CEO 07-5 -- March 7, 2007

VOTING CONFLICT


COUNTY COMMISSIONER VOTING ON MEASURES AFFECTING
CLIENTS OF LOBBYING FIRM EMPLOYING HER HUSBAND


To: Mark Herron, Attorney for County Commissioner (Broward County)

SUMMARY:

A county commissioner is not presented with a voting conflict under Section 112.3143(3)(a), Florida Statutes, regarding votes/measures of the county commission affecting clients of a lobbying firm employing the commissioner's husband, where the husband receives no compensation from any firm fee derived from the firm's work in behalf of a client on a matter involving the county. CEO 83-29 is referenced.1


QUESTION:

Is a county commissioner presented with a voting conflict regarding measures of the county commission affecting clients of a lobbying firm employing the commissioner's husband, where the husband receives no compensation, bonus, or origination fees from any firm fee derived from the firm's work in behalf of a client on a matter involving the county?


Under the circumstances presented, this question is answered in the negative.


By your letter of inquiry and a telephone conversation between you and our staff, we are advised that Stacy Ritter (member) serves as a member of the Broward County Commission. In addition, we are advised that the member's husband is considering an employment opportunity with a national corporate lobbying firm,2 headquartered in Washington, D.C., with regional offices including one in Tallahassee. Further, you advise that the husband's duties with the firm would include managing (in a new Fort Lauderdale office of the firm) client relationships for the firm, regarding clients based in Broward County.3 Also, you advise that neither the member nor her husband would have any ownership interest in the firm, that neither the member nor her husband are officers or directors of the firm, and that the husband would receive no compensation, bonus, or origination fees from any fee generated to the firm from the firm's work for a client in matters before the County.4 The voting conflicts law, contained within the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees,5 provides in part:


VOTING CONFLICTS.óNo county, municipal, or other local public officer shall vote in an official capacity upon any measure which would inure to his or her special private gain or loss; which he or she knows would inure to the special private gain or loss of any principal by whom he or she is retained or to the parent organization or subsidiary of a corporate principal by which he or she is retained, other than an agency as defined in s. 112.312(2); or which he or she knows would inure to the special private gain or loss of a relative or business associate of the public officer. Such public officer shall, prior to the vote being taken, publicly state to the assembly the nature of the officerís interest in the matter from which he or she is abstaining from voting and, within 15 days after the vote occurs, disclose the nature of his or her interest as a public record in a memorandum filed with the person responsible for recording the minutes of the meeting, who shall incorporate the memorandum in the minutes. [Section 112.3143(3)(a), Florida Statutes.]

The law requires a local public officer's (e.g., a county commissioner's) declaration of interest, abstention from voting, and timely filing of CE Form 8B (memorandum of voting conflict) regarding, inter alia, measures of her public board which would inure to the officer's special private gain or loss or to that of her relative (e.g., her husband).6

Under the circumstances presented, we find that the member would not be presented with a voting conflict regarding measures affecting a client of the firm. Notwithstanding that County Commission votes/measures concerning clients of the firm likely cause special private gain or loss to the clients, neither the client nor the firm is the member's "relative" under the statute.7 Further, while the member's husband is her relative, the circumstances presented do not indicate that County Commission votes/measures affecting clients also will inure to his special private gain or loss, given that your inquiry does not indicate that he will receive any compensation or loss of compensation or any similar gain or loss from the votes/measures.8


ORDERED by the State of Florida Commission on Ethics meeting in public session on March 2, 2007 and RENDERED this 7th day of March, 2007.


______________________________
Norman M. Ostrau, Chairman


[1]For prior opinions of the Commission on Ethics, go to www.ethics.state.fl.us

[2]We are advised that the husband is not an attorney and that the firm is not a law firm.

[3]You advise that the husband would not personally appear before, communicate with, or ask questions of agencies, officers, or employees of the County, including the County Commission, with respect to any matter on which the firm was retained, and that the husband would not attend or monitor County Commission meetings with respect to such a matter; but that other employees of the firm, or subcontractors of the firm, would engage in such contact with the County.

[4] We are advised that no votes/measures of the County Commission involving firm clients will result in the husband's retention or loss of his employment with the firm.

[5] Part III, Chapter 112, Florida Statutes.

[6]"Relative" is defined at Section 112.3143(1)(b), Florida Statutes, to include "husband."

[7] Also, the circumstances presented do not indicate that the firm or any client is a "principal by whom the member is retained."

[8] Thus your inquiry also does not indicate that the member would receive any concomitant special private gain or loss from the votes/measures. CEO 83-29.