Am I A Public Official?

A public official includes anyone serving the State of Oregon or any of its political subdivisions or any other public body as defined in ORS 174.109 [public universities are considered a "special government body" under ORS 174.117(C)(i)], as an elected official, appointed official, employee or agent, irrespective of whether the person is compensated for the services. An “agent” means any individual performing governmental functions. Governmental functions are services provided on behalf of the government as distinguished from services provided to the government. ORS 244.020(15).

All university employees, including faculty and staff, and even some students and volunteers are considered public officials.  The provisions in Oregon Government Ethics law restrict some choices, decisions or actions of a public official.  The restrictions placed on public officials are different than those placed on private citizens because service in a public office is a public trust and the provisions in ORS Chapter 244 were enacted to provide one safeguard for that trust.

Public officials must know that they are held personally responsible for complying with the provisions in Oregon Government Ethics law.  This means that each public official must make a personal judgment in deciding such matters as the use of official position for financial gain, what gifts are appropriate to accept, or when to disclose the nature of conflicts of interest.  If a public official fails to comply with the operative statutes, a violation cannot be dismissed by placing the blame on the public official’s government employer or the governing body represented by the public official.


If any one of the following elements apply to a volunteer position, the person holding that volunteer position will be defined as a “public official”:

  • Elected or appointed to a governing body of a public body
  • Appointed or selected for a position with a governing body or a government agency with responsibilities that include deciding or voting on matters that could have a pecuniary impact on the governing body, agency or other persons
  • The volunteer position includes all of the following:
  1. Responsible for specific duties.
  2. The duties are performed at a scheduled time and designated place.
  3. Volunteer is provided with the use of the public agency’s resources and equipment.
  4. The duties performed would have a pecuniary impact on any person, business or organization served by the public agency.

For purposes of ORS Chapter 244, volunteers are not public officials if they perform such tasks as picking up litter on public lands, participating in a scheduled community cleanup of buildings or grounds, participating in locating and eradicating invasive plants from public lands and other such occasional or seasonal events.

- From A Guide for Public Officials by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission