CEO 15-09—September 16, 2015
GIFT ACCEPTANCE/DISCLOSURE; VOTING CONFLICT
CITY COUNCILMEMBER ACCEPTING TRAVEL
EXPENSES FROM HIS EMPLOYER AND VOTING ON
RELOCATION INCENTIVES FOR COMPANIES
To: Name withheld at person's request (City of Jacksonville)
Travel expenses from one's employer for travel for the employer are not a "gift" under Section 112.3148, Florida Statutes, and a city councilman employed by a chamber of commerce is not presented with a voting conflict regarding measures/votes affecting companies relocating to the chamber's region. 1
Do expenses of a city councilmember paid by his private employer for travel and tasks carried out for the employer constitute "gifts" within the meaning of Section 112.3148, Florida Statutes?
This question is answered in the negative.
In your inquiry and additional information provided, you relate that a recently-elected member of the City Council is employed by a chamber of commerce, focusing on relocation of aviation and aerospace companies and advanced manufacturing companies to a seven-county region, including the City. In addition, you state that frequently the member is required to travel for his employer in order to cultivate business contacts and facilitate the relocations; and that his employer pays for the travel and all expenses related to the travel.
Section 112.3148, Florida Statutes, known as the "gifts law," contains provisions relating to the solicitation, acceptance, and reporting of gifts. For example, Section 112.3148(4), Florida Statutes, prohibits a "reporting individual" (e.g., a city councilmember) from accepting a gift valued at more than $100 from a lobbyist of his public agency, a principal of such a lobbyist, a vendor of his agency, or certain others. However, none of the gift provisions of Section 112.3148 apply unless the item is a "gift," as defined in Section 112.312(12), Florida Statutes.
We find that the travel and expenses related to the travel, of the Councilmember for his employer, do not constitute a gift, and that he thus is not subject to any of the prohibitions or reporting requirements, as to such items, under Section 112.3148. This is because Section 112.312(12), Florida Statutes, which defines "gift," provides:
(b) "Gift" does not include:
1. 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.
This question is answered accordingly.
Would the member be presented with a voting conflict on measures/votes of the city council to approve or disapprove incentive programs and opportunities for companies considering relocation?
This question is answered in the negative.
Additionally, you relate that the City Council votes on whether to approve various incentive programs and opportunities (including Qualified Target Industries incentives and Revenue Grants) for companies considering relocation, that the member's salary and benefits from his employer are not impacted by or dependent upon whether a company relocates and are not impacted by or dependent upon whether a company receives any State or local incentives, and that his employer (the chamber, as opposed to the company which is not his employer) will not experience economic gain or loss from measures/votes affecting a company.
Section 112.3143(3)(a), Florida Statutes, provides:
VOTING CONFLICTS.—No 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 officer’s 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.
We find that the member will not be presented with a voting conflict regarding measures/votes of the City Council affecting companies relocating or exploring relocation. Under the situation presented, the companies economically affected by the measures/votes are not the principal retaining the member (are not his employer), the measures/votes will not affect the member's own economic interests, and the measures/votes will not inure to the special private gain or loss of his employer.2
This question is answered accordingly.3
ORDERED by the State of Florida Commission on Ethics meeting in public session on September 11, 2015, and RENDERED this 16th day of September, 2015.
Stanley M. Weston, Chair
Prior opinions of the Commission on Ethics may be obtained from its website (www.ethics.state.fl.us).
"Special private gain or loss" is defined in Section 112.3143(1)(d), Florida Statutes, to include only "economic benefit or harm."
For general guidance regarding considerations for a public officer as to his employment with a chamber of commerce interfacing with his government, see CEO 15-1 and our decisions cited therein. If additional questions should arise in the future regarding the Councilmember, do not hesitate to contact our staff for further guidance.