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City of San Antonio, Texas

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 2010-05
July 13, 2010
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

I.  Issue

May a city employee accept a half-priced admission to a conference related to the city duties of the employee from a city vendor?

II. Inquiry

Several employees have expressed interest in attending a conference in San Antonio that will offer seminars and information directly related to the subject matter of their city responsibilities.   A city vendor has offered to provide the employees with passes that would provide them with a 50% discount to the conference. The value of the discount exceeds $50.  The employees have inquired if the Ethics Code would prohibit them from accepting this benefit.

III. The Ethics Code

A.  Restrictions on the Receipt of Gifts and Benefits by City Employees
The Ethics Code contains two rules which regulate the acceptance of gifts or benefits by city employees.   The first restricts gifts given with the intent to influence or reward a city official or employee for official action:

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.

Ethics Code, Section 2-45(a)(1). 

The second rule restricts gifts from specific sources, regardless of the motivation for the gift:

A city official or employee shall not solicit, accept, or agree to accept any gift or benefit, 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 action or advocating on zoning or platting matters before a city body.

Ethics Code, Section 2-45(a)(2).   This rule provides an exception for gifts up to $50 in value.    
In this instance, the city employee is being offered a benefit with financial value of greater than $50 from a city vendor.  There is no indication from the inquiry that the organization is trying to provide the discount passes to the employees with the intent of influencing or rewarding official conduct, so the first rule does not appear to be applicable.  

The second rule imposes restrictions regardless of intent, on gifts from three specific sources: those doing or seeking business with the city; registered lobbyists; and those seeking action or advocating on a zoning or platting matter.     The vendor does business with the city and so the restrictions of the second rule would apply.  

The Ethics Code gift provision, however, lists some exceptions that are relevant to this inquiry.  Sections 2-45(b)(9) and (b)(11) allow city officials and employees to accept the following from potential contractors or vendors:

(9) 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 attending or participating in an official capacity, including:

(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;
.  .  .

(11) admission to training or education program, including meals and refreshments furnished to all attendees, if such training is related to the official or employee’s official duties and the training is in the interest of the City.

The facts presented in the inquiry indicate that the conference is an event directly relevant to the employees’ city duties that will be widely attended by many individuals involved in the same type of work.   Accordingly, the employees may accept the 50% discount to the conference under these two provisions. 

IV. Conclusion

The city employees may accept a 50% discount to a conference directly related to their city responsibilities from a city vendor.