"You are an elected official.
You have been stopped by a local police officer on your way home from a fundraiser. The officer suspects that you have been drinking and asks you to perform a field sobriety test.
May you tell the police officer that you are an elected official and direct her to escort you home without conducting the field sobriety test or citing you for any other infractions?"
If you answered, "Yes, that is one of the benefits of office," you would be wrong. Very, very wrong.
But on the State Ethics Commission's online training quiz, which must be completed by the majority of public officials by April, participants can go back and guess again — and again, and again — until they get the answer right.
In fact, it is impossible to fail the state-mandated quiz, even if the quiz-taker's first guess to all 25 multiple-choice questions is wrong.
As part of the state's ethics reform bill, which the governor signed into law last year, public officials (with some exceptions) are required to complete an online ethics training program every two years and sign an acknowledgement every year that they received a summary of the state's conflict-of-interest laws.
The ethics training program includes what the State Ethics Commission calls a "quiz," consisting of 25 questions with four multiple-choice answers apiece. Quiz-takers must first type in their names and eventually answer all the questions correctly before advancing to a completion page that they must print out and submit to the town or city.
Participants don't have to prove their identity or show any form of ID.
There's no final grade, and they have an unlimited number of opportunities to get each answer right. Punching in a wrong answer triggers a box with an explanation and keeps giving trainees more chances until they answer correctly.
Conceivably, the quiz-taker could just randomly click on answers without ever reading the questions — and still receive credit.
"I would hope not," Peabody City Clerk Tim Spanos said. "Hopefully, they'll read it and try to get it right the first time."
Danvers Town Clerk Joseph Collins was the first one to take the quiz in his town. It took him about 15 minutes, he said.
"I quickly learned that you can't flunk," he said.
David Giannotti, a spokesman for the State Ethics Commission, concedes there are a number of ways to cheat the quiz, such as designating the "smart one of your group of employees" to take it first and let everyone know what the answers are, or scan the completion page into a word processor and change the quiz-taker's name.
But the course is meant to teach those who are genuinely interested in following the law, he said.
"It's like any other educational opportunity," Giannotti said. "You get what you want to get out of it."
And the program is meant to be more of an "educational tool" than a "quiz," he said.
"We're not trying to strong-arm people into knowing all the provisions of the conflict-of-interest law," he said. "What we're trying to do is give public employees the information they need so, to the extent they want to comply with the law, they can."
So will the program turn North Shore public officials into amateur ethicists?
"I'd like to think all our employees are ethical to begin with," Collins said. "They could use this as a refresher opportunity."
Staff writer Chris Cassidy can be reached at ccassidy@salem news.com.
You administer tests for the Board of Registration, which provides professional licenses to individuals who receive a grade of 70 or better on the tests. You have made special arrangements to administer the test on a Saturday. May you accept a $100 bill from a test-taker to ensure that his test received a grade of 75?
Yes, if the test-taker passed the test with a 70 without any action on your part.
No, but the test-taker may treat you to lunch.
Yes, it's okay to accept money from the test-taker because you are administering the test on a Saturday.
No, even if it is a $1 bill, it's a bribe.
You are a superior at the University of Massachusetts. You recently purchased an old farmhouse that you are renovating. May you direct a subordinate to leave her position to come to your house to perform certain house repairs, using state equipment?
Yes, as long as she does the work on her own time.
No, unless your appointing authority gives you permission in writing.
Yes, as long as you pay her minimum wage.
No, you may not use your position for your private interest.
You are a salaried employee of the Department of Education. Your best friend is running for state representative and would like you to manage his campaign. May you spend approximately four hours of work time each week during the six weeks leading up to the November elections working on your friend's campaign?
No, unless you regularly work nine or 10 hours a week more than you are required, so you can use some of that time working on the campaign.
Yes, you did not give up your rights as a citizen when you became a state employee.
Yes, as long as you do not solicit campaign donations from your friend, you can work on his campaign.
No, you may not use your office and time for which the state pays you to conduct a political campaign.
Available online at http://db.state.ma.us/ethics/quiz_MEthics/index.asp