December 9, 1994
Subject: Whether local ethics codes apply to special districts
Written by: Ross T. Carter
Requested by: Valarie Honeycutt
Syllabus: City and county ethics codes do not apply to special districts
Statutes construed: KRS 65.003
Opinion of the Attorney General
The following question has been presented:
Does the local ethics law, KRS 65.003, apply to special districts whose directors are appointed by county or urban-county officials?
It is the opinion of the Attorney General that KRS 65.003 does not subject special districts to local ethics codes.
Subsection 1 of KRS 65.003 states:
No later than January 1, 1995, the governing body of each city and county, including urban-counties and charter counties, shall adopt, by ordinance, a code of ethics which shall apply to all elected officials of the city or county, and to appointed officials and employees of the city or county government as specified in the code of ethics. The elected officials of a city or county to which a code of ethics shall apply include the mayor, county judge/executive, members of the governing body, county clerk, county attorney, sheriff, jailer, coroner, surveyor, and constable but do not include members of any school board.
By its plain terms, the statute applies to three groups:
The statute makes no reference to officials or employees of governmental units other than cities or counties. The preamble to the legislative act (Acts 1994 c. 16) refers to the legislation as "An Act relating to the establishment of codes of ethics in cities and counties." The words city and county are paired twenty times in KRS 65.003; there is no reference to any other political subdivision other than a direction to "all state agencies" to suspend delivery of services and payment to cities or counties that do not comply with the statute.
The distinction between county or city government and the general category of special districts has been amply recognized by the legislature. For example, KRS 65.005 derfines special district to include "all political subdivisions of the state except a city, a county, or a school district." While the subject of KRS 65.005 is entirely different from the subject of KRS 65.003, it does illustrate that special districts are not considered a subset of city or county government. Conversely, KRS 65.200 illustrates that the legislature uses the term "local government" to refer inclusively to cities, counties, and special districts. The term "local government" is not used in KRS 65.003.
Therefore we conclude that KRS 65.003 does not compel the inclusion of special districts in local codes of ethics.
While no city or county is compelled to extend its ethics code to special districts, some may wish to. We find no authority to do so. As a general rule, cities and counties have no jurisdiction to govern the administration of special districts. Furthermore, the boundaries of special districts are not necessarily coextensive with the boundaries any city or county. A special district could lie in two counties, or in two cities, or partly within a city. If the various cities and counties within a special district enact inconsistent codes of ethics and then attempt to apply those codes to employees of the special district, hopeless confusion would result.
This opinion does not preclude special districts from adopting their own codes of ethics. A special district could adopt relevant portions of a city or county code of ethics or draft a code of its own.
Ross T. Carter
Assistant Attorney General