Volume 4 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 100
Conflict of interest (assessor - real estate broker) (appointed assessor - political party committeeman) - Real Property Tax Law, §§ 102(3), 1522:
Absent any prohibition in a municipality’s code of ethics, no patent conflict of interest results from the appointment of a real estate broker to be town assessor, nor is it impermissible for an assessor in office to obtain a broker’s license.
Likewise no patent conflict of interest ensues from the appointment of a political party committeeman to be sole assessor, but such an appointment is not recommended because the Assessment Improvement Law was meant to take the assessor and assessment procedure out of the political arena.
We have received inquiries requesting our opinion as to (1) whether an assessor, either elected or appointed, is permitted to obtain a real estate license after he has taken office; and (2) whether it is permissible for a sole appointed assessor to be a committeeman for a political party.
In answer to the first question, the Attorney General has concluded that absent any prohibition in a municipality’s code of ethics no patent conflict of interest ensues from the appointment of a real estate broker as town assessor (1972, Op.Atty.Gen. 135) . We concur in this opinion and the comments made therein. We do not believe that the fact that the assessor in question has become a licensed real estate broker only after being appointed assessor, rather than prior to such appointment, would alter our conclusion in this regard.
The second inquiry presents more of a problem. Section 1522 of the Real Property Tax Law governs the appointment of a sole appointed assessor. Such section provides that any resident of the state may be appointed assessor provided he or she meets the minimum qualification and training standards established by the State Board. The term of office of such assessor is six years, except as otherwise provided in subdivision 6 of section 1522.
Section 1522 also provides that an assessor may be employed by the local government in any other position not incompatible with the office of assessor. Since a committeeman of a political party is not an officer or employee of the local government, this latter proviso is inapplicable to this question. While it appears to us that no patent conflict of interest ensues from the appointment of a committeeman of a political party to the position of sole assessor (since, as noted in the aforementioned Attorney General’s opinion, it is unwarranted to assume, in advance of the event, that an assessor would take advantage of his office for his own personal gain), it should be recognized that one of the aims of section 1522 (and indeed of the entire Assessment Improvement Law, of which section 1522 was a part) was to take the assessor and the assessment process out of the political arena as much as possible (3 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 122). Therefore, the appointment of a committeeman of a political party to the position of sole assessor should be carefully studied by the appointing authority to insure that the spirit, if not the letter, of the Assessment Improvement Law will not be violated by such appointment.
February 25, 1975
NOTE: But see Op. Atty. Gen. No. 86-66.