CEO 75-22 -- February 14, 1975
STANDARDS OF CONDUCT
PROPRIETY OF PUBLIC OFFICER PARTICIPATING IN 1-WEEK TRIP TO LONDON SPONSORED BY CORPORATION WHICH MAY BID FOR CITY CONTRACT ADMINISTERED BY SUCH PUBLIC OFFICER
To: John Van Ness, Director, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Jacksonville
Prepared by: Gene L. "Hal" Johnson
Reference is made to CEO 75-21. Under the Code of Ethics set forth in part III, Ch. 112, F. S., as amended by Ch. 74-177, Laws of Florida, a public officer is prohibited from accepting gifts or services of value to the recipient which would influence a reasonably prudent person in the discharge of his or her duties. In this instance, Mr. Van Ness has been invited to participate at his own expense in an overseas trip sponsored by General Electric Corporation. General Electric may in the future deal with Mr. Van Ness's agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development of the City of Jacksonville. Applying the standards set forth in s. 112.313(1), supra, Mr. Van Ness would find the trip "of value" and expenditure of corporate funds by G.E. in this instance implies a benefit incompatible with a complete absence of intent to influence. Therefore, acceptance of the trip is prohibited by the Code of Ethics.
Will the acceptance by my wife and me of a 1-week trip to London, sponsored by General Electric Corporation but paid for by me personally, create a conflict of interest due to possible future dealings with General Electric in my official capacity as Director of the Department of Housing and Urban Development of the City of Jacksonville?
Your question is answered in the affirmative.
As set forth in your letter of inquiry, you are currently the Director of the Department of Housing & Urban Development for the City of Jacksonville, an agency which is responsible for the development and management of low-rent public housing. This position necessarily involves purchases of appliances, and we do not presuppose that making the trip under the circumstances alleged will in fact destroy any of your official objectivity and loyalty to the public interest. However, the ethical standard involved, which we would apply to any person so circumstanced, requires a decision that you should not place yourself in this position.
The applicable section of the Code of Ethics in the present situation states:
No officer or employee of a state agency, or of a county, city or other political subdivision of the state, or any legislator, or legislative employee shall accept any gift, favor, or service, of value to the recipient, that would cause a reasonably prudent person to be influenced in the discharge of official duties. [Section 112.313(1), F. S., as amended by Ch. 74-177, Laws of Florida.]
We have adopted the view that as a condition precedent to the implementation of this prohibitory language two requirements should exist: The gift, favor, or service must be of value to the recipient and it must be of such value as would cause a reasonably prudent person to be influenced in the discharge of his official duties. It seems clear as to the first requirement that this trip will prove of measurable value to you. While the second requirement is a subjective one, we would conclude that logical analysis would lead one to accept the premise that General Electric, to warrant the expenditure of corporate funds, would do so only on the basis that beneficial results would accrue to the company. And this cannot be compatible with a complete absence of intent to influence.
We have stated in an earlier opinion, CEO 75-21, a copy of which is enclosed, that the term "influence" in the above-quoted provision refers to the modification of a public officer's independence and impartiality. We feel that acceptance of the trip is prohibited by the Code of Ethics, s. 112.313(1), F. S.