CEO 84-27 -- April 26, 1984
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT EMPLOYEE SERVING ON COUNTY COMMISSION
To: (Name withheld at the person's request.)
No prohibited conflict of interest would be created were the environmental health director of a county health department to be elected to serve as a member of the board of county commissioners for that county. Under the provisions of Chapter 154, Florida Statutes, health department employees are employees of D.H.R.S. rather than of the county, and the health department is not regulated by the county. If the health department is considered as doing business with the county because it receives funding from the county, employment with the health department would be "grandfathered in" under CEO 82-10 and CEO 82-14.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest be created were you, the environmental health director of a county health department, to be elected to serve as a member of the board of county commissioners for that county?
Your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that you presently are employed as Environmental Health Director of the Hamilton County Health Department and that you are considering running for election to the Board of County Commissioners of Hamilton County. If elected, you advise, you would disqualify yourself from consideration of public health unit related matters. In a telephone conversation with our staff, you advised that as Environmental Health Director you are not responsible for the administration of the Health Department, but rather are responsible for inspecting food service establishments, making sanitary evaluations of pools, trailer parks, schools and other institutions, and for enforcing D.H.R.S. regulations regarding sewage disposal.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees provides in relevant part:
No employee of a state agency or of a county, municipality, special taxing district, or other political subdivision of the state shall hold office as a member of the governing board, council, commission, or authority, by whatever name known, which is his employer while, at the same time, continuing as an employee of such employer. [Section 112.313(10)(a), Florida Statutes (1983).]
This provision prohibits a county employee from also serving on the board of county commissioners. In previous opinions, such as CEO 82- 52, we have considered county health department employees to be county employees rather than employees of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services.
However, effective July 1, 1984, D.H.R.S. and the various counties are to contract for the establishment and maintenance of public health units in the counties. Section 154.01, Florida Statutes, as amended by Chapter 83-177, Laws of Florida. Public health unit employees providing public health services, such as yourself, are to be employed by D.H.R.S. on the effective date of such contracts. Section 154.04(2), Florida Statutes. As you would not take office until November, 1984, we find that Section 112.313(10) would not prohibit you, as an employee of D.H.R.S., from serving on the county commission.
In addition, the Code of Ethics provides:
CONFLICTING EMPLOYMENT OR CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP. -- 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), Florida Statutes (1983).]
Although this provision does not prohibit a public employee from holding public office, it does contain limitations on the employment which a public officer may have. Therefore, we address your situation from this perspective.
The first portion of Section 112.313(7)(a) prohibits a county commissioner from being employed by an agency which is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, the county commission. In our view, your "agency," the County Health Department, is not subject to the regulation of the County Commission. Although the County participates in establishing and funding the Department, the 1983 amendments to Chapter 154 make it clear that D.H.R.S. rather than the County is primarily responsible for the services provided by its public health unit. To the extent that the Health Department could be considered to be doing business with the County by virtue of the funding it receives from the County, we are of the opinion that your employment with the Health Department would be "grandfathered in" under the rationale of previous opinions, such as CEO 82-10 and CEO 82-14.
Finally, we do not perceive that your employment with the Health Department would create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict of interest or would impede the full and faithful discharge of your duties as a County Commissioner. Under the provisions of Chapter 154, the County Commission does not compensate you, cannot hire or terminate you, and cannot affect the terms and conditions of your employment with D.H.R.S.
Accordingly, we find that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created were you to be elected to serve on the Board of County Commissioners while being employed as Environmental Health Director of the County Health Department.