CEO 88-26 -- April 28, 1988
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
CITY FIRE DEPARTMENT PARAMEDIC EMPLOYED BY
PRIVATE AMBULANCE COMPANY
To: (Name withheld at the person's request.)
A prohibited conflict of interest exists under Section 112.313(7), Florida Statutes, where a city fire department paramedic also is employed by a private ambulance company. Here, the paramedic's employment relationship with the private ambulance company would present a continuing or frequently recurring conflict of interest and would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties, as he would be in the position to determine whether the services of his private employer would be utilized. CEO's 87-48, 86-34, 84-19, and 81-76 are referenced.
Does a prohibited conflict of interest exist where a city fire department paramedic also is employed by a private ambulance company?
Under the circumstances presented, this question is answered in the affirmative.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that .... is employed by the City of St. Petersburg Fire Department as a Paramedic. In this position he works on a 24 hours on/48 hours off basis to provide first responder advanced life support services to the community, and remains on-call during his off-duty hours. As a paramedic, he conducts triage of ill and injured patients who request assistance and makes recommendations as to the need for transportation of these patients to a medical facility for further treatment. In many instances, a patient will choose the hospital to be utilized; however, the attending paramedic may override any such decision if he determines that the patient requires the services of another facility. Department units may transport patients at the discretion of the paramedic at the scene when urgent conditions exist. This option is being partially eliminated through the removal of transport capable vehicles in the Fire Department. However, in a telephone conversation with our staff you advised that it does not appear that a complete phaseout of these vehicles will occur.
You further advise that the subject employee works during his off-duty hours as a paramedic for a private ambulance company. This company operates under a contract with the Pinellas County Commission and is the only such company permitted to provide basic and advanced life support and nonemergency transport services within the City. The company is automatically dispatched to all medical emergency scenes under provisions of the contract with the County Commission. However, Fire Department paramedics can cancel the responding private ambulance if they determine that it is not needed on the scene. When the private ambulance staff arrives on the scene first, they may cancel the responding Fire Department unit. Both the Fire Department and private ambulance company paramedics participate in care and treatment on the scene. The services of the Fire Department are funded by taxes, and the private ambulance company charges users a flat fee plus mileage and certain supply costs.
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 part of the provision prohibits a public employee from having an employment or contractual relationship with a business entity which is subject to the regulation of or is doing business with his agency. Under the circumstances you have presented, it appears that the private ambulance company is doing business with the County rather than the City Fire Department. Also, basic life support and advanced life support services are required to be licensed and permitted by the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services pursuant to Chapter 401, Florida Statutes. While you advise that the City Manager is responsible for the City's actions regarding the provision of emergency medical services and that the private ambulance company is required to obtain a license through the City Occupational License Tax Department, it does not appear that the City Fire Department regulates the private ambulance company.
However, Section 112.313(7)(a), Florida Statutes, also prohibits a public employee from having any employment or contractual relationship which would create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict of interest or which would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties. We are of the opinion that such a conflict would exist in this case. Section 112.312(6), Florida Statutes, defines "conflict of interest" as "a situation in which regard for a private interest tends to lead to disregard of a public duty or interest." When interpreting these provisions, we are required to examine
the nature and extent of a public officer's duties together with a review of his private employment to determine whether the two are compatible, separate and distinct or whether they coincide to create a situation which 'tempts dishonor.' [Zerwick v. State Commission on Ethics, 409 So.2d 576, 61 (Fla. 4th DCA 1982).]
We previously have advised that Section 112.313(7)(a), Florida Statutes, does not limit a public employee's secondary employment on the basis of the fact that there might be a conflict at some time in the hours worked on both jobs. See CEO 87-48, in which we noted that an employer could take this factor into consideration when deciding whether to allow outside employment. However, we have found conflicts of interest to exist where public employees were in the position to make referrals to a private ambulance company or to obtain business for their private company or employer in determining whether the services of that company were necessary in a particular situation. See CEO 86-34, CEO 84-19, and CEO 81-76.
Accordingly, we find that a prohibited conflict of interest exists where the City Fire Department Paramedic also is employed by the private ambulance company.