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City of San Antonio, Texas

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 2010-02
March 12, 2010
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

I.  Issue

May a city board member appear before City Council to provide his personal opinion on a matter not pertaining to the board on which he serves?

II. Inquiry

A board member has advised he wishes to appear at the “Citizens to be Heard” portion of a City Council meeting to give his opinion on a matter that does not pertain to business before the board on which he serves.   He states that he will make his appearance as a private citizen and not as a representative of his board.  He inquires whether there are any impediments to his appearance under the city Ethics Code.

III. Representation of Private Interests by City Board Member

The Ethics Code includes some restrictions on the ability of city boards and commissions members from representing private interests before the city.  However, those restrictions are limited to representation on matters related to the business of the board. 

Section 2-47(a) of the Ethics Code states:

Representation Before the City by a Member of the Board.  A city official or employee who is a member of a board or other city body shall not represent any person, group, or entity:

(1) before that board or body;
(2) before city staff having responsibility for making recommendations to, or taking any action on behalf of, that board or body, unless the board or body is only advisory in nature; or
(3) before a board or other city body which has appellate jurisdiction over the board or body of which the city official or employee is a member, if any issue relates to the official’s or employee’s official duties.

In this instance, the City Council does have appellate jurisdiction over the board member’s board.  Accordingly, the member would be prohibited from representing private interests before that body if the issue relates to business before his own board.   The facts presented in this inquiry do not indicate that the member’s board has any jurisdiction or business related to the matter on which he wishes to present at City Council.   Therefore, the member may appear before City Council at “Citizens to be Heard” in his capacity as a citizen to speak on this issue of interest to him.

However, he may not assert the prestige of his city office in connection with his presentation.   Section 2-47(c)(1) provides:

Prestige of Office and Improper Influence.  In connection with the representation of private interests before the city, a city official or employee shall not:

(1) assert the prestige of the official’s or employee’s city position for the purpose of advancing private interests.

So long as he appears in his capacity as a private citizen and not as a representative of the board, the Ethics Code would not prohibit him from addressing the City Council.

IV.  Conclusion

A city board member may appear before a board or other city body that has appellate jurisdiction of the board on which he serves to offer testimony or comment in his capacity as a private citizen if the issue does not relate to his official responsibilities to the city.   He may not assert the prestige of his office in support of his presentation.