City of San Antonio, Texas

 

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 105

March 7, 2006

Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

 

 

 

I.  Issue: 

 

May a city staff member accept the payment of expenses for an out-of-state trip paid for by a federal governmental entity?

 

II. Inquiry

 

A federal governmental entity has offered to pay for expenses for a city staff member to attend its meeting in Washington, D.C.  The federal organization is involved in library and information sciences and has invited the city staff member to participate on a panel which will assess funding proposals.  The city staff member’s employment with the city is related to the work done by the federal organization.    The entity intends to pay for the air transportation and accommodations, plus additional money as an “honorarium.”    The employee asks whether he may accept the offer made by the federal organization.

 

III.  Ethics Code and State Penal Code

 

A.   The Employee May Accept the Payment of Reasonable Travel-Related Expenses

 

The inquiry indicates that the event to which the city employee has been invited is related to the issues and subject matters handled by the employee in his regular course of business.    A city official or employee may accept reasonable travel, accommodation or other travel-related expenses paid for by an outside entity to cover the costs of attending a business-related event.  Reasonable expenses are the level of expenses the city would pay if the city were funding the event.   Expenses beyond that amount, especially for entertainment, would be treated and reportable as personal gifts.   Ethics Code, Section 2-45(b)(2);  Ethics Code, Section 2-76.

 

 

B.  The Employee May Not Accept the Honorarium

 

Section 36.07 of the Penal Code states:

 

(a)  A public servant commits an offense if the public servant solicits, accepts, or agrees to accept an honorarium in consideration for services that the public servant would not have been requested to provide but for the public servant's official position or duties.

 

The Texas State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion 125 concluded that this provision prohibits public servants in Texas from accepting "speaker's fees" or similar compensation for participating in an official business-related function if the employee would not have been invited to participate but for his or her status with the government.  The inquiry indicates that the employee was invited to participate because of his position and work within the city.  Accordingly, the employee may accept payment or reimbursement for his reasonable expenses associated with attending this event, but cannot accept payment or the “honorarium” for his services.  

 

 

C.  Travel Report not Required Because Expenses are Paid by Public Agency

 

Under Section 2-76 of the Ethics Code, any city official or employee who, in connection with his or her official duties, accepts a trip or excursion involving the gratuitous provision of transportation, accommodations, entertainment, meals, or refreshments paid for by a person or entity other than a public agency must file with the City Clerk, before embarking on the travel.     Since the federal organization is a public agency, the employee is not required to file the city’s Travel Report reflecting the travel-related expenses.

 

 

IV. Conclusion

 

The employee may accept payment of travel and accommodation expenses in connection with travel to this event sponsored by the federal organization.   Since the expenses are being paid by a public agency, no travel report is required.  Assuming the employee has been invited to participate because of his position with the city, the employee is prohibited from accepting the honorarium for the services provided