CEO 75-86 -- April 28, 1975
STANDARDS OF CONDUCT
PROPRIETY OF STATE BOARD ACCEPTING INVITATION TO VISIT A PRIVATE CORPORATION REGULATED BY BOARD
To: Peter P. Baljet, Executive Director, Department of Pollution Control, Tallahassee
Prepared by: Jeff Trammel
It was ruled in CEO 75-21 that for members and staff of the Pollution Control Board to tour a regulated industry's facilities at that industry's expense would constitute a violation of s. 112.313(1) of the Code of Ethics, part III, Ch. 112, F. S. (1974 Supp.). In the instant case, however, such a tour would be taken at the expense of the board itself. There would be no gift, favor, or service conferred upon the board members or staff and therefore no possibility of influence. Consequently, such a trip would not create a conflict prohibited by the Code of Ethics.
Would acceptance by the Florida Pollution Control Board of an invitation from Buckeye Cellulose, Inc. to visit its industrial and pollution control facilities at the board's expense in order to educate the board in the operation and environmental effects of such plants violate the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees?
Your question is answered in the negative.
As set forth in your letter of inquiry, Buckeye Cellulose, Inc., which owns a large pulp and paper mill in Foley, Florida, has invited the Florida Pollution Control Board, or a member thereof, to tour its industrial and pollution control facilities. Buckeye will not pay the board's expenses for the tour or in any way give the board anything of pecuniary value. The purpose of this invitation is to give the Pollution Control Board information and knowledge which will be useful in carrying out its statutory duties.
Since Buckeye is regulated by the Pollution Control Board, it is important to examine the value of the invitation in light of the relevant section of the Code of Ethics, s. 112.313(1), F. S. (1974 Supp.), which states:
No officer or employee of a state agency . . . 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.
In applying this provision to the situation you have posed, we find there to be "no gift, favor, or service" conferred upon the Pollution Control Board in the acceptance of an invitation to visit the Buckeye plant "Dutch treat." In CEO 75-21, we recognized that a tour of a regulated business entity would be "of value to the recipient." However, in that opinion the Pollution Control Board would have been the donee of a gift, thus affecting their impartiality and independence.
You have indicated that you believe the trip in the present instance will be of value to the board in its regulatory functions. Assuming there to be sufficient public funds appropriated for such purposes, we must conclude that this trip would be a legitimate business expense devoid of any ethical impropriety. Furthermore, we wish to commend the board in its desire to zealously guard its neutrality.