City of San Antonio, Texas

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 59

April 29, 2002

Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

 

Whether a member of a City Commission may promote an event sponsored by a client before the Commission and/or City staff providing support to the Commission.

A member of a City Commission has asked whether he may promote an event sponsored by a client before the Commission and/or City staff providing support to the Commission. The following facts are presented:

A member of the San Antonio Convention & Visitors Commission ("Commission") is also the owner of an area business that provides consultation, direction, and marketing of event services. Currently, he is under contract with an association to promote an upcoming event, a contract that he has held for the previous two (2) years. The contract provides, among other things, that the member interface with City staff providing support to the Commission, in an effort to increase awareness of the event.

The Commission is comprised of 27 members appointed by the City Council and has several subcommittees, including, but not limited to, the Multicultural Marketing Committee. The duties of the Commission are to, among other things, advise the Director regarding objectives for the Bureau and evaluate all current and proposed programs. The individual also serves on the Commission’s Multicultural Marketing Committee ("Committee"). This Committee is charged with attracting conventions of diverse attendees and works closely with the Public Relations Visitors Sales Division "to increase local awareness and importance of . . . Hispanic meetings, conventions, and leisure visitors."

The issue is whether a member of this City commission may represent a client before the Commission and/or City staff. Members of Boards and Commissions that are created by the City Council are City officials under the Ethics Code and subject to the standards of conduct thereunder.

Improper Economic Benefit. As a general rule, a City official may not take any official action that he knows is likely to have an effect on, among others, his economic interest or the economic interest of his client. Should such occur, the official is required to recuse himself immediately, refraining from any further participation in the matter, and disclose in writing to the City Clerk the economic benefit. In accordance with this rule, if an issue involving his client requires action by the City official in his position as a member of either the Commission or the Committee, he must recuse himself from any and all discussions, and disclose the matter to the City Clerk’s Office and the other board members.

Representation of Private Interests. Part B, Section 5 of the Code[1] addresses representation of private interests before the City by a member of a City commission. Section 5(a) states:

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

    1. before that board or body;
    2. before city staff having responsibility for making recommendations to, or taking any action on behalf of, that board or body, unless that board or body is only advisory in nature; or
    3. before a board or other city body which has appellate jurisdiction over the board or body of which the city official . . . is a member, if any issue relates to the official’s . . . official duties."

Under section 5(a)[2], the individual may not represent his client before the Commission or before the City Council on a matter that relates to his board duties. The individual may represent his client before City staff supporting the Commission as it is only advisory in nature, before other boards and commissions, and before city bodies if the issue(s) does not relate to his duties on the Commission. He may not, however, assert or imply that he is able to advance the interests of his client because of his position on the Commission in accordance with Part B, Section 5(b)(3)[3].

Unfair Advancement of Private Interests. Part B, Section 2 of the Ethics Code[4] 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 (including himself [ ]) any form of special consideration, treatment, exemption, or advantage beyond that which is lawfully available to other persons." Pursuant to this section, the official may not use his position on the Commission to advance the interests of his client or give the impression of such.

The concern lies with the language of the contract between the member and the client which specifically states that the member shall "inter-face with SACVB PR Division to maximize travel writer opportunities [and] inter-face with SACVB Visitors Division to maximize exposure of local event." This, coupled with the role of the Committee to work closely with the Public Relations Visitor Sales Division to increase local awareness of Hispanic events, may give the appearance of attempting to secure special consideration for the client, consideration "beyond that which is lawfully available to other persons." Therefore, it is advised that the member err on the side of caution and refrain from representing his client before City staff on this matter.

 

SUMMARY

City officials are governed by the standards of conduct set forth in the Ethics Code of the City of San Antonio. Pursuant to such standards, a City official may neither assert nor imply that, as a result of his position, he is able to advance the interests of his client. Given the facts as stated above and the language of the contract between the City official and the client, it is advised that the member err on the side of caution and refrain from representing his client before the Commission, before City staff on this matter and before the City Council where the issue relates to his Commission duties. This does not, however, prohibit him from complying with the other duties as set forth in the contract.

 

 

 

 

ANDREW MARTIN

City Attorney



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

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

[3]   Currently codified in Ethics Code Section2-47(b)

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