City of San Antonio, Texas

 

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 107

June 7, 2006

Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

 

 

I.  Issue: 

 

Can city employee accept free admission to a class offered by a city vendor that is not related to city duties?

 

 

II. Inquiry

 

The City of San Antonio’s Department of Community Initiatives contracts with outside organizations to provide educational programs at the city’s community centers.  An employee who works in that department would like to enroll in one of these programs and has been offered one of two complimentary positions for the class.   The employee asks whether she may accept this complimentary tuition.

 

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).

There is no indication from the inquiry that the free tuition is being offered for the purpose of influencing official action by the employee, so the first gift rule is not implicated.     The second rule, however, applies to gifts from city vendors or contractors, regardless of the purpose underlying the offer of the benefit.  Items of “nominal value” are defined as benefits which have a fair market value of $50 or less.   Ethics Code, Section 2-45(e)(4).   The value of this course exceeds $50. 

Section 2-45(b)(11) provides an exception to the second gift rule that allows an employee to accept free admission to an education program if the training is related to the employee’s official duties and the training furthers the interests of the city.   The employee, though, has acknowledged that her interest in the class is personal and is not business-related.  Accordingly, the employee could not accept this educational benefit under this exception.   

 

IV. Conclusion

 

The Ethics Code does not prohibit a city employee from attending a course offered by a city vendor or contractor through one of its community center programs.   The employee may attend the class if she wishes on her personal time, but must pay tuition on the same terms and conditions as any other student.