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City of San Antonio, Texas

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 2010-03
May 14, 2010
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

I.  Issue

Does the Ethics Code prohibit city officials or employees from giving gifts to other city officials or employees?

II. Inquiry

Several employees have inquired whether the Ethics Code prohibits city officials or employees from giving gifts to other city officials or employees.    Some of the gifts may exceed $50 in value.

III.  The Ethics Code

A.  Restrictions on the Receipt of Gifts and Benefits by City Employees

The Ethics Code contains two rules which regulate the acceptance of gifts or benefits 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). 

In this inquiry, there is no indication that the employees wish to give gifts for the intent of influencing other city personnel to take or refrain from any official course of action, so the first rule does not appear to be applicable.  

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.

Ethics Code, Section 2-45(a)(2).   This rule provides an exception for gifts up to $50 in value.    

The second rule imposes restrictions regardless of intent, on gifts from three specific sources: those doing or seeking business with the city; registered lobbyists; and those seeking action or advocating on a zoning or platting matter.     As long as the official or employee who wishes to give a gift to a city colleague is not doing or seeking business with the city, a registered lobbyist or a person seeking as zoning or platting decision, the Ethics Code would not prohibit the giving or receiving of the gift.

B.  Gift Reporting

As discussed, the Ethics Code regulates the receipt of gifts from certain sources, but it also addresses whether a benefit must be reported.  These are separate requirements.  A city employee may be authorized to receive a gift, and may or may not be required to disclose it.

There are two disclosure provisions.  First, all officials, including board members, and executive-level staff are required to submit a full annual financial disclosure report.   Ethics Code, Section 2-73.  Some other designated staff members, the “specified employees,” are required to submit a one-page annual gift report.   Ethics Code, Section 2-78.   The remaining employees are not subject to financial disclosure requirements.   For individuals who file financial disclosure or gift reports, they must report the receipt of gifts with more than $100, regardless of their source. 

There are exceptions, though, for the types of gifts or benefits that must be included in the report:

(1)  lawful campaign contributions which are reported as required by state statute or local ordinance;

(2)  gifts received from family members within the second degree of affinity or consanguinity;

(3)  gifts from an individual based on personal friendship who during the preceding three calendar years:  a)  has not done or sought to do business with the city;  b) has not sought city action on any issue before the City Council or any city board or commission;  c)  is not associated with any business or entity that has done or sought to do business with the city; and d) is not associated with any business or entity that has sought city action on any issue before the City Council or a city board or commission;

4)  gifts received among and between fellow city employees and city officials;

5)  admission to events in which the reporting party participated in connection official duties; and

6)  payment of or reimbursement of travel and accommodation expenses accepted in connection with official duties which have been reported [on a travel report].

Ethics Code, Sections 2-74(n) and 2-78.    Under these exceptions, most city officials and employees would not be required to report the receipt of gifts from city colleagues even if the value exceeds $100. 

It should be noted, though, that there are state reporting requirements for the city’s elected officials, city manager and city attorney.   Under Chapter 572 of the Local Government Code, these officials must submit a Personal Financial Statement in which they are required to disclose any gift worth more than $250 given to themselves, their spouses or dependent children.   The only exceptions to this requirement are gifts given by lobbyists who are required to report their expenditures or gifts from family members related within the second degree.

IV.  Conclusion

As long as the official or employee who wishes to give a gift to a city colleague is not doing or seeking business with the city, a registered lobbyist or a person seeking as zoning or platting decision, the Ethics Code would not prohibit the giving or receiving of the gift.

Further, city officials and employees who are required to file annual financial disclosures are not required to report gifts from city colleagues, except elected officials, the city manager and the city attorney, who are subject to reporting requirements under Chapter 572 of the Local Government Code.