Edelbach's Email  to AFT Unit Members

Dec 12, 2005

Dear AFT Colleague:

After reviewing much of the information available on various State of New
Jersey websites relating to the issue of Conflict of Interest (COI) over
the past few weeks and having had conversations with key individuals
involved in this process, it is clear to me that each employee must use
their own judgment when determining whether or not a volunteer activity
should be listed on the “Outside Activity Questionnaire” under item # 4.
The Sokoloski “Q & A” memo dated December 11 attempted to provide some
help to employees when completing the form and goes so far as to recommend
a “rule of thumb” about how such a decision should be made in item 4 even
though the term “continuing activity” is not clearly defined. The
Department of Labor’s Code of Ethics lists on page 7 both “CYO director or
Little League Coach” as a couple of examples of activities which don’t
have to be reported. Might either or both of them be “continuing?” This
points up the fact that various state agencies are attempting to meet the
State’s mandates in various ways. Many more approaches are evident if you
look at other official web sites!
As you complete your own questionnaire for submission tomorrow, especially
item # 4, keep the previous information in mind. I suggest that you review
any activities for which you volunteer and make your own determination
whether they pose a conflict of interest with your position at the College
and are “subject to disclosure.” If they do not fall in the “conflict of
interest” category as you understand it, they don’t need to be listed on
your questionnaire. It would be completely unrealistic for anyone to
suggest that one should be expected to otherwise given the virtual total
lack of specificity regarding this issue.
The issue of the privacy of the information you provide is an entirely
different and more troubling matter. The CWA chapter president, Sue
Ciotti, and I proposed to representatives of the College in a meeting a
few weeks ago that some means of coding questionnaires would adequately
insure that the privacy of all individuals would be protected. That had
been done in the past and could be done again now. At the same time, there
would be a way to look into any reported activity of a employee which
might be in violation of the State’s COI laws. So far the College has not
indicated any interest in adopting our recommendation or anything like it.
The revised process and form still require both one’s “Immediate
Supervisor” and “Cabinet Member” to review the questionnaire and comment
on it if necessary, although the College’s rationale for doing this is not
at all convincing. It likely that currently neither of these individuals
has the training nor expertise to do a meaningful review. The risk to
individual privacy far outweighs conflict of interest safeguards in my
opinion.
During my conversation with Carol Johnston, the Ethics Compliance Officer
at the Executive Commission for Ethical Standard, she acknowledged that
these two lower-level reviews which are part of the TCNJ process are not
required by the State and expressed the view that the Ethics Liaison
Officer (ELO) was the person with the background to identify any potential
problems. Our administration is evidently convinced that these lower-level
individuals will provide some potentially valuable input into this process
and also remain totally unbiased toward their supervisees when involved in
the evaluation process. We hope that is the case but we know our members
would feel much safer if those individuals were involved only when a
potential problem was identified by the ELO.
It would have been much better in my opinion to involve representatives
from various campus employee groups before this new process was fully
developed and hopefully reduce the level of anxiety a bit. Despite the
College’s insistence that there are firm deadlines for completing this
process, it is evident that schedules can be changed when necessary.
It is unfortunate that this process could not have been smoother and less
confusing. I hope we can avoid this type of problem in the future.

In Solidarity, Ralph Edelbach, President, Local 2364, AFT