CEO 84-72 -- August 9, 1984
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND CONSUMER SERVICES PERSONNEL AND PESTICIDE REVIEW COUNCIL MEMBERS TAKING EDUCATIONAL TOUR OF PESTICIDE FACILITIES
To: Mr. Frank A. Graham, Jr., Resident Counsel, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
No prohibited conflict of interest would be created were the members of the Pesticide Review Council and officers and employees of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to participate in an educational tour of pesticide facilities sponsored by an industry association. The majority of the expenses of the tour will be paid by the various state agencies of the officers and employees. The trip is directly related to the official business of these agencies, and no personal or private benefit is indicated.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest be created were the members of the Pesticide Review Council and personnel of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to take an educational tour sponsored by an industry association of two pesticide facilities located out of state, where part of the expenses of the tour will be provided by the association and by the pesticide manufacturers?
Your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that a nonprofit association representing the agricultural chemicals industry is sponsoring an educational tour to allow the members of the Pesticide Review Council, certain personnel of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and other designated state officials an opportunity to visit two major pesticide facilities located out of state. The association would incur all ground transportation costs for the parties outside of the State, you advise, and the host companies would provide meals for the delegation. However, the travel expenses of Department officials and employees and of all but three of the members of the Council will be paid for by their State agencies. The travel expenses of the remaining three Council members will be covered by the Association. While each of the Council members is an expert in his field, you advise, the general feeling of the Council has been that it would be of considerable benefit to be able to tour working agri-chemical establishments.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees provides in relevant part:
SOLICITATION OR ACCEPTANCE OF GIFTS. -- No public officer, employee of an agency, or candidate for nomination or election shall solicit or accept anything of value to the recipient, including a gift, loan, reward, promise of future employment, favor or service, based upon any understanding that the vote, official action, or judgment of the public officer, employee, or candidate would be influenced thereby. [Section 112.313(2), Florida Statutes (1983).]
UNAUTHORIZED COMPENSATION. -- No public officer or employee of an agency or his spouse or minor child shall, at any time, accept any compensation, payment, or thing of value when such public officer or employee knows, or, with the exercise of reasonable care, should know, that it was given to influence a vote or other action in which the officer or employee was expected to participate in his official capacity. [Section 112.313(4), Florida Statutes (1983).]
Under Chapter 487, Florida Statutes, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has been given the responsibility of registering all pesticides in this State and of restricting the use of pesticides where necessary. The Pesticide Review Council, as created by Section 487.0615, Florida Statutes, is composed of eleven scientific members, most of whom are representatives of various State agencies. The Council's primary responsibility is to review and make recommendations to the Department regarding the sale or use of pesticides.
In a telephone conversation with our staff, the president of the industry association outlined an itinerary for the 3 1/2 day tour which includes numerous activities directly relating to the development of an agricultural compound from its initial discovery through the final registration process. Spouses have not been invited, and no sightseeing or entertainment programs have been planned. Speakers are scheduled for each of the meals provided by the two chemical companies.
In our view, that a legitimate public purpose will be served by the tour is evidenced by the educational nature of the trip and by the fact that the majority of the expenses will be incurred by various State agencies. None of the circumstances of the tour indicate that it is based upon any understanding that anyone's official action or judgment would be influenced, in violation of Section 112.313(2), Florida Statutes. Nor do we find that participation in the tour would result in a violation of Section 112.313(4), Florida Statutes, by any official or employee.
Part of the intent behind the Code of Ethics is expressed as follows:
It is essential to the proper conduct and operation of government that public officials be independent and impartial and that public office not be used for private gain other than the remuneration provided by law. [Section 112.311(1), Florida Statutes (1983).]
Here, nothing of value is being given to any official for his private use, consumption or enjoyment. The trip is directly related to the official business of those persons participating. Further, we perceive no personal benefit to anyone in attendance which would suggest that the educational aspect of the tour is merely incidental and that the intent of the trip is to influence public officials through providing any private gain.
Accordingly, we find that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created were the members of the Pesticide Review Council or officers and employees of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to participate in the educational tour.