Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 100
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office
May a city employee accept complimentary registration to a conference which she is attending in connection with her official duties?
organization for parks and recreation professionals selected
III. The Ethics Code
A. Receipt of Gifts or Benefits
The Ethics Code regulates the acceptance of gifts by city employees and requires some employees to report gifts they have received. Section 2-45(a)(2) states:
A city official or employee shall not solicit, accept, or agree to accept any gift or benefit, from:
(A) any individual or business entity doing or seeking to do business with the City; or
(B) any registered lobbyist or public relations firm; or
(C) any person seeking action or advocating on zoning or platting matters before a city body,
save and except for
i) items received that are of nominal value; or
ii) meals in an individual expense of $50 or less at any occurrence, and no more than a cumulative value of $500 in a single calendar year from a single source.
If the organization enters into a partnership or business relationship with the city to host this conference, the employee may be subject to the restrictions set out in Section 2-45(a)(2). However, the code provides exceptions to these restrictions in some circumstances, including a provision that allows officials and employees to accept “admission to an event in which the city official or employee is participating in connection with official duties.” Section 2-45(b)(6).
The employee in this inquiry is being offered complimentary admission to a conference directly related to her responsibilities for the city. Accordingly, she may accept this benefit. Her next question, though, is whether she must report this benefit pursuant to any financial disclosure requirements.
B. Reporting Gifts and Benefits
As noted, the Ethics Code regulates the receipt of gifts from certain sources and whether the benefit must be reported. These are separate requirements. A city employee may be authorized to receive a gift, but may or may not be required to disclose it.
There are two disclosure provisions. First, all officials, including board members, and executive-level staff are required to submit a full annual financial disclosure report. Ethics Code, Section 2-73. Some other designated staff members, the “specified employees,” are required to submit a one-page annual gift report. Ethics Code, Section 2-78. The remaining employees are not subject to financial disclosure requirements. For individuals who file financial disclosure or gift reports, they must report the receipt of gifts with more than $100, regardless of their source.
There are exceptions, though, for the types of gifts or benefits that must be included in the report:
(1) lawful campaign contributions which are reported as required by state statute or local ordinance;
(2) gifts received from family members within the second degree of affinity or consanguinity;
(3) gifts from an individual based on personal friendship who during the preceding three calendar years: a) has not done or sought to do business with the city; b) has not sought city action on any issue before the City Council or any city board or commission; c) is not associated with any business or entity that has done or sought to do business with the city; and d) is not associated with any business or entity that has sought city action on any issue before the City Council or a city board or commission;
4) gifts received among and between fellow city employees and city officials;
5) admission to events in which the reporting party participated in connection official duties; and
6) payment of or reimbursement of travel and accommodation expenses accepted in connection with official duties which have been reported [on a travel report];
Ethics Code, Sections 2-74(n) and 2-78. Under these exceptions, the employee will not be required to report the complimentary registration for the conference because she participated in the event in connection with her responsibilities to the city.
Under the circumstances of this inquiry, the employee may accept admission to the conference because it is related to her official duties for the city. If she is subject to financial or gift disclosure requirements, she will not be required to report the benefit.