CEO 81-55 -- September 17, 1981
CHIEF OF VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENT
APPLICABILITY OF FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE LAW
To: Mr. Ernest M. Kelley, Chief, Branford Volunteer Fire Department
Although the statutory definition of public officers and employees of local government entities who are subject to the financial disclosure law as "local officers" includes fire chiefs, the chief of a volunteer fire department who is elected solely by the volunteers is not encompassed by the disclosure law. Florida Gulf Health Systems Agency, Inc. v. Commission on Ethics, 354 So. 2d 932 (Fla. 2d DCA 1978), and CEO 76-84 are referenced.
Are you, as a Fire Chief of a city volunteer fire department who receives five dollars per month as compensation, a "local officer" required to file a statement of financial interests annually?
Your question is answered in the negative.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees requires each "local officer" to file a statement of financial interests annually. Section 112.3145(2)(b), Florida Statutes. The term "local officer" is defined in Section 112.3145(1)(a)3., Florida Statutes, to include a "fire chief."
In your letter of inquiry you advise that you have been selected by the members of the Town of Branford Volunteer Fire Department to serve as Fire Chief; the Town Council has played no role in your selection. In a telephone conversation with our staff, you advise that the Town purchases equipment and supplies used by the Volunteer Fire Department. In addition, the Town pays two dollars for each volunteer fireman per fire call to the Volunteer Fire Department, which uses the money as the members see fit. In addition, the Town pays five dollars per month directly to you as compensation for serving as Fire Chief.
In a previous opinion, CEO 76-84, we advised that the chief of a municipal volunteer fire department serving without compensation and selected by the members of the department was not required to file financial disclosure. There, we advised that the financial disclosure law is not applicable to private citizens who hold no public appointment or employment. Although we are of the opinion that you are a Town employee subject to the standards of conduct contained within the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees (see CEO 76-109, CEO 76-187, and CEO 78-28, copies of which are enclosed), we find that you are not a "fire chief" as contemplated by the financial disclosure law.
In reaching this conclusion we note that you have not been elected as Fire Chief by the public or appointed to that position by any governmental authority. Interpreting the financial disclosure law, the Second District Court of Appeal has held that directors and officers of a private corporation who accede to their positions by agreement among themselves without regard to the public generally are not "local officers." Florida Gulf Health Systems Agency, Inc. v. Commission on Ethics, 354 So. 2d 932 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. 1978).
In short, we are of the opinion that the financial disclosure law does not encompass volunteer fire chiefs. Rather, we believe that the title "fire chief" was intended to include public officers or employees who have substantial governmental responsibilities in the administration of a public agency, a fire department.
Accordingly, we find that as Chief of the Branford Volunteer Fire Department, you are not a "local officer," and therefore you are not required to file a statement of financial interests annually.