City of San Antonio, Texas

 

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 31

 

August 23, 1999

Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

 

 

Whether a member of the zoning commission may accept employment with a political consultant for the Spurs.

 

 

A member of the Zoning Commission has asked whether she may accept employment with a political consultant for the Spurs. The following facts are presented:

 

A political consultant has been hired by the Spurs for the November 2nd arena referendum. A member of the Zoning Commission has been offered employment with the political consultant to help organize the Spurs campaign. Her duties will include, among others, posting signs and organizing the November 2nd vote. She may also man a potential Northside office for such endeavors should an office be established.

 

The issue is whether, under the City of San Antonio Ethics Code, the member may accept such employment given her position on the Zoning Commission. Part A, Section 2 of the Code[1] defines a City official to include, among others, members of the Zoning Commission. As a city official, she is required to follow the standards of conduct as set forth in the Code.

 

Improper Economic Benefit. As a general rule, a City official may not take any official action that is likely to have an effect on her economic interest or the economic interest of her employer that is distinguishable from its effect on a substantial segment of the public. If such occurs, the City official is under a duty to recuse herself and disclose, in writing, to the City Clerk the economic benefit.

 

Given the facts above, it is unlikely that a matter regarding the political consultant or the Spurs would come before the Zoning Commission. However, should it occur, the Commissioner is required to disclose the potential conflict to the City Clerk and recuse herself from any further participation in the matter.

 

Unfair Advancement of Private Interests. Part B. Section 2 of the Code[2] prohibits all City officials 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 Commissioner may not use her position as a City official to advance the interests of the political consultant and/or the Spurs 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 of the Code[3] addresses representation of private interests and includes those issues brought forth by a member of a board before the City. Section 5(a)[4] states:

 

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

 

    1. before that board or body;
    2. before city staff having responsibility for making recommendation to, or taking any action on behalf of, that board or body; or
    3. 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."

 

Under section 5(a)[5], the Commissioner may not represent the political consultant and/or the Spurs before the Zoning Commission or City staff that provides support to the Zoning Commission or before the City Council on a matter that came before the Zoning Commission. The Commissioner may, however, represent the political consultant and/ or the Spurs before other boards and commissions and city staff as long as the staff contacted does not provide support to the Zoning Commission.

 

Prohibited Financial Interest in Contract. Part B, Section 10[6] prohibits City officers from having a financial interest in a contract with the City or its agencies. Under this section, a City officer includes, among others, "members of any board or commission which is more than advisory in function." The Zoning Commission is such a commission, and therefore, the member is a City officer.

 

To be in violation of this section, the City officer must have a financial interest in a contract with the City. In order for the Commissioner to have a financial interest, she must own 10% or more of the voting stock or shares of the political consulting business or own 10% or more of the fair market value of the business. Because she would be an employee of the political consultant, she would not own the requisite amount necessary to violate this section of the Code.

 

 

SUMMARY

 

Members of the Zoning Commission must abide by the standards as set forth in the Ethics Code. Pursuant to such standards, a Commissioner must recuse herself and disclose any economic benefits to her or her employer that are distinguishable from the public in general. Provided she abide by such standards, a Commissioner may accept employment with a political consultant who has been hired by the Spurs to organize the vote for the November 2nd arena referendum.

 

 

 

FRANK J. GARZA

City Attorney



[1]   Currently codified in Ethics Code Section 2-42

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

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

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

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

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