City of San Antonio, Texas

 

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 5

 

February 23, 1999

Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

 

Whether a trip to examine the day to day operations of a privatized airport facility may be paid by a potential bidder should the City Council agree to privatize the airport of the City of San Antonio and related question.

Councilmember Rick Vasquez has asked whether a Councilmember may accept a trip by a third party to examine the day to day operations of a privatized airport facility in Indianapolis, Indiana. The cost of the trip for the elected official would be paid by either the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce or a potential contractor should the City Council decide to privatize the City’s airport. The issue is whether the acceptance of the trip would prohibit the Councilmember from participating and voting on the privatization of the airport in the future.

The Ethics Code defines "city official" to include, among others, members of the City Council. As a city official, a Councilmember is required to follow the standards of conduct as set out in the Ethics Code, including, but not limited to, recusing himself and disclosing any improper economic benefit and refraining from acceptance of a gift that tends to influence official action.

Part B. Section 1[1] states that, as a general rule, a City Councilmember may not take any official action that he knows is likely to affect substantially his economic interests or those of his spouse, among others. Given the facts presented, it does not appear that a Councilmember would benefit economically from this trip. However, should the Chamber or company pay for his spouse’s expenses, the benefits she receives are distinguishable from the benefits the public receives, and thus would be an improper economic benefit. Therefore, in this situation, a Councilmember would be required to recuse himself immediately and disclose the economic benefit in writing to the City Clerk should his spouse accompany him on said trip which was paid for by the third party.

Part B. Section 3[2] states that a Councilmember may not accept any gift that may influence or reward official conduct or give the appearance of such. Arguably, a trip to Indianapolis, Indiana has the appearance of influencing action, albeit not a strong one if trip is sponsored by the Chamber. The perception of improper influence could be argued if a potential contractor is sponsoring the trip for the Councilmember(s). But in order for there to be an Ethics violation, the Ethics Commission would have to find a nexus between the acceptance of this trip and the effort by the contractor to influence the official duties of the Councilmember.

The Ethics Ordinance permits the "reimbursement of reasonable expenses for travel authorized in accordance with City policies." Such reimbursement must be reported in accordance with Part G. Section 4[3] which states that a Councilmember "who, in connection with his . . . official duties, accepts a trip . . . involving the gratuitous provision of transportation, accommodations, . . . paid for by a person or entity other than a public agency must file with the City Clerk, before embarking on the travel a disclosure statement." Provided the Councilmember follows the requisite policy for travel, compliance with the Ethics Code would be met.

SUMMARY

 

Given the facts presented, a Councilmember may accept a trip to Indianapolis, Indiana to examine the day to day operations of the privatized airport, which costs are to be paid by the Chamber, provided the expenses are reasonable and the travel is authorized according to City policies. If the trip is paid for by a potential contractor, the trip may still be accepted unless the Councilmember knows or should know that the trip is being paid for in order to influence the Councilmember.

 

FRANK J. GARZA

City Attorney



[1]   Currently codified in Ethics Code Section 2-43

[2]   Currently codified in Ethics Code Section 2-45

[3]   Currently codified in Ethics Code Section 2-76