City of San Antonio, Texas

 

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 114

March 7, 2007

Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

 

I.  Issue: 

 

May a city employee accept the payment of travel costs and an honorarium for predicating in a panel at a conference held by a governmental organization?

 

II. Inquiry

 

A city employee has been invited to participate on a review panel on a subject matter related to the employee’s professional experiences.  The event is sponsored by a governmental entity and will take place outside of Texas.    The entity has offered to pay the costs of transportation and lodging for the employee, as well as provide payment of an honorarium of $300 a day to take part in the panel.   The employee inquires whether he can accept payment of these costs and the honorarium.

 

III.  The Ethics Code and Texas Penal Code

A.  Business-Related Travel

From the facts presented in this inquiry, the event to which the employee has been invited to participate is related to his professional experiences and reputation in his field of work for the city.   The invitation to the event is therefore business-related and not personal in nature.   Accordingly, the offer to cover the costs of transportation and lodging would not constitute a personal gift.   The Ethics Code does permit acceptance of reasonable travel, accommodation and other business-related costs from outside parties to cover the costs of attending a business-related event.   Reasonable expenses are expenses that the city would cover under its policies if the city were funding the event.  Expenses beyond that amount, though, especially for entertainment, would be treated and reportable as personal gifts.    See Ethics Code Section 2-45(b)(2).

Acceptance of a trip by any department head or staff member on the executive pay plan must be approved in writing by the City Manager.  Acceptance of such a trip by other personnel must be approved in writing by the employee’s department director.  Ethics Code Section 2-76.   Whether to provide administrative leave during the employee’s absence from city duty is a personnel decision, and not a matter under the auspices of the Ethics Code.

 

When expenses for a business related event are covered by an outside entity, the city official or employee would report those expenses on a Travel Report.    This report, however, is not required if the outside entity is a public agency, i.e. a governmental organization.    Ethics Code Section 2-76.

B. Honorariums

The second inquiry is whether the employee may accept an "honorarium" of $300 a day for participating in this event.

 

Section 36.07 of the Texas 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.

 

(b)  This section does not prohibit a public servant from accepting transportation and lodging expenses permitted under Section 305.025(b)(2) of the Government Code (state lobbyists regulations), in connection with a conference or similar event or from accepting meals in connection with such an event.

 

The Texas State Ethics Commission has 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.  See Texas Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 17 (June 4, 1992).   Accordingly, the employee may accept payment or reimbursement for his reasonable expenses associated with attending this event, but cannot accept payment for his services.  

 

IV. Conclusion

 

The employee may accept the payment of costs for reasonably related travel expenses associated with business-related travel from the outside entity.  Because the entity sponsoring the event is a governmental entity, the employee is not required to file a travel report regarding the expenditures, but is required to obtain written approval to travel from the City Manager or department director.   The employee cannot accept payment or an “honorarium” for his services.