CEO 85-51 -- July 11, 1985
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
CITY COUNCIL MEMBER SELLING INSURANCE TO CITY EMPLOYEES
To: Mr. William Ferrell, Candidate for Jacksonville City Council
No prohibited conflict of interest would be created under Section 112.313(7), Florida Statutes, were an individual to be elected to serve on the Jacksonville City Council while continuing to solicit and sell to City employees insurance, securities, and tax shelters through payroll deductions. CEO's 75-127 and 80-68 are distinguished upon the basis of the limited authority of the City Council over City employees.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest be created were you to be elected to serve on the Jacksonville City Council while continuing to solicit and sell to City employees insurance, securities, and tax shelters through payroll deductions?
Under the circumstances presented, your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that you are considering running for a seat on the Jacksonville City Council. You also advise that you sell and service all forms of insurance, as well as annuities, securities, and tax shelters. Currently, your office has several hundred City employees insured through individual payroll deductions, as your office has been doing business with City employees through this method since 1968.
You advise that your office sends direct mail to all City employees three times each year and follows up with a personal telephone call to employees' homes for an appointment. Your office also requests permission to speak to employees in a group on the job site before starting work and makes additional appointments there with City employees in their homes. In addition, you advise that your office is the agent of record for an organization of supervisory employees, as a result of which your office sells and services group health, life, and other forms of insurance.
In a telephone conversation with our staff, an Assistant Counsel for the City advised that the City Council plays no role in personnel matters except for approving or disapproving proposed collective bargaining contracts. An elected civil service board handles all civil service matters involving City employees. In addition, he advised that there is a standard procedure for arranging payroll deductions.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees provides in relevant part:
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), Florida Statutes (1983).]
We are concerned in particular with the part of this provision which prohibits a public officer from having any employment which would create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict of interest, or which would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties.
In CEO 75-127 we advised that a school board member should not solicit the sale of life and disability insurance to school personnel at their residences during non-duty hours because of the school board's authority over its personnel. Similarly, in CEO 80-68 we advised that a school board member should not act as an insurance broker to administer an insurance program offered privately to school district employees and organizations who were immediately affected by decisions of the school board. On the other hand, in CEO 81-24 we advised that a State Senator's company could solicit and sell insurance to employees of a State hospital, finding that a legislator does not have direct and immediate authority over State employees and that considerations of retaining or increasing business with the employees would not tend to lead to disregard of a legislator's responsibility to act independently and impartially.
In our view, your situation is more nearly like that of CEO 81-24 than of CEO 75-127 and CEO 80-68. A school board retains final authority in all personnel matters and therefore is in a greater position than the City Council here to directly affect the terms and conditions of employment of its employees. Although the City Council must approve collective bargaining agreements, the Council's authority extends only to approving or disapproving proposed contracts and does not include the negotiation of these contracts. In short, we are of the opinion that a Council member does not have such direct and immediate authority over City employees who might be approached by his company that an employee would feel compelled to purchase.
The Code of Ethics makes it clear that a public officer should not use his position to secure any special privilege or benefit for himself. In order to preclude even the appearance of impropriety, therefore, we urge you to follow strictly all guidelines set by the City regarding solicitation of City employees and to take advantage of no opportunity to do so unless such an opportunity is clearly available to any other person.
Accordingly, under the circumstances presented we find that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created were you to serve on the City Council while continuing to solicit and sell to City employees insurance, securities, and tax shelters through payroll deductions.