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City of San Antonio, Texas

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 2010-06
August 18, 2010
Issued By: City Attorney’s Office

I.  Issue

May a city employee accept a door prize that exceeds $50 in value that was awarded at a conference from a city vendor?

II. Inquiry

An employee attended an open house sponsored in part by an entity that does business with the city.   Each person attending the event received a ticket for a random drawing for various prizes.   The employee won a drill worth more than $50.  Approximately one third of the individuals attending won some type of prize.  The employee has inquired whether he can accept the drill under the provisions of the city’s Ethics Code.

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 has been offered a benefit with financial value of greater than $50 from a city vendor.  Since the vendor awarded the prizes through a random selection, there is no indication the entity has offered the prize 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 question is whether this gift prohibition would apply if the benefit was provided through random selection instead of being given directly to the city employee with the intent that he, as a city employee, be the specific recipient.   Section 2-45(a)(2) states that a city employee may not accept a benefit valued at more than $50 from a city vendor.  No exception is provided for benefits given through random selection.  The restriction is based on the status of the recipient as a city employee and the donor as a city vendor.     See Texas Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion No. 396 (1998) (whether a public servant may accept a particular gift under the Texas Penal Code depends on the nature of the gift and the status of the donor.)    Therefore, given that the gift has been provided by a city vendor, and that the value is more than $50, the employee cannot accept the door prize.

IV.  Conclusion

Under Section 2-45(a)(2), if the value of the benefit exceeds $50, a city employee cannot accept a gift or benefit, including a randomly awarded door prize from a city vendor.