CEO 75-136 -- June 23, 1975
VOTING CONFLICT OF INTEREST
EMPLOYER'S PROPOSAL VOTED ON BY EMPLOYEE/COMMISSIONER
To: Robert C. Nettleton, Haines City
Prepared by: Carol Ann Turner
A city council member who is employed by a law firm representing a client in a prospective purchase of land from the city should file CE Form 4, since this factual situation represents a conflict of interest. Abstention from voting in such transaction is not required, but would be prudent as an observation of the spirit of the law.
1. Does a conflict of interest exist where Mrs. Barbara Costello, a member of the Haines City Commission, is called upon to vote on a matter presented to the commission by her private employer?
2. Must Mrs. Costello abstain from voting on a matter presented to the city commission by her employer?
Question 1 is answered in the affirmative.
As you indicated in your letter of inquiry, Mrs. Costello is employed as a secretary or paralegal by the office of Reilly & Lasseigne, P.A. Andrew R. Reilly, a member of the firm which employs Mrs. Costello, represented a client before the city commission in a bid to purchase land in the city's industrial park.
We are of the opinion that a conflict of interest, as contemplated by the provisions of s. 112.3141, F. S., would exist under the factual circumstances you have described. Although Mrs. Costello may not benefit directly from the matter under consideration by the commission, indirect benefits could result. Further, she could suffer a detriment by taking a position opposing the interests of her private employer. Such a situation places Mrs. Costello in the position of having to choose between her private interests and what could be her public duties. In such cases the Code of Ethics requires a disclosure of the conflict by the filing of CE Form 4, a copy of which is enclosed.
Enclosed are copies of previous opinions of this commission, CEO 74-13 and CEO 74-77, which set forth our general policy regarding abstention from voting. Your question 2 is accordingly answered in the negative based strictly upon existing law and precedent. However, in the exercise of reasonable discretion, it would appear that prudence would suggest that any public official recuse himself from voting on any matter, like that described, in which his employer is directly involved as an advocate. For the reasons stated in our response to question 1 of this opinion, we would urge Mrs. Costello to embrace the spirit of the law and abstain from voting on a matter in which she has a conflict of interest.