CEO 75-207 -- November 6, 1975
ATTORNEY EMPLOYED BY POLITICAL SUBDIVISION
APPLICABILITY OF DISCLOSURE LAW
To: T. Terrell Sessums, General Counsel, Tampa Port Authority, Tampa
Prepared by: Gene Rhodes
A port authority is deemed to be a political subdivision rather than a state agency inasmuch as its jurisdiction is not statewide; its members therefore should file statements of disclosure with the clerk of the circuit court in their counties. It is acknowledged that disclosure requirements are more stringent where an attorney for a port authority is actually an employee of the authority rather than serving on retainer. Reference is made to CEO 75-170. A change in status made to circumvent the requirements of the Code of Ethics, however, would violate the spirit of the law.
1. In reference to question 2 of CEO 75-166, must the officers and employees of the Tampa Port Authority file their disclosure statements with both the Secretary of State and the Clerk of the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County?
2. In reference to question 5 of CEO 75-166, would my disclosure requirements be the same if I were a private attorney retained by the Tampa Port Authority?
Question 1 is answered in the negative.
Your letter of inquiry advises us that the members of the Tampa Port Authority are appointed by the Governor and you are of the opinion that they are state officers. Likewise, you believe that employees of the authority are state employees.
While it is relevant that the Governor appoints the members of the authority, we do not believe that such appointment is conclusive as to whether the authority is a state agency or a political subdivision. The Governor appoints officers to many bodies throughout the state, but many are not deemed to be "state agencies" for purposes of disclosures required by part III, Ch. 112, F. S. (1974 Supp.). For example, community college district boards of trustees are specifically defined in the revised financial disclosure law as "local officers." Section 112.3145(1)(a)2., F. S., amended by Ch. 75-196, Laws of Florida.
The provision of the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees which you found ambiguous was amended by the 1975 Legislature to read in relevant part:
. . . State officers, specified employees and persons seeking to qualify as candidates for state office shall file their statement of financial interests with the Secretary of State. Local officers and persons seeking to qualify as candidates for local office shall file their statements of financial interests with the clerk of the circuit court of the county in which they are principally employed or are residents. [Section 112.3145(2), F. S., as amended by Ch. 75-196, Laws of Florida.]
The term "state officer" is defined to include "An appointed member of each board, commission, authority, or council having statewide jurisdiction . . . ." Section 112.3145(1)(c)2., F. S., Ch. 75-196.
Although this revised law does not take effect until January 1, 1976, we must look to its terms at least as persuasive authority of the Legislature's intent, especially where the existing law is silent as to a particular matter as in the instant case.
The Tampa Port Authority does not have statewide jurisdiction. Rather, the special act establishing the Hillsborough County Port District describes said district as being comprised of the territory wholly within Hillsborough County. Section 2, Ch. 23338, 1945, Laws of Florida. The Hillsborough County Port Authority is deemed to be the governing body and authority of the Hillsborough County Port District and "shall constitute a body politic . . . ." Section 4, Ch. 23338. With these facts in mind there is little basis for concluding that the authority has statewide jurisdiction.
On the other hand, the term "local officer" is defined by the revised code to include "[a]ny appointed member of a board, commission, authority . . . or council of any political subdivision of the state . . . ." Section 112.3145(1)(a)2., F. S., Ch. 75-196. The term "political subdivision" is defined by the Florida Statutes to include "counties, cities, towns, villages, special tax school districts, special road and bridge districts, bridge districts and all other districts in this state." (Emphasis supplied.) Section 1.01(9), F. S. 1973.
Inasmuch as the port authority is a special tax district, "a body politic," and limited in its jurisdiction to the area comprising Hillsborough County, we find such authority to constitute a political subdivision within the meaning of the Code of Ethics. Accordingly, officers and employees of the authority are required to file their statement of financial interests with the Clerk of the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County.
Question 2 is also answered in the negative.
Your letter of inquiry advises us that consideration is being given to changing your status and, therefore, the above does not constitute a hypothetical question.
Enclosed please find a copy of a previous opinion of this commission, CEO 75-170, the rationale of which is equally applicable to your question. We do feel, however, that a change of this nature made to circumvent the requirement to file financial disclosure would not be in accordance with the spirit of the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees.