CEO 88-21 -- March 16, 1988
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
COUNTY COMMISSION CANDIDATE PARTNER IN FIRM
PROVIDING REPORTING SERVICES REGARDING COUNTY
AND MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT
To: (Name withheld at the person's request.)
No prohibited conflict of interest would be created were a member of a county commission to be a partner in a firm which provides reporting services regarding municipal and county government. However, her activities would be limited by several prohibitions contained in the Code of Ethics, including Section 112.313(4), (6), (7)(a), and (8), Florida Statutes. CEO 86-66 is referenced.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest be created were you, a candidate for a board of county commissioners, to continue your partnership in a firm which provides reporting services regarding municipal and county government if you are elected to the board?
Your question is answered in the negative, subject to the restrictions noted below.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that you are a candidate for the Collier County Board of County Commissioners. You also advise that you are a partner in a research and reporting firm which produces a weekly report concerning all meetings of municipal and County government. The firm also provides clients with information and material pertaining to the local lawmaking process. Your clients include developers, engineers, attorneys, local community groups, and private citizens. Some of these clients may appear before the Board of County Commissioners. You question whether a prohibited conflict of interest will be created if you are elected to the Board, and continue to pursue your present business activities.
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 (1987).]
The first portion of this provision prohibits a public officer from having any employment or contractual relationship with a business entity or agency which is subject to the regulation of or doing business with her agency. The term "business entity" is defined by the Code of Ethics to include
any corporation, partnership, limited partnership, proprietorship, firm, enterprise, franchise, association, self-employed individual, or trust, whether fictitiously named or not, doing business in this state. [Section 112.312(3), Florida Statutes (1987).]
any state, regional, county, local, or municipal government entity of this state, whether executive, judicial, or legislative; any department, division, bureau, commission, authority, or political subdivision of this state therein; or any public school, community college, or state university. [Section 112.312(2), Florida Statutes (1987).]
Therefore, your association with a particular client could be prohibited if that client was regulated by, or doing business with, the County Commission.
You have not provided specific information regarding the relationship between any particular client of your firm and the County Commission; as a result, we are unable to provide you with more definite advice. For examples of our interpretation of the term "regulation," see CEO 84-1 and CEO 80-49. If you are elected you may wish to seek a further opinion regarding a particular client of your firm whose interests may be affected by the County Commission.
Section 112.313(7)(a), Florida Statutes, also would prohibit you from having any employment or contractual relationship which would create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict with your duties as County Commissioner or which would impede the full and faithful discharge of those responsibilities. In a similar situation, we found that there was not a sufficient connection between the reporting services provided by a board member and her responsibilities as a member of various boards to conclude that such a conflict existed. See CEO 86-66.
Please be advised, however, that the following provision within the Code of Ethics prohibits you from using your public position to obtain information not available to the general public for private gain:
DISCLOSURE OR USE OF CERTAIN INFORMATION. -- No public officer or employee of an agency shall disclose or use information not available to members of the general public and gained by reason of his official position for his personal gain or benefit or for the personal gain or benefit of any other person or business entity. [Section 112.313(8), Florida Statutes (1987).]
We additionally would caution you that Section 112.313(6), Florida Statutes, prohibits you from using your public position or performing your official duties to secure a special benefit for yourself or your clients.
Also, the possibility exists that a client could solicit your services in an attempt to influence a vote or other action in which you are expected to participate in your official capacity. Under these circumstances, your compensation for reporting services would violate the following provision:
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 (1987).]
Finally, you may be prohibited from voting on a particular matter by Section 112.3143(3), Florida Statutes, which provides:
No county, municipal, or other local public officer shall vote in his official capacity upon any measure which inures to his special private gain or shall knowingly vote in his official capacity upon any measure which inures to the special gain of any principal, other than an agency as defined in s. 112.312(2), by whom he is retained. Such public officer shall, prior to the vote being taken, publicly state to the assembly the nature of his interest in the matter from which he is abstaining from voting and, within 15 days after the vote occurs, disclose the nature of his interest as a public record in a memorandum filed with the person responsible for recording the minutes of the meeting, who shall incorporate the memorandum in the minutes. However, a commissioner of a community redevelopment agency created or designated pursuant to s. 163.356 or s. 163.357 or an officer of an independent special tax district elected on a one- acre, one-vote basis is not prohibited from voting. [Section 112.3143(3), Florida Statutes (1987).]
Accordingly, we find that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created were you to serve as a County Commissioner and to continue as a partner in your research and reporting firm provided that you conduct your activities in accordance with the above limitations.