Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 116
March 13, 2007
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office
May library employees accept small gifts of jewelry from a patron who wishes to express appreciation for courteous service by staff?
Employees of the city’s Library have inquired whether they may accept a gift from a patron who wishes to show appreciation. The patron creates jewelry as a hobby which the employees describe as nice, but not extravagant. The patron is not a city contractor, vendor, lobbyist or zoning or platting applicant, and has expressed she just wants to express thanks for good service.
III. The Ethics Code - Gifts
The Ethics Code contains 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:
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).
The first gift rule provides that officials and employees cannot accept gifts when the purpose of the gift is to influence or persuade the official/employee to take some particular action for the city. From the information presented in the inquiry, the patron would like to show appreciation, but is not trying to obtain influence or specific action from city employees by providing these gifts. Accordingly, the prohibition under Section 2-45(a)(1) would not apply.
The second rule imposes limitations employees can receive on gifts from three particular sources -
1) city contractors/vendors or those seeking contracts
2) those seeking zoning or platting decisions;
If the gift is from one of those three sources, the employee can only receive items or objects worth less than $50. There is no indication that the patron is a city contractor, a zoning or platting applicant or a lobbyist. Therefore, the restrictions under the second rule would not apply.
When gifts are offered to employees, the Office of the City Attorney recommends sensitivity to the appearance of impropriety in accepting gifts, even if the two gift rules do not specifically prohibit the employee from accepting them. Under the circumstances described in this inquiry, though, the gifts are not prohibited, nor are they of a value that would create an appearance of impropriety. Accordingly, the employees may accept the jewelry from the patron.
The library employees may accept the jewelry as a gift of appreciation since the donor is not in a category of individuals who are restricted or prohibited in providing gifts to city officials or employees. The Office of the City Attorney, though urges any city employee to be sensitive to the appearance of impropriety even when receipt of a gift is not specifically prohibited.