CEO 74-13 -- October 14, 1974
VOTING CONFLICT OF INTEREST
CONSIDERATION OF MATTERS WHICH CREATE A
CONFLICT BETWEEN A PUBLIC OFFICER'S INTEREST AND
HIS PUBLIC DUTIES, s. 112.314(2), F. S., AS
AMENDED BY CH. 74 -177, LAWS OF FLORIDA
To: Mike J. Beaudoin, Leon County School Board, Tallahassee
Prepared by: Gene L. "Hal" Johnson
As required by s. 112.314(2), F. S., as amended by Ch. 74-177, Laws of Florida, a public officer must file a statement explaining a voting conflict of interest "when the matter being considered directly or indirectly inures to the public officer's private gain . . . or creates a conflict between such officer's private interest and his public duties." While the intent of this provision is to require the public officer to disclose any interest which hampers his objectivity, the provision is necessarily limited in scope to matters beneficial to the officer personally or to an interest in which he is personally involved or has a material interest. By virtue of this limitation, Mr. Beaudoin, as a member of the Leon County School Board, may pass on proposals submitted by his spouse in her official capacity as Director of Food Services since there is neither personal benefit nor interest to Mr. Beaudoin involved in these particular administrative matters. However, disclosure would be required if the matter before the board were beneficial to Mr. Beaudoin or his material interests, such as passing on his spouse's salary or a contract involving a business entity with which he is personally involved. Although s. 112.314(2), F. S., does require disclosure of voting conflict, the public officer is not required to abstain from voting in a conflict of interest situation. Propriety and discretion should, however, prevail.
1. Is a conflict of interest created in the situation where I, as a member of a county school board, am asked to pass on proposals submitted by my spouse in the official capacity of Director of Food Services?
2. Where a voting conflict of interest does exist, am I required to abstain from voting on that particular proposal?
Your question 1 is answered in the negative.
Section 112.314(2), F. S., as amended by Ch. 74-177, supra, requires that a public officer must file a statement explaining a voting conflict of interest "when the matter being considered directly or indirectly inures to the public officer's private gain . . . or creates a conflict between such officer's private interest and his public duties. . . ." The intent of this provision is to require that a public officer disclose any interest which might dissuade him from objectively considering the proposal before him. However, necessity dictates that this intent be limited to those matters which inure to the public officer's personal benefit or to the benefit of an entity in which he has a material interest.
A public officer, by the very nature of the position, acquires and nurtures many friendships and relationships with his constituency. If he were required to acknowledge and disclose every instance in which these relationships might affect his consideration of a proposal, every public officer would be faced with a never - ending task of disclosure. Recognizing this situation, it is our position that this provision be limited in scope to matters beneficial to the officer personally or to an interest in which he is personally involved.
In the situation as related in your letter, the school board of which you are a member is required to take affirmative action in regard to certain aspects of the financial and administrative responsibilities of the Director of Food Services, who is your spouse. Focusing on you as a member of the school board, there is neither the personal benefit nor interest involved in this set of facts to compel invoking the disclosure law. It should be pointed out that had you as a board member been placed in the position of passing on your spouse's salary or on a contract involving a business entity with which you are personally associated, the beneficial effect to you personally, or to your interest, is such as to require disclosure.
The answer to question 2 is negative also.
Section 112.314(2), F. S., does not require the officer to abstain from voting even though a voting conflict does exist. The act specifically states that "[n]o public officer shall be prohibited from voting," but it does provide that "he may abstain from voting on the matter." We stress that the public officer should practice propriety and discretion when making the decision either to vote or to abstain from voting in a conflict of interest situation. Either way, the officer "shall file a statement explaining the conflict with the appropriate officials." Section 112.314(2), supra.