City of San Antonio, Texas

 

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 2009-07

August 20, 2009

Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

 

I.  Issue: 

 

May a city official or employee serve as a reference for a private citizen?

 

II. Inquiry

 

A city staff member has been asked by a customer of his department to be a reference for him with another municipality.

III.  The Ethics Code

The city customer has asked the city staff member to serve as a reference for him with another municipality.   Section 2-44 of the Ethics Code prohibits a city official or employee from using his or her official position to unfairly advance or impede a private interest.  Subsection 2-44(b)(2) specifies that city personnel cannot enter into an agreement or understanding that official action will be reciprocated by the other person, directly or indirectly.

There is no indication from this inquiry that the customer is seeking favorable treatment regarding some matter pending with the city, or that he envisions some reciprocation of favors that could affect some matter before the city.

The Ethics Code would not prohibit the city employee from serving as a reference for the customer, so long as the employee does not use any city resource to provide this personal favor.  City resources include city equipment and duty time.   Ethics Code, Section 2-49.  Any letter of reference should be on personal stationery, and while the employee may explain his position with the city and his experience with the customer, he must not create any impression that the City of San Antonio is endorsing this individual.

IV. Conclusion

City officials and employees may serve as personal references for others, but must not use city resources or indicate or suggest that the reference is an endorsement of the individual by the City of San Antonio.