City of San Antonio, Texas
Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 81
January 9, 2004
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office
May a city employee accept an invitation for free admission to a
reception sponsored by a non-profit organization?
II. Factual Background
A city employee inquired whether she may accept an invitation to a reception hosted by a non-profit organization. The invitation stated that individuals interested in attending provide a contribution of $500 per couple in order to obtain membership in the organization and a place at the event.
The organization has offered the city employee free admission to the event. The city employee is employed in a city department that works with the organization. The organization has leased property from the city and as part of its agreement, has undertaken restoration work on the facility.
III. The Ethics Code Gift Provisions
Section 2-45(a) of the City Code (Ethics Code) states:
(1) 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.
(2) A city official or employee shall not solicit, accept, or agree to accept any gift or benefit, save and except for items received that are of nominal value and meals in an individual expense of $50 or less at any occurrence, or meals with no more than a cumulative value of $500 in a single calendar year, from a single source, 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 or advocating on zoning or platting matters before a city body.
The Code also provides some exceptions to these restrictions. Under Section 2-45(b)(6) and (b)(10), an employee may accept admission to events that are connected to the employee’s official duties as a representative of the city. Under Section 2-45(b)(11), the employee may accept admission to charity events, so long as the invitation has been issued by the host of the event.
Finally, Section 2-45(b)(13) allows a city employee to accept “lodging, transportation, or entertainment that the official or employee accepts as a guest up to $500 from a single source in a calendar year.” This exception is contingent upon the recipient and the donor complying with any applicable reporting laws or regulations.
IV. May Employee Accept Invitation for Free Admission?
Under the circumstances described in this inquiry, it is unclear whether the employee has been invited to attend in connection with her official duties as a representative of the city. However, the invitation was given by the actual host of a charity event. Accordingly, the employee could accept the invitation under Section 2-45(b)(11). She could also accept the invitation under the “entertainment” exception under Section 2-45(b)(13). However, as noted in the preceding section, acceptance of a gift under Section 2-45(b)(13) also requires compliance with any applicable reporting requirements.
V. Must the Employee Report the Gift of Free Admission?
The employee is within the list of individuals who are required to submit annual financial disclosure statements under Section 2-73 of the City Code. These reports must include a description of any gifts valued over $100 and identify the donor. Therefore, if this employee accepted this gift pursuant to Section 2-45(b)(11) (the “charity-event” exception) or Section 2-45(b)(13) (the “entertainment” exception), she must report the receipt of the gift of free admission to the charity event on her annual financial disclosure report.
If the facts established that the employee were attending in some official capacity as a representative of the City of San Antonio, the employee could accept the invitation under Section 2-45(b)(6) or (b)(10) (“official duties” exceptions). Admission to events in which the reporting party participated in connection with official duties is excluded from the gift reporting requirement.
The employee may accept admission to the charity event under Section 2-45(b)(11) (the “charity-event” exception) or Section 2-45(b)(13) (the “entertainment” exception) of the City Code (Ethics Code). Because this employee is subject to the annual financial disclosure reporting requirements, she would be required to report any gift valued at over $100, unless a reporting exception applied, such as admission to events in connection with official duties. The facts of this inquiry did not establish that this employee’s attendance at this event would have been in connection with her official responsibilities.
 Under the “charity-event” exception, the employee could not accept tickets paid for by a person or entity that is not sponsoring or hosting the event. For example, if a city contractor purchased a large number of tickets, the employee could not accept those tickets under Section 2-45(b)(11), since the contractor is not a host, but rather an attendee of the event.