Interpretation's Date: April 5, 2002
by superintendent David Stewart
Section: IX. Other
April 5, 2002
Dear Ms. Smith :
I am in receipt of your request for a Superintendent's Interpretation regarding membership dues for the Chamber of Commerce. Your request specifically sought "an interpretation of the policy determining the legality of schools paying dues for membership to the local Chamber of Commerce."
Your correspondence explains that as the director of a vocational school, you have always used the Chamber to stay abreast of the community's economic development, especially as it relates to education. You go on to express your belief that the local Chamber has functioned as an integral part of the Harrison County school system. However, you feel that with dues being around $150.00 for individual memberships, employees of a school system generally would not choose to become members.
The West Virginia Ethics Commission, which is granted the authority to interpret West Virginia law in regard to issues such as the one you have raised, has recently considered a similar request. In an Advisory Opinion dated July 12, 2001, the Commission found that West Virginia Code § 6B-2-5, which provides that a "public official or public employee may not knowingly and intentionally use his or her office or the prestige of his or her office for his or her own private gain or that of another person," did not prohibit a Board of Education from using school funds to pay for its membership in the local Chamber of Commerce. However, the Commission did find that the Board could not use school funds to buy meal tickets for the Board or other school personnel to attend chamber lunches and dinners.
Accordingly, while it does seem clear that your school funds may not be used to purchase meal tickets for any of your employees, it is not clear whether your school funds can be used to purchase individual Chamber memberships for your employees. The July 12, 2001, Advisory Opinion addresses only memberships for Boards of Education and does not discuss individual memberships for employees.
As such, I refer you to the West Virginia Ethics Commission for a final determination on your question regarding individual Chamber memberships. The Ethics Commission has been granted legislative authority to interpret questions arising under the Ethics Act and only their formal opinions can confer immunity on those who have requested and relied in good faith upon them. Request for formal advisory opinions may be submitted in writing to the Ethics Commission at 1207 Quarrier Street, Charleston, WV 25301. You can reach the staff of the Ethics Commission for informal advice between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at (304) 558-0664. Informal advice does not carry the grant of immunity provided by formal opinions.
Hoping that I have been of service, I am,