline procedures. That is one reason why Commission staff recommends that Covered Individuals ask for advice prior to taking questionable actions, and know and follow their departments workplace expectations, as well.

    The Ethics Code contains protections for individuals who ask for an advisory opinion in good faith. This provision says that the Commission will not find an Ethics Code violation if 1) the person has submitted to the Executive Director or to the Commission a written request for an advisory opinion; 2) the request describes possible future conduct and accurately and fully discloses the material facts related to that conduct; 3) the Executive Director or the Commission issues a written advisory opinion that the described conduct would not violate the Code, and 4) the person acts in a manner consistent with the opinion. If an Ethics Code complaint is filed, then the person can assert this as a defense.

    For your best protection, you should always choose actions that foster the publics confidence in the integrity of government workers.

For more information,
see the Ethics Code, SMC 4.16.085, or contact the SEEC.

Last updated August 7, 2009.

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