City of San Antonio, Texas

 

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 2008-03

May 7, 2008

Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

 

I.  Issue

 

May a city employee accept invitations to social events, including meals, from actual or potential city vendors during a business-related trade show?

 

II. Inquiry

 

A city employee will be attending a trade show and conference directly related to his responsibilities for the city.   His department will be paying for the costs of sending him to this event.   The employee has advised that it is typical at these types of professional events for vendors to host social, networking events at which food and entertainment is provided.   He has asked whether he may accept invitations to these vendor-hosted events.

 

III. The Ethics Code

The Ethics Code Allows City Employees to Accept Benefits from Vendors within Certain Limitations

Section 2-45 of the Ethics Code restricts city officials and employees from accepting gifts from contractors or those seeking contracts, those seeking zoning or platting decisions, and lobbyists.  The Ethics Code gift provision, however, lists some exceptions that are relevant to this inquiry.  Sections 2-45(b)(9) and (b)(11) allow a city official and employees subject to the Ethics Code to accept the following from potential contractors or vendors:

 

(9) Admission to a widely attended event, such as a convention, conference, symposium, forum, panel discussion, dinner, viewing, reception or similar event, offered by the sponsor of the event, and unsolicited by the City official or employee, if attending or participating in an official capacity, including:

(A) the official or employee participates in the event as a speaker or panel participant by presenting information related to matters before the City; or

(B) the official or employee performs a ceremonial function appropriate to that individual’s position with the City; or

(C) attendance at the event is appropriate to the performance of the official duties or representative function of the official or employee;

(11) admission to training or education program, including meals and refreshments furnished to all attendees, if such training is related to the official or employee’s official duties and the training is in the interest of the City.

Also, gifts of nominal value (less than $50), are also not prohibited.

The facts presented in the inquiry indicate that the conference is a trade show that will be widely attended by many individuals involved in the industry.   The Ethics Code would not prohibit the employee from receiving benefits from the various sponsors of the event which are typically provided to other attendees in general.   Accepting invitations to social gatherings at which food and drink are served would be allowable.   

However, benefits or gifts from potential city contractors which are offered specifically to the employee that are not provided to other attendees in general at the event would not be allowable, unless the value of the gift was less than $50, or another exception of the gift restrictions applied, such as the entertainment exception under Section 2-45(b)(13).  Subsection (b)(13) allows employees to accept gifts of lodging, transportation and entertainment up to $500 in value from a single source in a calendar year, so long as the employee accompanies the donor as a guest and all applicable gift and expenditure reporting requirements are met.  

 

IV. Conclusion

 

A city employee may accept invitations to social events, including meals, from actual or potential city vendors during a business-related trade show if such invitations are typically provided to other attendees at the event.   The employee may also accept items of nominal value, less than $50.  

 

Specific benefits offered to the employee personally that are not offered to other attendees in general would be subject to the gift restrictions and the exceptions under Section 2-45 of the Ethics Code and to the gift reporting requirements under Section 2-73 and 2-78.