Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State

cover, print version of Trustees Handbook

Ethics and Conflicts of Interest

In today’s political environment accountability and ethics are critical ingredients for any public organization. As public libraries continue to develop, expand and rely to a far greater extent on the support of local taxpayers, it is essential for every library board to have in place a policy clearly stating the ethical principles upon which they work. In every decision trustees should be sensitive to even the appearance of impropriety.

In this context trustees or their families may not enter into a business relationship with the library, even if they are providing a service below cost.

The library board and staff must be transparent about conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest policy and disclosure form are now required for all libraries in New York State given the Department of Education’s Office of Counsel ruling on how the Non-Profit Revitalization Act applies to libraries. The Act specifies particular issues to be addressed in a library’s conflict of interest policy. More information

In a similar fashion, Library Boards are strongly encouraged to adopt anti-nepotism policies to address the management and public relations issues surrounding the employment of both trustees’ and staff family members. Should you find a pre-existing nepotism situation at the library it is critical to review with managers appropriate communication channels and authority. Trustees in conflict in this area may need to recuse themselves from certain votes that would impact their relative(s).

The State Library and the State Education Department Fraud, Waste and Abuse site have received an increasing number of complaints challenging the actions of library boards that have approved the hiring of relatives of board members as either staff or as vendors. The public perceives such actions as inappropriate and, in the interests of stewardship, accountability and transparency, library boards are strongly advised against such actions.

Though not necessarily an ethical or legal issue, “appropriate and professional” behavior by board members is every trustee’s concern and responsibility. You reflect the library to the community. The most successful boards have a positive culture of mutual respect and understanding. To this end, a Code of Ethics should be adopted so that expectations of behavior are clearly stated. When any member acts in a manner that is not in the best interests of the library or in the cooperative nature of the board, the Board President should discuss the issue with the trustee in a direct and constructive manner. Violations of the board’s Code of Ethics can be the basis of the dismissal of a trustee from the board following due process.

Resources:

Related Policies and Documents:

  • Code of Ethics
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Nepotism
  • Whistleblower Protection

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Last Updated: August 9, 2018