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City of San Antonio, Texas

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 2011-10
November 21, 2011
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

I.  Issue

May a city employee attend a holiday party given by a company who has a contract with the city?

II. Inquiry

A city employee has been invited to attend a holiday party hosted by a company currently doing business with the city.  The employee has asked if they may attend the party without violating the City’s Ethics Code.  A ticket to the holiday party is valued at over $50.00.

III.  The Ethics Code  

Section 2-45 (a)(1) of the City's Ethics Code prohibits city officials and employees from soliciting or accepting gifts where the gift is intended to influence or reward official conduct. 

Section 2-45(b) of the rule prohibits city officials and employees from soliciting or accepting gifts in three specific instances:  first, where the gift is from a person seeking to do or doing business with the city, second, if the gift is from a registered lobbyist, and third, if the gift is from someone seeking a zoning or platting decision from the City. This rule has several exceptions, including items of nominal value, which has been interpreted as being $50.00 or less.  It has been determined that the cost of the tickets to the party exceeds $50.00. 

There is no indication that the company is attempting to influence or reward official conduct of city employees.  However, because the company and the City have a contractual relationship, we must look to the exceptions to see if there is an applicable provision permitting the employee to attend the holiday party.

Entertainment was removed as an exception to the gift rule in 2009; therefore, there is no exception to the gift rule that is applicable to this situation.

IV.       Conclusion

The Ethics Code prohibits city employees from accepting gifts from entities doing business with, or seeking to do business with the City.  While there are several exceptions to the gift rule, the entertainment exception was eliminated in 2009.  Therefore, the city employee may not attend a holiday party hosted by a company doing business with the city.