CEO 14-26 – September 17, 2014
SOLICITATION OR ACCEPTANCE OF GIFTS;
CITY COUNCIL MEMBER ACCEPTING DESIGNATION
BY CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AS ENDORSED VENDOR
To: Andrew J. Hand, Attorney for City of Mount Dora
A member of a city council is not prohibited under the Code of Ethics from accepting a chamber of commerce designation of the councilmember's business as an "endorsed vendor" of a particular insurance product as long as such designation is offered absent any understanding or intent that it would influence the councilmember's votes or other official actions. CEO 09-21 is referenced.1
Would the Code of Ethics be violated if a member of a city council accepted a designation by the local chamber of commerce promoting his business as an "endorsed vendor" for a particular insurance product?
Under the circumstances presented and the conditions specified, your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry and communications with our staff, you state that you request this opinion on behalf of a member of the Mount Dora City Council ("Councilmember") who works in his private capacity as an insurance agent. You relate that the Mount Dora Area Chamber of Commerce ("Chamber") has offered to designate the Councilmember's agency as an "endorsed vendor" for a particular insurance product and to promote his business through the following actions:
|Send a letter of introduction to all Chamber members providing the Councilmember's business contact information;|
|*||Provide the Councilmember's business contact information to all new Chamber members; and|
|*||Send periodic emails to Chamber members advertising the Councilmember's insurance services.|
In your letter, you state that the Councilmember contacted the Chamber president to express interest in the endorsed vendor designation after learning that the Chamber planned to select an endorsed vendor for certain products the Councilmember sells. You relate that, after an interview, the Chamber selected the Councilmember's business as an endorsed vendor but that he has delayed acceptance of the designation pending issuance of this opinion. You relate that variations on the Chamber's endorsed vendor program are open to all Chamber-member businesses in the Mount Dora area and that the business endorsement could have been offered to the Councilmember whether or not he served as a public official. You state that the Chamber has requested and received City funds for special events. You also relate that the Councilmember was appointed by the City's Mayor to be a member of the distribution committee of the Mount Dora Community Trust ("Trust"), a non-profit organization which distributes grants derived from donations and charitable gifts and that the Chamber has received funds from the Trust as well as from the City.
Your question implicates Sections 112.313(2) and (4), Florida Statutes, which provide in relevant part:
SOLICITATION OR ACCEPTANCE OF GIFTS.—No public officer, employee of an agency, local government attorney, or candidate for nomination or election shall solicit or accept anything of value to the recipient, including a gift, loan, reward, promise of future employment, favor, or service, based upon any understanding that the vote, official action, or judgment of the public officer, employee, local government attorney, or candidate would be influenced thereby. [Section 112.313(2), Florida Statutes.]
UNAUTHORIZED COMPENSATION.—No public officer, employee of an agency, or local government attorney or his or her spouse or minor child shall, at any time, accept any compensation, payment, or thing of value when such public officer, employee, or local government attorney knows, or, with the exercise of reasonable care, should know, that it was given to influence a vote or other action in which the officer, employee, or local government attorney was expected to participate in his or her official capacity. [Section 112.313(4), Florida Statutes.]
Section 112.313(2) prohibits the Councilmember from soliciting or accepting anything of value with the understanding that his official actions would be influenced thereby. This section could be violated were he to, for example, condition a grant of City funds to the Chamber upon the Chamber's endorsement of his business. See CEO 09-21. However, since nothing in your letter or other communications indicates that that such a scenario has occurred or would occur, this section would not be violated by the Councilmember's acceptance of the endorsement.
Section 112.313(4), Florida Statutes, prohibits the Councilmember or his spouse or minor child from accepting anything under circumstances where he knows or should know that it is being given in an effort to influence his official actions. Here, we see no indication that the endorsement is given for such influence. Rather, it appears that the endorsement would be part of a general commercial Chamber program promoting Chamber members' business entities.
Section 112.3148, Florida Statutes, which prohibits certain gifts and requires certain gift disclosures, is not implicated here because, under Section 112.312(12)(b)1, Florida Statutes, the term "gift" does not include "salary, benefits, services, fees, commissions, gifts, or expenses associated primarily with the donee's employment, business, or service as an officer or director of a corporation or organization." Under the facts you present, the Chamber's endorsed vendor program is open to all Chamber-member businesses and the Councilmember's business could have been designated by the Chamber as an endorsed vendor whether or not he served as a public official. Therefore, as long as the Councilmember has not solicited or accepted the Chamber endorsement of his business in circumstances that would render his acceptance prohibited by Sections 112.313(2) or (4), Florida Statutes, as stated above, we find that the Councilmember's acceptance of the Chamber's designation would not violate the Code of Ethics.2
Your question is answered accordingly.
ORDERED by the State of Florida Commission on Ethics meeting in public session on September 12, 2014, and RENDERED this 17th day of September, 2014.
Linda McKee Robison, Chair
Opinions of the Commission on Ethics may be obtained from its website (www.ethics.state.fl.us).
You also ask whether there would be circumstances under which the Councilmember would be required to abstain from voting on City issues involving the Chamber. We find that Section 112.3143(3)(a), Florida Statutes (voting conflicts), would not be implicated under the facts you have presented because a City measure relating to the Chamber would not inure to the "special private gain or loss" of the Councilmember or a principal by whom he is retained or to the "special private gain or loss" of his relative or business associate.