At its May 3, 2012 meeting, the Palm Beach County Commission on Ethics (COE) issued the following opinions on matters raised by county employees and officials or pertain directly to the duties and responsibilities of county employees. The full opinions are available at: http://www.palmbeachcountyethics.com/opinions.htm.
For a detailed explanation of all agenda items, please go to: http://www.palmbeachcountyethics.com/meetings.htm.
• In connection with ongoing countywide audits of training compliance pursuant to §2-446 of the Code of Ethics, the COE discussed whether and in what context independent constitutional officers and their employees are required to adhere to the Code of Ethics when they are appointed or assigned by law to be a member of a county, regional, state or municipal board, commission or committee.
RQO 12-025: A lobbyist whose firm lobbies on behalf of private individuals and businesses asked two questions of the COE regarding the countywide Lobbyist Registration Ordinance, effective April 2, 2012. First, whether landscape architecture firm staff members who meet with Palm Beach County staff members for the purpose of asking technical questions related to a project are “lobbying” and, therefore, “lobbyists,” as defined in the lobbyist registration ordinance. Second, when a registered lobbyist attends a meeting and is assisted by several staff members, including engineers, for the purpose of assisting him or answering technical questions, must accompanying staff members also register as lobbyists.
The COE opined as follows: A lobbyist is any person who is employed and receives payment, or who contracts for economic consideration for the purpose of lobbying on behalf of a principal. Lobbying is defined as seeking to influence a decision through oral or written communication or an attempt to obtain the goodwill of an official or employee with respect to the passage, defeat or modification of any item which may foreseeably be presented for consideration to the advisory board or governing body. Whether or not a particular individual is captured within these definitions is determined by the specific facts and circumstances of the contact between that individual and public employees and officials. Purely ministerial or administrative functions, as may be provided by an assistant to a lobbyist, may not rise to the level of lobbying. However, where an engineer, employed by a firm contracted by a principal to lobby government, directly negotiates or otherwise actively participates in a discretionary matter, including matters regarding technical requirements, that foreseeably will come before a board or commission for decisional action, he or she would likely fall within these definitions.
RQO 12-030: The coordinator of the Drowning Prevention Coalition of Palm Beach County asked whether her department may accept booth space at Sunfest donated by a local swim school, for the purpose of handing out drowning prevention literature to the public.
The COE opined as follows: An employee may not use his or her official position to obtain a special financial benefit for him or herself, a spouse or domestic partner or their outside business or employer, as well as a number of additional persons or entities with whom the official has some financial or fiduciary relationship. No member of the Drowning Prevention Coalition (DPC) staff has such a relationship with Small Fish, Big Fish Swim School. Because the donated booth space will be used on behalf of DPC, a county department, for use “solely by the county in conducting its official business,” it is not considered to be a gift under the Code of Ethics. Therefore, gift prohibitions and reporting requirements of the Code of Ethics do not apply.
RQO 12-031: A county employee asked what her obligations are as an employee, under the Palm Beach County Code of Ethics, in addressing a personal financial dispute between herself, the Palm Beach County Workforce Alliance and Florida Atlantic University, where her county supervisor serves on the board of directors of Workforce Alliance.
The COE opined as follows: County employees are prohibited from using their official position directly or indirectly to give themselves a special financial benefit. This includes using their position to influence others to obtain such a benefit. In addition, an employee may never corruptly use their official position to obtain any benefit, for anyone, inconsistent with the proper performance of their public duties. This includes using one’s official title or using public resources, such as county email, to negotiate a resolution.
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