Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 18
March 23, 1999
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office
Under what circumstances is a City employee who serves on the Board of the Humane Society of
required to abstain from matters involving the Humane Society? Bexar County
An employee in a City department has asked under what circumstances must he abstain from matters involving the Humane Society of Bexar County. This opinion is based on the following facts:
A City employee is an officer on the Board of the Humane Society of Bexar County. Currently, the Humane Society is in the process of purchasing property from a private owner contingent upon a zoning change. The staff of the Humane Society is preparing the necessary paperwork to request the zoning change. The City employee has not been involved in this process, refraining from any related board discussions and decisions.
The issue is under what circumstances is a City employee serving on the
Humane Society of Bexar County required to abstain from matters involving the
Humane Society given his employment. The Ethics Code of the City of
Improper Economic Benefit. Generally, a City employee may not take any official action that "is likely to have an effect on [his] economic interest or the economic interests of a nonprofit entity for which the City employee serves as an officer that is distinguishable from its effect on members of the public in general or a substantial segment thereof." If such occurs, the City employee is under a duty to recuse himself and disclose, in writing, to the City Clerk the prohibited conduct.
It is unlikely that a matter of the Humane Society would involve the employee’s City department. Should it occur, however, the City employee should disclose the potential conflict to the City Clerk and recuse himself from any further participation in the matter.
Unfair Advancement of Private Interests. Part B. Section 2 of the Code prohibits all City employees from using their position "to unfairly advance or impede private interests, or to grant or secure, or attempt to grant or secure, for any person any form of special consideration, treatment, exemption, or advantage beyond that which is lawfully available to other persons." Under this section, the City employee in the instant case must not use his position as a City employee to advance the interests of the Humane Society or give the impression of such. Failure to abide by this standard of conduct is a violation of the Ethics Code and subject to the penalties therein.
Confidential Information. All City employees are prohibited from using their position to obtain confidential information for purposes other than the performance of their duties and/or from intentionally or knowingly disclosing such information gained as a result of their position. Therefore, if and when the Humane Society appears before the Zoning Board to request a zoning change, the City employee must not divulge information confidential in nature, resulting from his position as a City employee.
Representation of Private Interests. Part B. Section 5(b) prohibits a City employee from representing for compensation "any person, group or entity, other than . . . himself, or . . his spouse or minor children, before the city." Therefore, given his position with the City, the employee must not represent the Humane Society before the Zoning Board or the City.
An employee in a City department may sit on the board of the Humane Society of Bexar County provided he abide by the standards of conduct as set forth in the Ethics Code. This includes recusing himself and disclosing a potential conflict should one arise, ensuring that no unfair advantages are given to the Humane Society because of his position with the City, and refraining from representation of the Society before the City.
FRANK J. GARZA