Ethics Advisory Opinion No. #103
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office
May a city employee accept a discount offered to all city employees?
An organization that has a business relationship with the city has offered to sell its products to city employees for a specified discount. A city employee inquires whether taking advantage of the discount would constitute a gift.
III. The Ethics Code - Receipt of Gifts or Benefits
The Ethics Code includes two rules which regulate the acceptance of gifts by city employees. The first restricts gifts given with the intent to influence or reward a city official or employee for official action. This rule states:
A city official or employee shall not solicit, accept, or agree to accept any gift or benefit for himself or herself or his or her business:
(A) that reasonably tends to influence or reward official conduct; or
(B) that the official or employee knows or should know is being offered with the intent to influence or reward official conduct.
Ethics Code, Section 2-45(a)(1).
The second rule restricts gifts from specific sources, regardless of the motivation for the gift:
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.
Ethics Code, Section 2-45(a)(2).
Many businesses offer discounts to members of large organizations as a marketing tool for their product. A discount is a benefit with monetary value. In this instance, the organization appears to be offering the discount to employees to target them as a group of consumers, rather than as individuals who represent the city.
The purpose underlying the gift provisions of the Ethics Code is to prevent the appearance that government decisions are influenced by personal gifts to officials and employees. A discount offered to city employees on the same terms as offered to employees of other large private sector employers does not constitute a personal gift under these provisions. Accordingly, the employee may take advantage of the discount.
A discount offered to city employees under a group discount program offered to the personnel of large private and sector employers on the same terms does not constitute a personal gift to a city employee. A city employee may take advantage of such a discount.