Skip to main content

Ethics Commission

Unlawful Activities of City Officials

What activities are "incompatible" with my service as a city official?

The City Council has adopted laws regarding incompatible activities that prohibit city officials from engaging in activities that interfere or conflict with their performance of their City duties. These laws prohibit compensated city officials from being compensated by another entity if it involves:

  • using time for which the city official is receiving compensation by the City;
  • using the City's facilities, equipment, or supplies;
  • the city official's use of his or her badge, uniform, or prestige;
  • the influence of the city official's position with the City;
  • the city official receiving compensation from someone other than the City for performing his or her official duties;
  • the performance of an act in other than his or her capacity as a city official that may later be subject to the control, inspection, review, audit, or enforcement of any other city official;
  • the use of the city official's time in a manner that makes the city official less efficient.

What is the general rule regarding the misuse of a city official's position?

City law prohibits a city official from using his or her position or office to induce or coerce any person to provide anything of value for the private benefit of the city official or his or her immediate family (an individual's spouse and dependent children). In an extreme example, this law prohibits a Councilmember from seeking a cash bribe from a developer in exchange for casting a vote in favor of a particular project. In a more subtle example, this law would also prohibit a city official from suggesting that the paperwork on a project could be accelerated if a permit applicant patronized a store owned by the official's spouse. Said another way, a city official engages in an improper use of his or her official position when he or she engages in activities other than in the lawful and proper performance of his or her City duties.

What about City Councilmembers who engage in campaign activities in the middle of a weekday?

Any city official may engage in campaign-related activities on his or her own time. Unlike most others holding jobs in the City, Councilmembers perform the duties of their jobs on weekdays and weekends, and during early mornings and late evenings. They may engage in campaign activities at times of their own discretion. When they do engage in campaign activities, they are not "on the clock" as city officials. In those situations, they may not use City facilities, equipment, supplies, or other City resources.

So a Councilmember can't use his or her City office to make a campaign-related telephone call?

The ethics commission recognizes that a prohibition against using City resources can be taken to absurd extremes. The commission does not consider a campaign-related telephone call from a Councilmember's office to be a misuse of the chair the Councilmember is sitting on or the desk the Councilmember is using. However, the commission strongly urges Councilmembers to make campaign-related telephone calls and fax transmissions on equipment and lines that are not paid for by the City.

May a Councilmember use his or her City staff for campaign activities?

Yes, but not when the staff member is being compensated by the City. City staff who work on a campaign must do so while not on City time and while not using City facilities, equipment, supplies, or other City resources. The City does not pay any person for working on a campaign. Persons who choose to participate in campaign-related activities when they are receiving compensation from the City are violating the law. Additionally, if campaign activities make a staff member less efficient with regard to his or her City duties, those campaign activities may be unlawfully "incompatible" as stated above. It is also a violation of City law for a Councilmember or any other city official to induce or coerce, or attempt to induce or coerce, a staff member to engage in campaign-related activities while that staff member is being compensated by the City.

May a compensated city official hold two jobs simultaneously?

No. It is unlawful for any city official to engage in outside employment during any hours he or she is receiving compensation to engage in City business. For example, a city official may not run a real estate business from his office or make telemarketing calls during working hours. When a city official is being paid by the City to perform City business, that official should exercise absolute loyalty and undivided allegiance to the best interests of the City.

What prohibitions apply to confidential information?

City law prohibits current and former city officials from using or disclosing any confidential information they acquired in the course of their official duties. There is a practical exception to this rule: when disclosure is a necessary function of a city official's official duties, confidential information may be disclosed. For example, a city official may discuss a confidential issue with support staff.

Do the City's laws restrict a city official's ability to negotiate future employment with a private entity?

Yes, but only under certain circumstances. The City does not prevent a city official from negotiating employment elsewhere unless the potential employer is involved in a decision and the city official is in a position to influence that decision. Under City law, a city official is prohibited from using his or her position to influence a decision involving the interests of a potential employer. This prohibition also applies to any entity seeking to employ a city official. An entity that has a matter pending before the City may not negotiate future employment with a city official who could influence a decision concerning that matter.

I still have questions. How do I get help?

The ethics commission is available to provide telephonic or written advice with regard to these matters.