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City of San Antonio, Texas

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 2010-08
December 2, 2010
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

I.  Issues: 

May a city employee submit an application to the city for a city program on behalf of himself or his family members?

May a city employee submit an application for a city program on behalf of another person or private sector organization as a volunteer?

II. Inquiry

A city employee who works for the Development Services Department has inquired whether he can submit an application for a program or service run by his department either for himself or his family members.

Further, he also asks whether he can submit applications on behalf of individuals who are friends rather than family members or for private sector organizations such as his neighborhood association or business partners.   

The employee also indicates that neither he nor his office has a role or involvement in the programs or services for which he may submit the applications.

III.  The Ethics Code

A.   Representation of Private Interests Before the City

Representation of Self or Family

The city’s Ethics Code imposes restrictions upon employees regarding representing non-city interests before the city.  Section 2-47(b) states:

A city official or employee shall not represent for compensation any person, group, or entity, other than himself or herself, or his or her spouse or minor children, before the city.   .  .  .   [T]he term compensation means money or any other thing of value that is received, or is to be received, in return for or in connection with such representation.

Representation before the city is a presentation of fact – either by words or conduct – made to induce City Council, a city board or commission or other city entity or a city official or city employee to take a desired action.  Ethics Code Section 2-42(d) and (bb).   

The employee in this inquiry therefore can submit applications or participate in city programs on behalf of himself or his immediate family.

Representation of Other Individuals or Private Sector Organizations or Businesses

The Ethics Code prohibits city employees from representing private interests before the city other than themselves or immediate family members if they are receiving compensation for the representation.   In this inquiry, the employee has indicated he would like to provide this assistance to private sector groups or business friends on a volunteer basis.    So long as the employee receives no compensation, meaning money or any other thing of value, in exchange for the service, he may represent these private interests before the city.

B.  City Resources Cannot Be Used to Facilitate the Representation of Private Interests

Although the Ethics Code does not prohibit the employee from representing his or his family’s interests before the city, or other private sector interests carried out on a volunteer basis, the code does forbid the employee from using any city resource or his position within the city to facilitate this representation. 

Section 2-49 of the Ethics Code states:

A city official or employee shall not use, request, or permit the use of city facilities, equipment, or supplies or time while on city duty for private purposes (including political purposes), except:

1) pursuant to duly adopted city policies; or

2) to the extent and according to terms that those resources are lawfully available to the public.  

Section 2-44 states:

A city official or employee may not use his or her official position to unfairly advance or impede private interests, or to grant or secure, or attempt to grant or secure, for any person (including himself or herself) any form of special consideration, treatment, exemption, or advantage beyond that which is lawfully available to other persons.

Under these provisions, the employee must not use his city computer, telephone, duty time or any other city resource to facilitate his outside interests.   Also, he cannot use his position within the city to obtain an advantage or consideration not available to the general public.

C. Conflicts of Interest

Finally, the employee has indicated that neither he nor his office is involved in the programs or services for which he may submit applications or seek city action.   If a matter affecting the employee’s private interests or those of the individuals or entities that he represents on a volunteer basis were to come before him or his office, he would have a conflict-of-interest and would be required to recuse himself from any participation in his capacity as a city employee.   Ethics Code Section 2-43(a)(1), (a)(2) and (a)(3).

D.  Conclusion

The city employee may represent the private interests of himself and his family before the city, and those of private sector individuals or entities for which he receives no compensation or benefit.   However, he can have no involvement in such matters in his capacity as a city employee.  Further, he can use no city resource, including his city duty time, to facilitate the representation.