Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 10
December 19, 2002
Issued By: The Ethics Review Board
Whether a grant awarded pursuant to the guidelines of the Community Grant Program by the San Antonio Conservation Society to a City employee or a City official, as those terms are defined in the Ethics Code of the City of San Antonio, violates the ethics code.
The San Antonio Conservation Society is a non-profit charitable organization. The purpose of the San Antonio Conservation Society is to preserve and to encourage the preservation of historic buildings, objects, places and customs relating to the history of Texas.
The San Antonio Conservation Society on a regular basis advocates issues of preservation to City employees and officials and before various forums of the City of San Antonio – particularly the City Council, the Historic and Design Review Commission, the Planning Commission, the Zoning Commission and the Technical Advisory Board for the Unified Development Code.
In furtherance of its purpose the San Antonio Conservation Society has for many years maintained a Community Grant Program, which awards grants to individuals or organizations for building projects, associated with preservation or restoration of historic buildings, objects or places. The grant program is open to all qualified applicants who meet the criteria.
Twice a year a grant committee of the San Antonio Conservation Society meets to decide upon all applications filed for grants. Many more applications are filed than there is money to award. All grants are initially screened to determine if they have met the strict requirements of the application. Recommendations for awards are then made only to those qualified applicants whose projects demonstrate the most preservation merit. Decisions are made solely upon preservation merit. The identity of the applicant is not material in the decision-making by the grant committee. The grant program is open to all citizens. The qualification criteria are identical for all citizens.
The applicable standards of conduct as set forth in the City’s Ethics Code are:
“An action is likely to affect substantially an economic interest if it is likely to have an effect on that interest that is distinguishable from its effect on members of the public in general or a substantial segment thereof…”
(a) General Rule. “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.”
(b) Special Rules. (2) Reciprocal Favors. “A city official or employee may not enter into an agreement or understanding with any other person that official action by the official or employee will be rewarded or reciprocated by the other person, directly or indirectly.”
“Special Applications. Subsections (a) (1) and (a) (2) do not include:
(3) a public award or reward for meritorious service or professional achievement, provided that the award or reward is reasonable in light of the occasion;
(4) a loan from a lending institution made in its regular course of business on the same terms generally available to the public;
(5) a scholarship or fellowship awarded on the same terms and based on the same criteria that are applied to other applicants; or…”
It is the opinion of the Ethics Review Board that because the grants made by the San Antonio Conservation Society are awarded pursuant to guidelines that evaluate all applicants according to the same criteria, such grants to City employees or officials do not violate the City’s Ethics Code. The Ethics Review Board observes that the recipients of such grants must avoid the appearance of impropriety by recusing himself or herself from any official action involving the Conservation Society.
ARTHUR DOWNEY, District 9