CEO 77-10 -- February 1, 1977
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
STATE SENATOR PARTNER IN INVESTMENT GROUP OWNING LAND CONTIGUOUS TO MUNICIPAL AIRPORT
To: (Name withheld at the person's request.)
Prepared by: Bonnie Johnson
No prohibited conflict of interest is created in a state senator's being a limited partner in an investment group which owns property near a municipal airport, were the municipality to purchase additional airport land adjacent to the investment group's property. Although a public officer is prohibited by s. 112.313(7)(a), F. S. 1975, from having a contractual relationship with a business entity subject to the regulation of his agency, subparagraph 2. of that statute exempts from this prohibition members of legislative bodies who regulate strictly through the enactment of laws or ordinances.
Where a state senator is a limited partner in an investment group owning property near a municipal airport, would a conflict of interest be created for the senator were the municipality to purchase additional land for airport use which is adjacent to the investment group's property?
Your question is answered in the negative.
You advise in your letter of inquiry that around 1970 an investment group called ____ was organized with 2 general partners and 18 limited partners. Since the group's inception, Senator ____ has been a limited partner. In 1971, the investment group purchased property located approximately a quarter of a mile east of ____ Air Force Base. Later, around 1974, ____ became a joint use airport and subsequently was deeded to the city by the Air Force. An airport authority was created in 1976 and, although he was nominated for membership on that body, the senator asked that he not be considered. The city now is negotiating the purchase of additional property which is contiguous to that held by the investment group, and the senator wishes to know if the purchase, and the consequent increase in value of the group-owned land, creates a conflict with his recently acquired public position.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees provides in relevant part as follows:
CONFLICTING EMPLOYMENT OR CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP. --(a) No public officer or employee of an agency shall have or hold any employment or contractual relationship with any business entity or any agency which is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, an agency of which he is an officer or employee . . . ; nor shall an officer or employee of an agency have or hold any employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his private interests and the performance of his public duties or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties. [Section 112.313(7)(a), F. S. 1975.]
A public officer thus is precluded from holding private employment or having a contractual relationship with a business entity subject to the regulation of his public agency or which conflicts with his public duties. Pursuant to s. 112.312(2), F. S. (1976 Supp.), the senator's agency is the Florida Legislature which, in varying degrees, regulates all businesses and agencies within the state. However, the above-quoted provision continues so as to establish an exception to the general prohibition:
When the agency referred to is a legislative body and the regulatory power over the business entity resides in another agency, or when the regulatory power which the legislative body exercises over the business entity or agency is strictly through the enactment of laws or ordinances, then employment or a contractual relationship with such business entity by a public officer or employee of a legislative body shall not be prohibited by this subsection or be deemed a conflict. [Section 112.313(7)(a)2., F. S. 1975.]
As the Florida Legislature is a legislative body whose regulatory authority over the investment group is restricted to the enactment of laws, the subject senator's situation falls within this statutory exception. Based on the circumstances before us, we perceive no conflict between the senator's private interest in the group and the performance of his duties as a state senator.
Accordingly, we find no prohibited conflict to be created in the senator's privately being a limited partner in an investment group which owns property contiguous to that of a municipal airport. We would, however, call the senator's attention to s. 112.3143, relating to voting conflicts, should he ever be faced with a vote affecting the value of the property and/or the municipality's future purchase of it from the investment group.