CEO 93-36 -- December 2, 1993
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER REPRESENTING ANOTHER
MEMBER BEFORE PROPERTY VALUE ADJUSTMENT BOARD
To: Virginia Tanner-Otts, Attorney, Martin County School Board (Stuart)
A school board member who is also a member of the county value adjustment board is prohibited from appearing before the value adjustment board in behalf of another member regarding the other member's homestead exemption application. A continuing or frequently recurring conflict or impediment to the full and faithful discharge of public duties would exist under Section 112.313(7)(a), Florida Statutes. The other member would not be prohibited from appearing before the value adjustment board regarding the application. CEO's 91-1, 90-8, 78-79, and 77-119 are referenced.
Would a prohibited conflict of interest be created were a member of a district school board to represent another member of the board before the county value adjustment board regarding a petition concerning a homestead exemption issue?
Your question is answered in the affirmative as to the member providing the representation and in the negative as to the member being represented.
By your letter of inquiry and two subsequent letters sent from you to our staff, we are advised that Mr. Anthony D. George and Ms. Joyce A. Hobson serve as members of the School Board of Martin County. In addition, you advise that Ms. Hobson (the "client") has a petition relating to a homestead exemption issue pending before the County's Value Adjustment Board (the "Board") and that Mr. George (the "attorney") desires to represent the client before the Board regarding the exemption petition.
You relate that the client is the personal representative, surviving spouse, and beneficiary of the estate for which the homestead exemption is at issue and that she will appear before the Board and speak on the factual chronology of the events regarding her husband's illness, his death and its impact upon her, and the chronology of her homestead exemption application. You advise that the foregoing is necessitated because she applied for the exemption "after the deadline," thus creating a need to show "extenuating circumstances." Further, you relate that the attorney represents the client only in the matters of her husband's estate, that he is compensated for this work on an hourly basis, that he is not receiving compensation for his appearance before the Board regarding the estate, and that the attorney's only other representation was of her husband as a client in a matter involving health care planning during the latter stages of his illness.
A value adjustment board, you advise, is created for each county in the State pursuant to Section 194.015, Florida Statutes, and consists of three members of the governing board of the county and two members of the school board of the county. Since there are five members of the School Board, two School Board members are appointed to serve at each of the five Value Adjustment Board hearings, with the others being designated as alternates, in order to guarantee an active quorum membership at any meeting. Further, you advise that a taxpayer whose property is subject to real or tangible personal ad valorem tax can, pursuant to the Statute, have a hearing before the Value Adjustment Board as to evaluation issues pertaining to the individual taxpayer's property and that the Board hears the petitions related to assessments and hears complaints related to homestead exemptions. You advise that neither of the School Board members will sit as members of the Value Adjustment Board for the session during which the individual Board member's petition will be presented by the fellow School Board member attorney but that they will be sitting as Value Adjustment Board members on the other dates.
The Code of Ethics for Public Officers and Employees provides in relevant part:
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.]
As to the client School Board member, we do not find that this statute would be violated under the scenario set forth above. No public officer or employee is prohibited from appearing before any board in an individual capacity as a private citizen, representing his or her own personal interests. See CEO 78-79 and CEO 77-119.
As to the attorney, we do find that his situation would be violative of Section 112.313(7)(a) were he to appear before the Board on the estate matter, since his appearance would constitute lobbying or attempting to influence the official decisionmaking of one of his public agencies (the Board). In CEO 91-1 we expressed such concerns about appearances before one's public agency and found that a State Senator was prohibited from contracting with a professional association that lobbied the Legislature. In CEO 90-8 we found that a State Representative could be employed as executive director of an organization so long as his duties as an employee of the organization did not involve personally engaging in lobbying and did not encompass any activities related to lobbying. The fact that the attorney would not be sitting as a member of the Board in the estate matter does not negate the conflict because he still can be expected to possess information and expertise gained by reason of his position as a Board member and because he still can be expected to participate in similar matters before the Board in the future. The attorney's "lack of compensation" for appearing before the Board does not alleviate our concerns, particularly since he is being compensated for his estate work outside of representation before the Board.
Your question is answered accordingly.