CEO 88-42 -- June 9, 1988
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
COUNTY PARAMEDICS AND EMT'S RECEIVING DISCOUNT
AT LOCAL RESTAURANTS
To: Mr. James P. Reardon, Emergency Services Administrator, Collier County (Naples)
No prohibited conflict of interest would be created were county paramedics and EMT's to accept discounts at local restaurants and fast food establishments while they are on duty. As it does not appear that the discounts would be given based upon the understanding that the official action of the employees would be influenced, Section 112.313(2), Florida Statutes, would not be violated. In addition, Section 112.313(4), Florida Statutes, would not be violated as there is no direct relationship between the county's emergency services division or the paramedics and EMT's and the food establishments, and therefore it cannot be concluded that the discounts are being given to influence official action in which the employees are expected to participate.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest be created were county paramedics and EMT's to accept discounted food purchases from local restaurants and fast food establishments while they are on duty?
Your question is answered in the negative.
In your letter of inquiry you advise that Collier County operates a county-wide paramedic program through its Emergency Services Division. Recently, you advise, several local restaurant owners and fast food operators approached the Division offering a percentage discount for food purchases to on-duty paramedics and emergency medical technicians (EMT's). The proposed 50 percent discount would apply only to on-duty, uniformed paramedics and EMT's. You advise that these employees are responsible for paying for their meals personally while on-duty.
You further advise that the restaurants would make the discount available with the understanding that it is provided in the interest of an employee who is on-duty for 24 hours and who rarely is able to prepare and consume a meal due to workload and frequency of calls. The business owners also understand that the discount would be provided without any future personal or professional compromises on the part of County government.
Finally, you advise that typically the only relationship between the County and the restaurants and fast food establishments is through licensing, permitting, and tax collection. The paramedics and EMT's have no involvement or participation in these processes, and there is no direct relationship between the Emergency Services Division and these businesses. The paramedics and EMT's would serve patrons or employees of the businesses should an acute injury or illness occur. The individual receiving emergency medical treatment and transportation is responsible for paying the County for these charges.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees provides in relevant part:
SOLICITATION OR ACCEPTANCE OF GIFTS. -- No public officer, employee of an agency, or candidate for nomination or election shall solicit or accept anything of value to the recipient, including a gift, loan, reward, promise of future employment, favor, or service, based upon any understanding that the vote, official action, or judgment of the public officer, employee, or candidate would be influenced thereby. [Section 112.313(2), Florida Statutes (1987).]
UNAUTHORIZED COMPENSATION. -- No public officer or employee of an agency or his spouse or minor child shall, at any time, accept any compensation, payment, or thing of value when such public officer or employee knows, or, with the exercise of reasonable care, should know, that it was given to influence a vote or other action in which the officer or employee was expected to participate in his official capacity. [Section 112.313(4), Florida Statutes (1987).]
Under the circumstances presented, it does not appear that the meal discount would be given to the employees based upon any understanding that their official action would be influenced. Therefore, we find that Section 112.313(2) is not applicable.
With respect to Section 112.313(4), we have advised that assuming the donor is in a position to be benefited by a public employee's action, the employee should weigh the value of the thing received against the ostensible purpose for its being given. See CEO 80-27, involving university administrators receiving free meals from a food service company which was contracting with the university. However, where it is improbable that the public officer or employee would be called upon to participate in any official action involving the donor, we have found that this provision would not prohibit the receipt of the gift or compensation. See CEO 80-60, regarding a city official accepting a trip to Germany to view recycling and waste processing plants at the expense of a sanitation company contracting with the city, and CEO 82-66, involving a county property appraiser participating in an informal seminar regarding the appraisal of property.
Here, there is no direct relationship between the Emergency Services Division and the on-duty paramedics and EMT's and the businesses which would be providing the discounts. Therefore, we conclude that the discounts are not being given to influence some official action in which the paramedics and EMT's could be expected to participate.
Accordingly, we find that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created were the subject paramedics and EMT's to accept a discount for food purchased at local restaurants and fast food establishments while they are on-duty.