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Nebraska Supreme Court: Interest in Contract Requires Disclosure and Abstention

on Friday, 29 October 2021 in Dirt Alert: David C. Levy, Editor

Moore v. Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, 310 Neb. 302 (2021).

From 2014 to 2016, Timothy Moore, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Village of Madrid, Nebraska (the “Board”), performed work outside the scope of his duties as Chairman.  The extra work included filling in for the utilities superintendent when that employee was ill or absent, working on the village budget and audit, and working with the village attorney.  He regularly submitted payment requests to the Board, though never formally entered into any contract with the village.  He failed to list the requests on meeting agendas, and he participated in related discussion and votes.

In April 2017, a village resident filed a complaint with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission (“NADC”).  The complaint alleged Mr. Moore violated the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act (the “Act”).  After an investigation and hearing, the NADC found Mr. Moore violated the Act.  The NADC imposed a civil penalty of $500.  Mr. Moore appealed the decision to the Buffalo County District Court.  The District Court affirmed.  Mr. Moore appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court. 

Under section 49-14,103.01(5), an officer must declare on the record an “interest in any contract” before the governing body and must abstain from related votes.[1]  Mr. Moore argued the District Court erred in finding that he had an interest in a contract sufficient to require disclosure and abstention under the Act. 

The Act does not expressly define “an interest in any contract.”  The Court applied the rule of statutory construction that requires a court to give effect to the entire language of a statute and reconcile different provisions of a statute so they are consistent, harmonious, and sensible.  Section 49-14,103(4) of the Act prohibits an officer from receiving a direct pecuniary fee or commission from any contract with the governing body. 

The Court affirmed.  The Court held Mr. Moore received payment for these services, thus he had an interest in contract.  Nonetheless, he voted on his own contract and payments and failed to disclose the conflict.  The Court also held the parties’ conduct and the surrounding circumstances demonstrated a mutual intent and implied contract for Mr. Moore to perform additional work in exchange for compensation.

[1] All references are to the Nebraska Revised Statutes.

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