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Ethics commission set to consider more public official employment limitations

The Alabama Ethics Commission convenes on Wednesday for its final meeting of 2018 with the possibility that it revisits one of its more controversial issues from this year.

In April, the commission issued an advisory opinion involving a union organizer who had been elected to the Birmingham Board of Education.

The commission ruled that the union organizer could continue representing her employer, the American Federation of Teachers, in school systems so long as she did not do so in Birmingham. The American Federation of Teachers on its website lists Alabama chapters being limited to Jefferson County, Birmingham and Mobile.

The opinion for the teacher’s union organizer differed from the approach the commission took on two other occasions involving state legislators.

Those opinions, one in October 2016 and one in June of this year, both said that an elected official may not represent their employer in front of any governmental body – state or local.

In offering their opinion in June, the commission specifically cited a section of Alabama law, writing that it “prohibits a public official from lobbying or otherwise representing their employer before ‘any legislative body or any branch of state or local government.’”

The commission could potentially clarify its position on public officials and the limits of their work for their employers in two matters.

One involves a request for an opinion from a state senator who recently finished his term in office.

The second involves a lengthy request from a current Houston County commissioner who also serves as a sergeant in the Houston County Sheriff’s Department.

In both cases, the parties are requesting guidance from the commission on the limits placed on them by Alabama law in their current employment.

Yellowhammer News spoke with commission chairman Jerry Fielding who referred the inquiry to the commission staff.

The commission staff has yet to respond to Yellowhammer News’ request for information and comment.

Tim Howe is an owner and editor of Yellowhammer News.

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