City of San Antonio, Texas

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 67

September 9, 2002

Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

Issue: Does the City Ethics Code permit a member of the City’s Affirmative Action Advisory Committee to volunteer in a political campaign

for a state office?

A member of the City’s Affirmative Action Advisory Committee has asked whether she can volunteer to participate in upcoming an political campaign for a state office. As a member of this committee, this individual is a City official under Part A, Section 2 of the Ethics Code. As a city official, she is required to follow the standards of conduct set forth in the Code. The issue is, whether, under the City Ethics Code, the member may volunteer to participate in a political campaign for state office.

The member has stated that her participation will be voluntary and not compensated. Also, in her capacity as a board member, she has no subordinates.

Political Activity

Part B, Section 8 of the Ethics Code imposes the following restrictions on a City official’s political activity:

a. Influencing Subordinates. A city official or employee shall not, directly or indirectly, induce or attempt to induce any city subordinate of the official or employee:

1. to participate in an election campaign, contribute to a candidate or political committee, or engage in any other political activity relating to a particular party, candidate or issue, or

2. to refrain from engaging in any lawful political activity;

A general statement merely encouraging another person to vote does not violate this rule.

b. Paid Campaigning. A city official or employee shall not accept any thing of value, directly or indirectly, for political activity relating to an item pending on the ballot, if he or she participated in, or provided advice relating to, the exercise of discretionary authority by a city body that contributed to the development of the ballot item.

c. Official vehicles. A city official or employee shall not display or fail to remove campaign materials on any city vehicle under his or her control.

Limitations on the use of public property and resources for political purposes are imposed by Section 7 of Part B (Public Property and Resources.

Since the member has no subordinates, there is no issue of the member potentially violating the prohibition against influencing them. Also, because the member will be participating in state campaigns, it appears unlikely that she will take part in any political activity that would overlap with her duties as a member of the City’s Affirmative Action Advisory Committee. Her status as a volunteer also makes the application of the prohibition against paid campaigning unlikely.

Under Part B, Section 7, the member, as a city official, cannot use, request or permit the use of city facilities, personnel, equipment or supplies for private purposes, including political activities. Also, under Section 8(b), no campaign materials can be displayed on any city vehicle under the member’s control.

Other Limitations on Political Activity

Section 8, by reference, also imposes the limitations on political activity set out in state law, the City Charter and the City Personnel Rules. The City Code reiterates the prohibitions set out in the Ethics Code. See City Code Chap. 2, Art. III, §§2-50. State law prohibitions apply only to state employees. Because the member is not a state employee, these provisions would not apply. See V.T.C.A. Government Code §§556.001 – 556.005.

The City Personnel Rules impose far stricter limits on political activity than the City Ethics Code. Rule III precludes any employee from making a campaign contribution or from taking part in the management affairs or political campaign of any political party. However, Rule I defines "employee" as "one filling a position under "Classified or Unclassified Service," with the exception of elected officials and boards or commissions or individuals appointed by City Council. Accordingly, the member is not a city employee for purposes of the City Personnel Rules and these limitations are inapplicable.

Other provisions of the Ethics Code, though do apply to a board member’s conduct in general, including political activity:

Unfair Advancement of Private Interests

Part B, Section 2 of the Code 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 member may not use her position as a City official to advance the interests of the campaign for which she intends to volunteer.

Confidential Information

Part B, Section 4 also imposes upon the member an on-going obligation to refrain from using her position to obtain confidential information for any purpose other than the performance of her duties and from intentionally or knowingly disclosing such information gained as a result of her position. Therefore, the official cannot obtain or disclose confidential information for any purpose other than those related to carrying out her duties as a member of the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee.

Summary

Members of the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee must abide by the standards set forth in the City Ethics Code. Because the member has no subordinates and intends to participate in a state political campaign as a volunteer, Part B, Section 8 would not preclude her from this activity.

However, as a city official, the member must comply with the Ethics Code. Specifically, the member has an on-going obligation to protect confidential information and to refrain from using her position as a board member in any way to promote the interests of any political campaign. She cannot use any city facilities, personnel, equipment or supplies to promote any private interest, including a political campaign. The city board member may participate as a volunteer in a campaign for state office, but should remain cognizant of the standards of conduct set out in the Code.

 

Andrew Martin

City Attorney