CEO 76-175 -- October 25, 1976
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
BOARD OF REGENTS MEMBER BOOKING AIRLINE RESERVATIONS THROUGH HIS TRAVEL AGENCY
To: Marshall S. Harris, Member, Florida Board of Regents, Miami
Prepared by: Gene Rhodes
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees prohibits a public officer from privately selling to his public agency and from holding employment or a contractual relationship with a business entity which does business with his public agency, Fla. Stat. s. 112.313(3) and (7)(1975). As the Board of Regents, the Legislature, and the Pollution Control Board constitute separate agencies pursuant to s. 112.312(2), however, no conflict is created where a member of the Board of Regents books airline reservations through his travel agency for members of the Legislature or the Pollution Control Board. Where he books his own reservations for official travel through his agency, no conflict exists because the obligation is a personal one and reimbursement from the board goes directly to the board member. Should he utilize his state air travel card, payment is made to the airlines by the Board of Regents. However, because travel agencies receive no commissions from air travel card bookings, no conflict is deemed to exist in this situation pursuant to Florida Statute s. 112.316(1975).
1. Does a prohibited conflict of interest exist where I, a member of the Florida Board of Regents, privately book airline tickets for members of the Florida Legislature and the Pollution Control Board through a travel agency jointly owned by me and my wife?
2. Does a prohibited conflict of interest exist where I book airline reservations through my travel agency for my official travel as a member of the Board of Regents?
Question 1 is answered in the negative.
You advise us in your letter of inquiry that you and your wife own and operate a travel agency through which you book airline reservations for several members of the Florida Legislature and the Pollution Control Board for both personal and official travel. You have informed our staff further that you do not book reservations for any agency or agency personnel subject to the regulation of the Board of Regents.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees provides in relevant part:
DOING BUSINESS WITH ONE'S AGENCY. -- No employee of an agency acting in his official capacity as a purchasing agent, or public officer acting in his official capacity, shall either directly or indirectly purchase, rent, or lease any realty, goods or services for his own agency from any business entity of which he or his spouse or child is an officer, partner, director, or proprietor or in which such officer or employee or his spouse or child, or any combination of them, has a material interest. Nor shall a public officer or employee, acting in a private capacity rent, lease, or sell any realty, goods, or services to his own agency, if he is a state officer or employee, or to any political subdivision or any agency thereof, if he is serving as an officer or employee of that political subdivision . . . . [Fla. Stat. s. 112.313(3)(1975); emphasis supplied.]
The italicized language above prohibits a state officer from privately selling to his public agency. Pursuant to Florida Statute s. 112.312(2), your agency is the Board of Regents. Accordingly, s. 112.313(3) does not prohibit bookings for members of other agencies as previously described.
However, the Code of Ethics additionally provides:
CONFLICTING EMPLOYMENT OR CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP. -- No public officer or employee of an agency shall have or hold any employment or contractual relationship with any business entity or any agency which is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, an agency of which he is an officer or employee . . . ; nor shall an officer or employee of an agency have or hold any employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his private interests and the performance of his public duties or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties . . . . [Fla. Stat. s. 112.313(7)(a)(1975).]
Thus, a public officer is prohibited from having a contractual relationship with any agency which does business with or is regulated by his public agency. As neither the Legislature nor the Pollution Control Board is subject to the regulation of the Board of Regents, no conflict is created pursuant to this prohibition. Nor do we perceive any other conflict, of a frequently recurring nature or otherwise, where your agency books airline reservations for agencies other than the Board of Regents, so long as the agencies are not subject to Board of Regents regulation.
Question 2 is answered in the negative.
You have advised our staff that your travel agency receives a 7- percent commission on airline reservations booked through said agency. The first sentence of s. 112.313(3), quoted above, prohibits a public officer from acting in his official capacity to purchase services from a business entity in which he or his spouse owns a material interest. Additionally, s. 112.313(7), also quoted in question 1 above, prohibits a public officer from holding employment with a business entity which does business with his public agency. Where one books his own airline reservations and pays for them with personal funds, however, he is incurring a personal obligation rather than obligating his public agency. Under these circumstances, the Board of Regents transacts no business either with the airlines or the travel agency, but rather reimburses you personally for travel expenses incurred.
Where a public officer travels on his state air travel card, however, it is his public agency which is billed for such travel. Were your travel agency to handle such reservations and subsequently bill the Board of Regents, you would be holding employment with a business entity doing business with your public agency in contradiction of s. 112.313(7), quoted above. However, we understand that when a public officer utilizes his state air travel card, the airlines do not pay a commission to any travel agency making such bookings. In this situation we must consider the following provision of the Code of Ethics:
Construction. -- It is not the intent of this part, nor shall it be construed, to prevent any officer or employee of a state agency or county, city, or other political subdivision of the state or any legislator or legislative employee from accepting other employment or following any pursuit which does not interfere with the full and faithful discharge by such officer, employee, legislator, or legislative employee of his duties to the state or the county, city, or other political subdivision of the state involved. [Fla. Stat. s. 112.316(1975).]
Each standard of conduct, we feel, must be read in light of this section, which maintains that it is not the intent of the Code of Ethics to preclude private pursuits which do not interfere with public duty. In our opinion there is no interference with the discharge of your public duties where you book official travel through your agency on your state air travel card, from which transaction your travel agency receives no commission. Accordingly, no prohibited conflict of interest is created where you book airline tickets through your travel agency for travel associated with your service on the Board of Regents.