CEO 76-72 -- April 16, 1976
SUPERVISOR OF DRAINAGE DISTRICT
APPLICABILITY OF THE CODE OF ETHICS
To: (Name withheld at the person's request.)
Reference is made to CEO 76-60, questions 3 and 4. Pursuant to the language in Florida Statute s. 112.313(3)(1975) relating to special tax districts, no conflict of interest exists where a drainage district supervisor owns land within the district and is employed by a company which owns land within the district. Such supervisor is subject to the filing of CE Forms 1 and 2, however, pursuant to the provisions of s. 112.3145(1), and to the filing of CE Forms 3 and 4 pursuant to s. 112.313(1).
The method of electing special tax district supervisors manifestly assumes that owners of substantial amounts of acreage within the district will be highly influential in the election, for each landowner is entitled to one vote per acre of land owned. In this peculiar instance, the public and private overlap. Nevertheless, where one is elected to public office, he is obligated to serve the public interest and should regard himself, not as a representative of the landowner company which by its voting strength elected him to office, but as the representative of all landowners within the district.
1. Does a prohibited conflict of interest exist where I, a supervisor of a drainage district, own land within the district and am employed by a company which owns land within the district?
2. As a supervisor of the subject drainage district, are the filing requirements of CE Forms 2, 3, and 4 applicable to me?
3. Is it improper for me, as an elected drainage district supervisor, to regard myself as a representative of the landowner company which by its voting strength elected me to office?
Question 1 is answered in the negative.
Enclosed please find a copy of a recent opinion of this commission, CEO 76-60, questions 3 and 4 of which address the very situations about which you inquire. The rationale contained in the responses to those questions is equally applicable to your inquiry, which is answered accordingly in the negative.
Question 2 is answered in the affirmative providing the information required to be disclosed is applicable to you.
As a supervisor of a drainage district, you are a "local officer" for purposes of the filing of CE Forms 1 and 2. See Florida Statute s. 112.3145(1)(a)1.(1975) and questions 1 and 2 of the enclosed CEO 76-60. You are further subject to the requirement to file Forms 3 and 4 pursuant to Florida Statute s. 112.313(1)(1975). See also question 8 of CEO 76-60. The type of disclosure sought by Forms 2, 3, and 4 is positive or affirmative in nature, however, and therefore needs be filed only where applicable to the disclosing person.
Accordingly, if you or a member of your professional firm, if applicable, have not represented a client before your agency or before an agency at the same level of government within the district during the preceding calendar quarter, Form 2 need not be filed. Similarly, if you hold no interests required to be disclosed on Form 3, you need not file a negative report. CE Form 4, the Memorandum of Voting Conflict, is required to be filed only if and when one votes on a matter in which he has a conflicting interest pursuant to Florida Statute s. 112.3143(1975).
The drainage district of which you are a duly elected supervisor is established pursuant to the provisions of Ch. 298, F. S., s. 298.11 of which provides for the election of landowners to the board of supervisors. All landowners within the district are eligible to vote and are entitled to one vote per acre of land owned. The three persons receiving the highest number of votes are declared elected as supervisors.
This method of electing supervisors manifestly assumes that owners of substantial amounts of acreage within the district will be highly influential in the election of supervisors. It is further assumed that elected officials are indebted to and are likely to favor the interests of those persons whose votes enabled them to assume office. Additionally, the majority interest is a critical consideration in the representation of a constituency. Based on these three fundamental assumptions, it appears to us that in your official capacity as supervisor you generally will represent the views of your employer company which, we understand, is the largest landowner in the district.
Where one is elected to public office, however, he is obligated to serve the public interest. In its statement of legislative intent and declaration of policy, the Code of Ethics stipulates that "[i]t is essential to the proper conduct and operation of government that public officials be independent and impartial . . . ." Fla. Stat. s. 112.311(1)(1975). Drainage districts were established by law "for the purpose of preserving and protecting water resources, for sanitary or agricultural purposes, or when the same may be conducive to the public health, convenience or welfare, or of public utility or benefit, by drainage, irrigation, or water management." [Emphasis supplied.] Fla. Stat. s. 298.01(1)(1975).
Based on the two above-cited provisions of the law, as an elected supervisor you are obligated to represent the best interests of your public constituency, i.e., all landowners within the district. Due to the unique selection method for drainage district supervisors, whereby one is elected by private interests to fulfill a public duty, we recognize and acknowledge that the public and private interests overlap and, in fact, that the law establishing drainage districts contemplates such. Strictly speaking, however, upon election to the board of supervisors you become a public representative obliged to act, in your own discretion, in the best interests of the public.