CEO 77-40 -- March 9, 1977
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
CITY ATTORNEY ENGAGED TO MARRY DAUGHTER OF COUNCILWOMAN
To: (Name withheld at the person's request.)
Prepared by: Bonnie Johnson
Reference is made to CEO 76-195 in which it was found that one of the essential purposes of s. 112.313(7)(a), F. S. 1975, is to prohibit situations in which a public officer could obtain preferential treatment from, or award public business to, an agency or business entity by which he is employed or with which he has a contractual relationship. Where the nature of the relationship precludes the possibility of personal gain or benefit, the strict language of the provision is inapplicable pursuant to s. 112.316 providing that it is not the intent of the Code of Ethics to prohibit those private pursuits which do not interfere in any manner with public duty. Accordingly, no conflict of interest is deemed to be created by a city attorney's proposed marriage to the daughter of one who serves as councilwoman for that city.
Will a prohibited conflict of interest be created for me, a city attorney, upon my marriage later this year to the daughter of a councilwoman for the municipality I serve?
Your question is answered in the negative.
You advise in your letter of inquiry that you were appointed City Attorney for the City of ____ in March of 1976 by the mayor, which appointment was approved by the city council. You have made plans to be married in June of this year to the daughter of a councilwoman of that city. You further advise that your term of office, as well as those of the mayor and subject councilwoman, expire in March of 1979.
As you note in your letter of inquiry, the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees prohibits a public officer from having
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.]
The question before us is whether the provision contemplates personal relationships of the nature you describe. In our view, it does not.
In one of the earliest opinions issued by this commission, CEO 74-13, we found no conflict between private interest and public duty where a school board member voted on proposals submitted by his spouse in her capacity as director of food services for the school district. Because public officers, like all persons, are expected to acquire and nurture many friendships and relationships, it was reasoned that applicability of that provision of the law be limited in scope to matters beneficial to the officer personally or to an interest in which he is personally involved (such as, for example, a vote on his spouse's salary). Similarly, in CEO 74-50, friendship alone was determined to be insufficient grounds to prohibit a party from representing clients before a board of which his friend and business associate is chairman, assuming that the board member would recuse himself from consideration of particular matters in which he could not serve impartially. Nor was an inherent conflict found to be created where the chairman of a water management district participated in lease negotiations for the district with a party who is his third cousin, assuming again that the relationship was not so close as to affect the official's impartiality. See CEO 75-1.
Under the current law, we have more recently stated that one of the essential purposes of s. 112.313(7)(a), quoted above, is to prohibit situations in which a public officer could obtain preferential treatment from, or award public business to, an agency or business entity by which he is employed or with which he has a contractual relationship. Where the nature of the relationship precludes the possibility of personal gain or benefit, the prohibition was deemed inapplicable pursuant to s. 112.316. See CEO 76-195. In the instant case, we are of the further view that marriage is not the sort of contractual relationship contemplated within s. 112.317. See also CEO 76-91 for discussion of the term "contract."
In sum, we find no inherent conflict of interest with your position as city attorney to be created by your impending marriage to the daughter of a city councilwoman.