Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 97
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office
I. Issue: Can a city board member represent a non-profit organization that wishes to seek action by the same board?
A church organization would like to seek a recommendation from a city board to obtain permission to use vacant city property. One of the members of this board is also a member of the church’s board of trustees. The member asks whether she has a conflict of interest, and whether she may represent the interests of the church before the board.
A. Conflict of Interest
The Ethics Code has two “conflicts-of-interest” provisions. The first states that a city official, including a board member, cannot take any official action that is likely to affect the economic interests of the
2) the official’s family within the 2nd degree, and members of the official’s household;
3) businesses in which the official or his or her family members hold an ownership interest;
4) employers of the official or the official’s family members;
5) business entities or non-profit organizations for which the official serves in an executive or decision-making capacity;
6) individuals or businesses with whom the official is engaged in business or employment negotiations; and
7) any outside client of the official.
Ethics Code, Section 2-43. When a matter that would affect the official’s financial interests or these other interests come before the official’s board, the Ethics Code requires that the official disclose the conflict on a form filed with the Office of the City Clerk. The official must recuse himself or herself from any participation in the matter and should not be present during the board’s discussion or vote. Ethics Code, Section 2-43(b)(4).
The second conflict-of-interest provision states that a city official cannot use his or her position with the city to unfairly advance or impede private interests or to secure for any person any form of special consideration, treatment, exemption or advantage beyond that which is lawfully available to other persons. Ethics Code, Section 2-44. This provision also requires the recusal and disclosure form to be filed.
The city board member in this inquiry has indicated she serves on the board of trustees of the church organization seeking action from her board. Under Section 2-43, the member cannot participate in any discussion or vote on any matter before her board that could affect the financial interests of her church organization. Accordingly, she must recuse herself in this matter.
B. Representation of Private Interests
The member also inquires whether she may represent the interests of the church before her board. The Ethics Code prohibits this. It states:
Representation Before the City by a Member of the Board. A city official or employee who is a member of a board or other city body shall not represent any person, group, or entity:
(1) before that board or body;
(2) before city staff having responsibility for making recommendations to, or taking any action on behalf of, that board or body, unless the board or body is only advisory in nature; or
(3) before a board or other city body which has appellate jurisdiction over the board or body of which the city official or employee is a member, if any issue relates to the official’s or employee’s official duties.
Section 2-47(a). The member cannot represent the interests of another individual or organization before the city board on which she serves.
The board member must recuse herself from the matter before her board pertaining to her church organization. She may be involved with the matter in her capacity as a church board member, but not as an advocate or representative in its activities before the city board.