City of San Antonio, Texas

 

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 8

 

February 26, 1999

Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

 

Whether a City employee serving on a Team for the Community Building and Neighborhood Planning Program may review applications for such program where he resides within the planning area of one of the applicants.

 

Kara Norman of the Planning Department has asked whether a City employee may serve on the evaluation Team of the Community Building and Neighborhood Planning Program where the City employee resides within the planning area of one of the applicants. 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 planning services. Evaluating the applications are two (2) different teams comprised of City employees from various City departments.

 

Team One will assist with the review of the Building Capacity & Focusing on the Issues and the Community & Neighborhood Plans applications. Under the Building Capacity & Focusing on the Issues application, neighborhood associations are formed to develop special studies, focusing on critical issues and/or goals. Under the Community & Neighborhood Plans applications, community members are given assistance to develop a community or neighborhood plan.

 

Team Two (2) will review the applications for the Neighborhood Improvement Challenge Program. This program gives neighborhood organizations the opportunity to partner with private groups in implementing small, public improvement projects and will be given a minimum allotment of $2,500 in City funds.

 

Each team member is required to rank the applicants based on criteria established for the program he is evaluating. Once this is completed, recommendations will be forwarded to Emil Moncivais, the Planning Director, for final approval.

 

The issue is whether, under the City of San Antonio Ethics Code, a City employee may serve on a Team for the Community Building and Neighborhood Planning Program to review applications for such programs where he resides within the planning area of one of the applicants. 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. Ms. Norman has stated that at least one team member resides within the planning area of one of the applicants. Because the employee resides in the area, it may be perceived that selection of this applicant benefits the City employee, thereby calling into question the validity of the program. Therefore, the City employee should disclose the potential conflict to the City Clerk in writing and recuse himself from further participation in the matter, including any discussions.

 

Prohibited Financial Interest in Contract. Part B. Section 10[1] prohibits City employees from having a financial interest, directly or indirectly, in a contract with the City or its agencies. A financial interest includes, but is not limited to, instances where the City employee is a party to a City contract or where he owns 10% or more of the voting stock or shares of the applicant group or 10% or more of the fair market value of the group. Given the facts presented, the City employee would neither be a party to the contract nor own the requisite amount in the applicant group to constitute a financial interest. Rather, the party to the contract would be the neighborhood group should it be selected, and it is highly unlikely that he would own the requisite financial amount. Therefore, participation by a City employee would not be in violation of this section of the Code.

 

 

SUMMARY

 

A City employee may serve on a Team for the Community Building & Neighborhood Planning Program to review applications for neighborhood areas throughout San Antonio provided that he recuse himself and disclose the nature of the conduct in any official action that he knows is likely to affect or has the appearance of affecting his economic interests.

 

 

FRANK J. GARZA

City Attorney



[1]   Currently codified in Ethics Code Section 2-52