City of San Antonio, Texas

 

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 20

 

April 19, 1999

Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

 

Whether a City employee in the Planning Department may act as lead staff or as a small group facilitator for a neighborhood planning effort where he resides within the planning area and whether the employee may participate in the neighborhood’s planning efforts.

The Planning Department has asked whether a City employee may act as lead staff or as a small group facilitator for a neighborhood planning effort where he resides within the planning area and whether the employee may participate in the neighborhood’s planning efforts. The following facts are presented:

The Community Building and Neighborhood Planning Program, approved by City Council in October 1998, provides a competitive application process for neighborhood groups to request the following planning services:

Building Capacity & Focusing on the Issues Program. Neighborhood associations are formed to develop special studies, focusing on critical issues and goals;

Community & Neighborhood Plans. Assistance is provided to community members to develop a community or neighborhood plan; and

Neighborhood Improvement Challenge Program. Neighborhood organizations are given the opportunity to partner with private groups in implementing small, public improvement.

To implement the services offered under the Building Capacity & Focusing on the Issues Program and the Community & Neighborhood Plans, a neighborhood division planning staff member in the Planning Department may be assigned to act as lead staff or as a small group facilitator. The role of lead staff is to manage the project in implementing a neighborhood plan. The facilitator, on the other hand, assists in conducting public meetings to discuss issues regarding transportation, community facilities, land use, and others. In each case, the lead staff and/or facilitator work to develop the goals and objectives of the neighborhood and to assist in finding funding sources. These neighborhood plans are then added as a component to the City’s Master Plan.

The issue is whether a City employee may act as lead staff or as a small group facilitator for a neighborhood planning effort where he resides within the planning area and whether the employee may participate in the neighborhood’s planning efforts. Under the Ethics Code of the City of San Antonio, all City employees, whether part-time or full-time, are required to follow the standards of conduct as set forth in the Code.

Improper Economic Benefit. As a general rule, a City employee may not take any official action that "is likely to have an effect on [his] economic interest 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. If a City employee resides within the planning area of one of the neighborhood associations for which he is to act as lead staff or facilitator, it may be perceived that the neighborhood association may somehow benefit from employment of the City employee or has already benefited from such employment. This may call into question the validity of the program. Therefore, the City employee should not participate as lead staff or facilitator, and the supervisor should assign this responsibility to another employee.

Unfair Advancement of Private Interests. Part B. Section 2[1] of the Code prohibits all City employees from using their position to unfairly advance private interests. More specifically, a City employee "may not enter into any agreement . . . with any other person that official action by the . . . employee will be rewarded . . . .by the other person [ ]." Given this standard of conduct, a City employee in the Planning Department must not use his position to advance the interests of his neighborhood association 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.

Representation of Private Interests. Part B. Section 5[2] of the Code addresses representation of private interests before the City. Section 5(a)[3] states:

"A city . . . employee . . . who is a member of a . . . city body. . . shall not represent any person, group or entity:

before that board or body;

before city staff having responsibility for making recommendation to, or taking any action on behalf of, that board or body; or

before a board or other city body which has appellate jurisdiction over the board or body of which the city official or employee is a member, if any issue relates to the official’s or employee’s duties."

Although technically as lead staff and/or facilitator the City employee is representing the City, the fact that the employee may reside in the neighborhood the subject of his assistance gives the perception that he may also be representing his neighborhood. Therefore, the City employee should refrain from acting as lead staff and/or facilitator for his neighborhood. He may, however, attend meetings of interest in his community regarding the neighborhood’s planning efforts provided he does not receive compensation for his attendance.

 

SUMMARY

 

A City employee should not serve as lead staff or as a small group facilitator for neighborhood planning services where he resides in said neighborhood. He may, however, attend meetings of interest in his community regarding the planning efforts provided he does not receive compensation for his attendance.

 

 FRANK J. GARZA

City Attorney



[1]  Currently codified in Ethics Code Section 2-44

[2]   Currently codified in Ethics Code Section 2-47

[3]   Currently codified in Ethics Code Section 2-47(a)