What is a Conflict of Interest?

From a legal perspective, a potential conflict of interest arises within an organization when a key individual (either an employee or volunteer) or a relative of that individual (a) stands to gain a financial benefit by personally influencing the  action taken by the organization or a transaction entered into by the organization; or (b) has another interest that impairs, or could be seen to impair, the independence or objectivity of the key individual in discharging their duties within the organization.

Within the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church (GNJ), a conflict, potential conflict or the appearance of conflict of interest occurs when an individual, be it the bishop, clergy, staff or laity, or a member of their family, business associate, significant other, domestic partner, any additional employer or employee of a staff member, has a direct or indirect financial, personal, legal or equitable interest in the outcome of a particular decision that they can influence.

What are the Issues Surrounding Conflict of Interest in GNJ

Concerns have been raised by members of the Annual Conference about potential conflicts of interest within GNJ. Recognizing, understanding and managing conflicts of interest are fundamental to trust and good, fair, ethical and just decision-making and sound financial management.

Whenever an instance of conflict of interest is self-identified or identified by a member of the Annual Conference, members of GNJ should seek to be ethical, transparent and act with integrity, committed to our mission in all decision making.  Employees and laity are expected to self-identify all conflicts of interest or potential conflicts of interest and, where feasible and practical, excuse themselves from decisions from which they will financially benefit. Questions of conflict of interest will be investigated by the appropriate parties as defined in the GNJ Conflict-of-Interest Policy in accordance with the Book of Discipline Paragraph 702.2 which calls for the establishment of a Conflict-of-Interest Policy.

While GNJ is committed to operating with integrity and transparency in making decisions, there are some inherent potential conflicts of interest within the way we operate. In The United Methodist Church, clergy and lay persons are financial beneficiaries of employment, benefit programs and grants offered by GNJ and on which they have voting power. Likewise, clergy and lay members of the annual conference vote on issues that affect their congregation’s budget and programming.

GNJ expects that our clergy and lay members of the annual conference will vote based on what is best for all members and all churches and in the best interest of meeting the overall mission, vision and financial goals of GNJ.

An example of such a potential conflict of interest is voting on lay and clergy benefit programs. The majority of clergy voting are directly affected by the benefit program they are voting on, and a lay person’s congregational budget is affected by the type and the dollar amount of the benefit program. It is estimated that more than 90% of those voting at annual conference have such a conflict of interest when voting on clergy and lay employee benefit programs.

United Methodists are also generational with respect to membership and employment of both clergy and laity. GNJ has benefited from generations of clergy and lay employees from the same family. Presently there are more than 40 clergy who are related by marriage and birth. Sometimes a family member sits on an agency that has responsibility for clergy including family members. Additionally, there are lay employees of GNJ and congregations who are related to GNJ clergy. Also, clergy have friendships or are seminary classmates of other clergy that potentially present conflicts of interest.  The ability to influence matters relating to salary, benefits, housing, etc. can all result in situations where there is a conflict of interest.

Agencies of GNJ have also hired or used United Methodists who own or work for businesses for contracts and services for GNJ and its congregations. All such contractual relationships must follow the Trustee’s Contracting Procedures.

In all of these examples, GNJ recognizes there are inherent conflicts of interest in our system and expects that everyone (clergy, staff and laity) will recommend, vote, approve and act based on what is in the best interest of meeting the overall mission and financial goals of GNJ.

Resources | Read the Entire COI Policy below

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