CEO 80-93 -- December 4, 1980
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
COUNTY COMMISSIONER RECEIVING LANDLORD EMERGENCY RENTAL ASSISTANCE FROM COUNTY WELFARE DEPARTMENT IN BEHALF OF TENANT
To: (Name withheld at the person's request.)
Prepared by: Phil Claypool
No prohibited conflict of interest is created when a county commissioner who owns rental property receives emergency rental assistance payments from the county welfare department in behalf of an indigent tenant. The commissioner would not be selling any goods or services to his public agency, in violation of s. 112.313(3), F. S., and would not have a contractual relationship with a business entity which is doing business with the county, in violation of s. 112.313(7)(a), inasmuch as a residential tenant does not constitute a "business entity" for purposes of the Code of Ethics. See CEO 77-88. Neither would he have a contractual relationship with an agency regulated by the county, in further violation of s. 112.313(7)(a), since his only contract is with the tenant.
Is a prohibited conflict of interest created when a county commissioner who owns rental property receives emergency rental assistance payments from the county welfare department in behalf of an indigent tenant?
Your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that the subject county commissioner owns rental housing units located in Lake County. You also advise that the Lake County Welfare Department, a department of the county, pays emergency rental assistance to indigent residents of Lake County in order to eliminate the possibility of eviction. Such payments are not used to locate residents in new housing, you advise, and they usually do not exceed $60 in amount. The payments are made directly from the Lake County Finance Department to the landlord in these cases. You further advise that occasionally a tenant who resides in an apartment or dwelling owned by the subject commissioner applies for and is granted this emergency aid. Therefore, you question whether such payments can be made from the county to the subject commissioner for emergency rental assistance.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees provides in 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. The foregoing shall not apply to district offices maintained by legislators when such offices are located in the legislator's place of business. This subsection shall not affect or be construed to prohibit contracts entered into prior to:
(a) October 1, 1975.
(b) Qualification for elective office.
(c) Appointment to public office.
(d) Beginning public employment.
[Section 112.313(3), F. S.]
This provision prohibits a county commissioner from leasing or selling any realty, goods, or services to the county. However, the subject county commissioner is leasing property to his tenants, not to the county, and it does not appear that he is selling any goods or services to the county in exchange for the emergency rental assistance he may receive from the county. Therefore, we find that this provision does not apply to the circumstances you have described.
The Code of Ethics also 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. [Section 112.313(7)(a), F. S.]
This provision prohibits the subject county commissioner from having a contractual relationship with a business entity which is doing business with the county. Although he has a contractual relationship with his tenants by virtue of their leases, we previously have determined that a residential tenant does not constitute a "business entity" for purposes of the Code of Ethics. See CEO 77-88.
Section 112.313(7)(a) also prohibits the subject county commissioner from having a contractual relationship with an agency which is subject to the regulation of his agency. Here, however, it does not appear that the subject commissioner would have a contractual relationship with either the county welfare department or the county finance department, both of which would be subject to the regulation of the county commission. In this respect, the present situation differs from that in CEO 77-88, in which a county commissioner sought to contract with a county housing assistance office which was subject to the regulation of the board of county commissioners in order to participate as a landlord in a housing assistance payments program.
In any event, occasional payments which would not amount to over $500 in any given year would be exempted from the prohibitions of s. 112.313(3) and (7)(a). See CEO 77-182.
Accordingly, under the facts before us, we find that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created were the subject county commissioner to receive emergency rental assistance payments as a landlord from the county in behalf of indigent tenants. While we have no reason to believe that payments to the commissioner would be handled differently from other assistance payments, we note that s. 112.313(6) of the Code of Ethics could be violated were the commissioner to use his official position in any manner to obtain special consideration by the welfare department of his tenants' requests for assistance.