The following are excerpts from the Montgomery County Ethics Commission's March 20 advisory opinion denying Police Chief Charles A. Moose's request to write a book and consult on a movie about his life and last fall's sniper manhunt.
We conclude that [Moose] cannot engage in the requested activity because [he] does not meet the standard for a waiver of the ethics law's prohibition against the use of prestige of office for private gain. . . .
Accepting [payment] for services directly and immediately related to an employee's governmental activities violates the prestige of office prohibition because, to paraphrase the state ethics commission, those services "go with the job."
In other words, a public employee, so long as he or she remains a public employee, cannot receive any gain beyond his or her salary for providing outside services directly and immediately related to his or her job. That is not to say, for example, that a county attorney cannot teach a class on local government law or a police officer cannot write a book on hostage negotiation tactics. But it is a different matter if the county attorney is to be paid for recounting his handling of a specific case or the police officer paid to recount her day-to-day involvement in a high-profile hostage drama. . . .
[Moose] and the county executive [Douglas M. Duncan] suggest that the book and the movie would be good for the county because it would show county employees in a positive light, overcoming a difficult situation with a good result. [Moose] also suggested that recounting the cooperation between local, state and federal law enforcement officers would improve what have historically been sometimes strained relations among these different levels of government.
But "the best interests of the county" cannot be made to depend upon the content of the book or movie. For example, how could the commission deny a waiver, finding that the book or movie did not serve the best interests of the county, simply because it cast [Moose] as the one capable investigator among a sea of incompetent co-employees? . . .
To be sure, the proposed book and movie would serve some county interests. The county executive notes that the most obvious benefit would be retention of this high-ranking employee. Although the county executive acknowledges that he does not know for certain that [Moose] would leave county service if the commission denies the waiver request, he understandably "would like to avoid forcing that possibility.". . .
But there may be more harm than good in granting the waiver. It is not in the best interest of the county to allow its employees to "trade on" their government activities for private gain in such a direct and immediate fashion. Such conduct leads citizens to question whether public employees are discharging their duties in the public interest or in furtherance of some private interest. This diminishes citizens' faith in their public servants and erodes their trust in county government.
These principles are at the core of the prohibition against using the prestige of one's office for private gain and neither the county executive nor [Moose] has convinced the commission that this situation is a good platform to begin waiving those principles.
There are specific pitfalls to be avoided here. . . . Employees permitted to gain from their public service beyond their paychecks might be tempted to consider their personal interests above the county's interests when dealing with matters in the public eye. The county's best interests are not served if employees are jockeying for position in high-profile projects, anticipating the possibility of some larger return for their county service. . . .
[Moose]'s official duties call for [him] to work cooperatively with prosecutors and other law enforcement officials to bring the defendants in the high-profile case to justice. [Moose] may, however unintentionally, impede that effort to the extent [he] reveals the details of the investigation outside of the courtroom. Yet [Moose]'s personal gain may well be measured, in part, by the extent to which [he] is willing and able to quench the public's thirst for all of those "inside" details.
Because [Moose] has not persuaded the commission that [he] meets the standard for a waiver of the ethics law's prohibition against the use of prestige of office, there is no need to consider the remaining sections of the ethics law identified above.
For the reasons stated above, the requested waiver is denied.