City of San Antonio, Texas
Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 87
March 25, 2004
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office
May a city official or employee accept an invitation to a reception for a sporting event?
II. Factual Background
A city official has been invited to attend a welcome reception in connection with a sporting event. The event’s sponsor has offered to waive the entrance fee for the official. The official asks whether he may accept this invitation and, if so, whether there are any applicable reporting requirements. The event’s sponsor is an entity that does business with the city.
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 ethics code provides some exceptions to these restrictions. Section 2-45(b)(6) allows an official or an employee to accept admission to events in connection with the official or employee’s duties as a representative of the city. Section 2-45(b)(10) also provides that an official or employee may accept:
Admission to a widely attended event, such as a convention, conference, symposium, forum, panel discussion, dinner, viewing, reception or similar event, offered by the sponsor of the event, and unsolicited by the City official or employee, if
(A) the official or employee participates in the event as a speaker or panel participant by presenting information related to matters before the City; or
(B) the official or employee performs a ceremonial function appropriate to that individual’s position with the City; or
(C) attendance at the event is appropriate to the performance of the official duties or representative function of the official or employee;
Both Section 2-45(b)(6) and (b)(10) permit the official to accept admission to events in which they will participate in some ceremonial or representational role. Officials or employees subject to financial reporting requirements are not required to report admission to such events. See Section 2-74(n)(5) and Section 2-78 of the City Ethics Code.
Finally, Section 2-45(b)(13) allows a city official or 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 the Official Accept Invitation for Free Admission?
Under the circumstances described in this inquiry, the official has not been invited to the reception to participate in any ceremonial or representational capacity. Accordingly, the official may not accept the invitation pursuant to the exceptions in Section 2-45(b)(6) or (b)(10).
The official may accept the invitation under the “entertainment” exception under Section 2-45(b)(13), so long as he attends as the guest of the donor, the value of the gift does not exceed $500 and he complies with all applicable reporting requirements.
V. Must the Official Report the Gift of Free Admission?
The official 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.
See also Texas Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 64 (1992) (public official may accept invitation to reception as a guest of the donor, if the donor and donee comply with any applicable reporting requirement.).
The official may accept admission to the reception event under Section 2-45(b)(13) (the “entertainment” exception) of the City Code (Ethics Code), so long as he attends as the guest of the donor, the value of the gift does not exceed $500 and he complies with all applicable reporting requirements. It is the responsibility of the recipient of the gift to make a good faith effort to determine the fair market value of the invitation.