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Are there ethical or conflict of interest considerations for a civil engineer to serve on a committee of a municipality, performing engineering type services in this capacity for the municipality for free, and also being the municipality's official paid engineer (principal in the firm) with his firm being paid for other services it performs for the municipality? If so, what are they. Are there reference materials for them. Thank you.

RE: ethics

What sort of committee? Like an advisory panel that suggests projects that should be undertaken by the municipality? I would say yes - there's a conflict of interest. You could potentially steer the municipality to take on projects for which your firm is particularly or uniquely qualified.

Cases where it might not be...this is more Civil/Structural, but we have a Building Code Review Committee. There are licensed architects and engineers as well as one or two laymen on the committee to review building code issues - typically where an owner/builder is arguing that something should be permitted but the plan review office said no. In a case like that, you can recuse yourself from a case that you're materially involved with and your decisions don't affect the municipality's expenditures and it doesn't direct work to you. Of course you could go out of your way to turn down requests from competitors, but that pattern should be pretty easy to spot.

So a lot depends on what the committee is or isn't doing and the relationship of your firm to the committee or it's work.

RE: ethics

A committee that deals with parks in a municipality. It involves designing parks, drawings, discussions with municipality staff, discussions with citizens, etc. Would there be a specific cite of the possible conflicts of interest? Thanks.

RE: ethics

I don't know of a source that cites specific conflicts of interest. It's really more of a concept. A conflict of interest is simply a situation where the interests of a person or organization in one capacity conflicts with the same person or organization's interests in another capacity. There are lots of examples to help you understand it, but judgement must be applied to every situation. It tends to be pretty subjective in some cases, in other's it's cut and dry.

For instance: does your firm design parks? If so, is this a preliminary design that will be used to solicit proposals from firms (including yours) to do the complete design? Then I would call this a potential conflict of interest as you could use your influence on the committee to steer the project to your firm resulting in personal gain while not necessarily ensuring the most efficient use of the municipalities funds. If your firm abstained and did not present a proposal, then I would say there's no conflict as you don't stand to receive direct personal/professional gain from the activity of the committee.

RE: ethics

The city lawyer can probably provide an opinion.

RE: ethics

It likely depends on your participation. You can declare your 'conflict' if necessary and if it is something that you have a conflict of interest in, then withdraw for that occasion.

Rather than think climate change and the corona virus as science, think of it as the wrath of God. Do you feel any better?


RE: ethics

David Carson:
It’s probably just best to steer clear of any committees or areas where your own company deals directly and on a regular basis with the City, that removes all/most doubt. Otherwise, this is a worthy civic endeavor on your part. They certainly need more good engineering involvement and input on many of their infrastructure needs and projects, not just the politicians and local interest groups, and lay people on committees, who each have special interest, but little knowledge about the engineering and construction aspects, which does not always lead to the best thought out projects. It is an uphill battle though. The special interest group has been harping about the project for years, and has the City’s ear by now, and that’s why those two members are on the committee. They don’t want you adding cost and complexity to the project and its approval, they just want it done, their way, they don’t see it as their money either. Then also, the City has probably already talked to a few contractors about how to do it (how they would do it), and costs which have been pared to the bone in hopes of getting the job. They just don’t seem to get the idea that the contractor will try to sell what he does, not always what’s best for the project or the City. They don’t get that aspect of the consulting engineer’s responsibility. They just don’t seem to get the idea that if you ask a roofer if you need a new roof, he is going to say absolutely, look at that one hail stone ding in the entire roof. He makes his money installing roofs, not advising people what’s best for them and their property. Each member of the committee has their own opinion of how it should be done, irrespective of their real knowledge on the matter. But, that’s today’s democracy and committee meeting way, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and they should all be given the same weight so as not to hurt any feelings; feelings, not knowledge or experience are the important consideration, they don’t even know what you do for a living. I don’t mean to do this in an intentionally hurtful way, but many trust the contractor more that you, after all that’s what he does, until it goes wrong. Your job, at first, is to put all that crap in its proper order in terms of real significance and relevance to the project at hand; to explain why this or that won’t work here, why that contractor is feeding them a line of b.s. on this one, or maybe that that contractor has a good approach/idea, if he cleans this other stuff up first, etc. Then, you can finally start applying some of your engineering knowledge and experience to the project at hand. But, you still will have to defend and explain everything you suggest, because they still don’t understand why your opinion/engineering suggestion and engineering judgement might carry a little more weight.

RE: ethics

If your role is in your, or your company's, or any associates', area of expertise, then there will likely be at least a perception of conflict of interest, if not an outright conflict.

Of course, it's a skinny line between that and just plain good, aggressive, marketing. One of our competitors even had a "lock-out" specification that they published for use by customers to essentially ensure that only their products could be chosen, even in a fully open procurement. I used to do something similar to guarantee buying the oscilloscope that I wanted, while not having to fill out a sole-source justification, by specifying a specific feature that the competitors' oscilloscopes didn't have.

TTFN (ta ta for now)
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RE: ethics

board members can recuse themselves if they perceive a potential conflict of interest

RE: ethics

Quote (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.)

conflict of interest, noun
  1. A conflict between a person's private interests and public obligations.
  2. A situation in which someone in a position of trust, such as a lawyer, insurance adjuster, a politician, executive or director of a corporation or a medical research scientist or physician, has competing professional or personal interests.
  3. a situation in which a public official's decisions are influenced by the official's personal interests
If any of the work has a federal (state, or similar) funding stream then 24 CFR " 570.611 - Conflict of interest can apply, and all of the referenced CFR's.
It is best to avoid serving on boards where you or your firm can benefit from the boards decisions.
There are situations where unexpected or unavoidable conflicts of interest arise, those must be disclosed.

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