CEO 89-49 -- October 26, 1989
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
CITY POLICE OFFICERS PURCHASING SEIZED PROPERTY AT AUCTION
To: (Name withheld at the person's request.)
No prohibited conflict of interest would be created were city police officers to bid on or purchase items at auction which were formerly in police custody as evidence. However, if the purchasing city employee was involved in the acquisition or disposition of the item being purchased, a prohibited conflict of interest would exist. Such a transaction would constitute a contractual relationship that would impede the full and faithful discharge of the employee's public duties, in violation of Section 112.313(7)(a), Florida Statutes. CEO 83-24 and CEO 87-28 are referenced.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest be created were city police officers to purchase items from the city at a public auction, when the items were formerly in police custody as seized evidence or lost and abandoned property?
Your question is answered in the negative, subject to the conditions noted below.
In your letter of inquiry, you advise that the City of St. Petersburg Police Department acquires a great deal of evidence and found property during the course of a year. Much of this property is never claimed and, under Sections 705.103, and 705.105, Florida Statutes, may be disposed of at public auction. In the past, police officers have been allowed to bid on and purchase such items and have been treated no differently from any other member of the general public who is bidding. Recently, the Police Department issued a memorandum prohibiting officer involvement in these auctions, on the apparent basis that the officers' involvement in the seizure of such evidence would create a possible conflict of interest.
Section 112.313(3), Florida Statutes, prohibits a public employee from selling goods to his own agency, but not from purchasing goods from his agency. However, the Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees also 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.]
This provision would prohibit an officer from having a contractual relationship which would impede the full and faithful discharge of his public duties. In CEO 83-24, we advised that a county employee who is involved in the acquisition or disposition of county property would be prohibited from purchasing it at public auction. Our concern was that such employees would be in a position to use information not available to members of the general public for their benefit. Also, their involvement in the acquisition or disposition process would create a situation where regard for their private interests in purchasing the surplus property would tend to lead to disregard of their public duties in those processes. Similarly, in CEO 84-85, we advised that a city council member could not purchase surplus city property where he had a role in declaring it surplus and approving its disposition. Also, in CEO 87-28, we held that a county animal impound officer would be prohibited from purchasing at public auction those animals he had impounded.
Consistent with these decisions, police officers who were involved in the acquisition of property through seizure or other means could not subsequently bid on such property. Similarly, any officer involved in the disposition process for such property could not bid on or purchase the property. However, any officers not involved in acquisition or disposition of particular items of property could bid on and acquire that property at public auction, where they receive no confidential information or other advantage over members of the general public who also may bid.
Accordingly, we find that no prohibited conflict of interest would be created were police officers to bid on or purchase at public auction items seized in evidence or otherwise acquired by the police department, where such officers have no role either in the acquisition of the property or its disposition.