CEO 84-95 -- October 18, 1984
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
JUNIOR COLLEGE TRUSTEE HIRING STUDENT UNDER COLLEGE CAREER WORK EXPERIENCE PROGRAM
To: Mr. Charles T. Dillon, Attorney, St. Petersburg Junior College
No prohibited conflict of interest would be created were the law firm of a junior college trustee to contract with the junior college to hire a student under the college career work experience program. Although the trustee would have a contractual relationship with the college, the contract would not require continuing oversight by the Board of Trustees, the trustee's firm would not be competing with other businesses to participate in the program, and the program would benefit primarily the student rather than the trustee's firm.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest be created were the law firm of a junior college trustee to contract with the junior college to hire a student under the college career work experience program?
Your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry and in a telephone conversation with our staff, you have advised that Section 240.60, Florida Statutes, provides for the College Career Work Experience Program, a financial aid program designed to introduce eligible students to work experience in their major areas of study. Under the program, a junior college or other institution and an eligible employer enter into a standard agreement which provides the framework under which a student will be employed and compensated.
You also have advised that at a recent meeting of the St. Petersburg Junior College District Board of Trustees, the College's financial aid staff presented an overview of this program. As a result of the presentation, Mr. Joseph H. Lang, a Trustee, expressed interest in the possibility of placing a student in his law office.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees prohibits a Junior College Trustee from having any employment or contractual relationship with a business entity which is doing business with his agency. Section 112.313(7)(a), Florida Statutes. In our view, a partner in a law firm should be considered to have an employment or contractual relationship with that partnership, which constitutes a "business entity" as that term is defined in Section 112.312(3), Florida Statutes. We further are of the opinion that the law firm would be doing business with the Junior College if it contracts with the College to hire a student under the work experience program.
However, in considering the application of provisions of the Code of Ethics, we must be mindful of the following provision:
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. [Section 112.316, Florida Statutes (1983).]
Under the circumstances presented, we conclude that the full and faithful discharge of the Trustee's public duties would not be impeded were his firm to contract with the College under the work experience program.
Under the contract, the firm would receive the services of a student and would receive reimbursement for one-half of the student's wages. However, taking into account the time involved in training the student and the resulting burden on the employees of the firm, it appears that the primary beneficiary of the contract clearly would be the student rather than the firm. Therefore, we perceive more of a unity of interest focused on the benefit to the student in this situation than a conflict of interest between the firm and the College.
In addition, you have advised our staff that the College has had difficulty in finding employers to participate in the program. In fact, last year the College was not able to spend all of the funds available for students in this program because of a lack of participating businesses. Under these circumstances, the Trustee's interest in contracting under the program would not conflict with his responsibilities in entering into contracts with other, "competing" private employers.
Finally, you advised our staff that although the Board of Trustees must approve these contracts, the contracts come before the Board only once for approval on a "consent agenda" for all contracts under $5,000. Therefore, we do not perceive a continuing or frequently recurring situation involving the Trustee and the contract. If the contract with the firm comes before the Board, the Trustee should disclose his interest in the contract and abstain from voting under the provisions of Section 112.3143, Florida Statutes, as amended by Chapter 84-357, Laws of Florida.
Accordingly, we find that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created were the subject Trustee's law firm to contract with the Junior College to employ a student under the college career work experience program.