The responses to these questions are not intended to be the final word for your specific situation. FAQs provide general information which should prompt you to call your DEO or the Ethics Director to review your specific question. Ask – Don’t Guess!

Topics

Sunshine Law | Gifts | Conflicts of Interest | Political Activities | Lobbying | Hotline

Sunshine Law

The Attorney General's office has posted this Sunshine Law manual online:
http://myfloridalegal.com/sun.nsf/manual

Q. What is the Sunshine Law?

A. Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine law provides a right of access to most governmental council, committee, board, or commission proceedings at both the state and local levels. It applies to any gathering of two or more members of the same board, council, committee or commission to discuss some matter which will foreseeably come before that body for action. There is also a constitutionally guaranteed right of access. Virtually all state and local public bodies are covered by the open meetings requirements with the exception of the judiciary and the state Legislature which has its own constitutional provision relating to access.

Q. What are the requirements of the Sunshine law?

A. The Sunshine law requires that 1) meetings of boards or commissions must be open to the public; 2) reasonable notice of such meetings must be given, and 3) minutes of the meeting must be taken.

Q. Can a City Council member privately talk to, or write a letter to, the Mayor asking for action in a matter?

A. Yes, they are not part of the same “public body”.

Q. Can a City Council member write a letter expressing his/her opinion on a local matter and send it to all City Council members?

A. Yes, but the letter must be limited to providing a statement of position and cannot invite a discussion on the matter or ask for responses. The letter must be preserved as a public record.

Q. Can two City Council members meet at a local restaurant and talk about the upcoming football game or a church project they are working on?

A. Yes—as long as they do not talk about any matters “foreseeably coming before them in the Council.”

Q. Can a City Council member meet privately with a JTA board member?

A. Yes, they are not part of the same “public body”.

Q. Can two City Council members meet together privately with a JEA Board member?

A. No, because there are 2 members of the same body present, therefore, they need to notice this meeting and keep minutes.

Gifts 

The Jacksonville Ethics Code, Part 7 “Gifts and Honoraria,” provides information concerning the prohibitions on gifts for City officials and employees. See the link at left on “Ethics Code (Current).” See the link at left on “Ethics in a Nutshell Series” for additional guidance on receipt of gifts and disclosures. Following are basic questions that have come up in the past. The responses to these questions are not intended to be the final word for your specific situation. FAQs provide general information which should prompt you to call your DEO or the Ethics Director to review your specific question. Ask – Don’t Guess! If you have additional questions or require clarification, contact the Ethics office by email or call 904-630-1476.
 
“Gift” is defined in Chapter 602, Section 602.201(p). This definition describes what they are and what is not included.

Q. What gifts may I receive?

A.  You should not receive any gift from anyone for doing your regular City job because this does not look good to the public.  If you are offered a gift and it is not from someone in your family, beware! The best thing to do is to refuse all gifts that come to you, report it to your supervisor. If the gift is over $100, then you could be in violation of our local ethics laws. Remember, even if the gift is under $100 does not mean that it is ok. If the appearance of taking the gift is bad then it can hit the front page of the newspaper. For example, if someone other than your immediate family offers you a gift because of your city job, you should politely decline the gift and notify your supervisor of the situation and your action.

Q. I have received a few small gifts valued at less than $100. What should I do?

A.   You should not accept any gifts as a part of your city employment because of the appearance of corruption and potential situation that may result. The law permits an employee to receive up to $250 value yearly on accumulated gifts from a single party. No single gift may be over $100 from restricted parties (such as vendors or lobbyists) and you cannot receive more than $250 in gifts in a calendar year from that type of gift giver.  

Q. The owner offers me free sandwiches whenever I stop by the deli in the building where my City office is located. May I accept the food?

A. You should not accept any gifts as a part of your city employment because this presents an appearance of improper favoritism. Gifts of food or beverage below $25 per day are not considered a part of the $250 annual cap. If the value of the food or beverage is above $25, such as a meal at a steak house, the total amount counts towards the $100 per gift cap and the $250 annual cap.

Q. I personally received a personal gift of flowers and food from a citizen I helped. I believe this is not allowed under the ethics code. What should I do?

A. It is allowed.You have two options available for perishable gifts like flowers and food. These gifts may be placed in a location where a large group of employees may enjoy them as “gifts to the City.” Such gifts may also be donated to a non-profit organization in the name of the sender and notice to the donor.

Q. I received a non-food gift that is above the gift limits ($100). What should I do?

A. Immediately return the gift to the giver.  Gifts that violate the Ethics Code are a violation of law and cannot be accepted.

Q. I have been invited to attend a silent auction, not intended strictly for city officials. Some of the donors for prizes do business with the city. May I bid at the auction?

A. You can bid at the auction.You can bid on an item that you know is from a business working with the city if you did not solicit the gift and the donor and auction cannot control who wins.  Most silent auctions have a sign or placard about who donated the prize for the auction.

Q. When do I need to disclose gifts received?

A. Florida Statute Section 112 requires certain officials to file disclosure forms quarterly on a Form 9. Informally known as “State Filers,” persons like City Councilmembers, the Mayor, Chief of Staff, and other city executives are required to file the appropriate official written disclosure forms in April, July, October, and January. If a vendor or lobbyist offers you a gift, discuss it with your supervisor or the Jacksonville Ethics Office. For additional information, see Florida Statutes Sections 106 and 112.3148 and Florida Administrative Code 34-13.400 at http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0100-0199/0112/Sections/0112.3148.html. Most City employees are not required to file gift disclosure forms.

Q. A local community organization wants me to speak during a meeting. What may I do?

A.   You may speak at the meeting. But you should refuse to accept anything in return for your time except token mementos such as a pen. You may NEVER ask for anything in return if the meeting is related to your city job or duties. Politely decline the honorarium and notify your supervisor. “Honorarium” is defined in Chapter 602, Section 602.201(r). This definition describes what they are and what is not included.

Q. A local company that does business with my office has offered me products for my personal use below market price. What should I do?

A. You should politely decline the offer and inform your supervisor. It is unlawful to accept any fee, commission, gift, or other consideration as a result of your official duties. A discount not available to the general public is a form of consideration and is prohibited. You must decline any special discounts as a part of your work with the city.

Q. There is no budget to pay for a trip where I am requested to speak at a conference. Can the conference sponsor pay my travel expenses?

A. You cannot directly accept payment for travel expenses by an outside organization to perform your official duties without approval of the Ethics Office and Office of the General Counsel. The sponsoring organization may pay the City directly for the expenses. The City must pay for your expenses first (see Local Code 602.201(p)(2)(viii) for details).  Also see local code 106.703 about travel reimbursement. If you are required to file a Financial Disclosure form, the travel expenses payment by the sponsoring organization must be disclosed as a gift on the appropriate written disclosure.

Q. What do I do if I notice a co-worker is leaving work early, accepting gifts from a vendor, or setting up outside employment?

A. If you believe you see evidence of neglect or misconduct committed by an employee of the City or an independent contractor, contact your supervisor. If you do not feel comfortable notifying your supervisor or someone higher in your chain, you may also call the Ethics Hotline at 904-630-1015 and/or file a complaint (Ethics Complaint Form).  Make sure it gets handled. Remember, we all benefit when fraud, waste, and abuse are stopped.

Conflicts of Interest 

The Jacksonville Ethics Code, Part 4 “Conflicts of Interest,” provides information concerning the prohibitions on City officials and employees conducting activities related to their positions. See the link at left on “Ethics Code (Current).” See the link at left on “Ethics in a Nutshell Series” for additional guidance on potential activities that could result in conflicts of interest. Following are basic questions that have come up in the past. The responses to these questions are not intended to be the final word for your specific situation. FAQs provide general information which should prompt you fo call your DEO or the Ethics Director to review your specific question. Ask – Don’t Guess! If you have additional questions or require clarification, contact theEthics office by email or call 904-630-1476.

Q. May I accept a job offer with a company that works with the city?

A.   The Jacksonville Code, Chapter 602, Sections 602.411 and 602.412, provide specific guidance on prohibited future employment. You should also request guidance from the Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight for specific situations. There are potential penalties if there is an unlawful conflict of interest. Be very careful about accepting future employment prior to receiving proper guidance.

Q. Can a city employee co-own a company with another city employee?

A.   Yes, multiple employees may co-own a business as long as (1) the employees do not have a connection at their city job (like the ability to hire, fire, or evaluate another owner at their City employment) and (2) requirements under Chapter 602, Section 602.403 “Moonlighting provisions,” have been satisfied. For example, a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Homicide Detective from the 4th precinct and a burglary division sergeant from the 2nd precinct may start a company as polygraph analysts. Both officers must comply with JSO on secondary employment. The two officers are working in different precincts and divisions so it is unlikely either one would have the ability to hire, fire, or evaluate each other in their city duties. If no hiring, firing, or evaluative capacity is present then the two may co-own the outside employment. But see the Ethics Director immediately for advice on your specific situation.

Q. If one of my subordinates or senior City workers is currently going through a financial emergency may I lend money to them?

A.   Yes, but lending money can violate the Ethics Code under Section 602.401. For example, it is unlawful for a senior or subordinate employee to lend or borrow more than $100 in their chain of command. It is also unlawful for a City employee to directly or indirectly lend or borrow more than $500 to or from anyone else in their department. This rule does not apply if the lending or borrowing is between family members.

Q. If am going through a financial hardship and my city co-workers want to help, how much may I borrow?

A.   Under the law the limit is $500. But be very careful. A senior or subordinate employee cannot lend or borrow more than $100 in their chain of command. City employees cannot lend or borrow more than $500 cumulative dollars from the employees department.  This rule does not apply if the lending or borrowing is between family members.

Q. May I work for a company that does or did business with the City?

A.   Possibly. It depends on your specific circumstances. For example, it may violate the Ethics Code for an employee of the City or an independent agency after his or her employment has ceased to be employed by a person or company who contracted with or had a contractual relationship with the City or the independent agency. But see the Ethics Director immediately for advice on your specific situation.

Q. If just got hired by the city, can I work on or supervise the negotiations of a contract that my previous employer is involved with?

A.   No. More than two years must pass from the time you were employed by the outside company.

Political Activities 

The Jacksonville Code, Section 350 “Campaign Regulations,” provides information concerning the prohibitions on City officials and employees conducting activities related to their positions and political activities. For specific information, see http://library.municode.com/HTML/12174/level3/TITIXELCO_CH350ELELRECA_PT3CARE.html#TOPTITLE
The responses to these questions are not intended to be the final word for your specific situation. FAQs provide general information which should prompt you fo call your DEO or the Ethics Director to review your specific question. Ask – Don’t Guess! If you have additional questions or require clarification, contact the Supervisor of Elections Office or theEthics office by email or call 904-630-1476.

Q. May I use my office stationary to write a letter of recommendation for someone running for political office?

A. No. City employees and elected officials may not work on a political campaign while at work for the city. Office supplies may not be used for any unofficial purpose such as writing a support letter for a political candidate either. Please see Sections 350.301 and 350.302 for further guidance.

Q. Can I work on a political campaign as an employee of the City?

A. Yes. But you can only do so when you are not being paid as an employee of the city – when you are “off the clock.” You cannot take part in political management or campaigning during duty hours; this includes the time you take for breaks but does not include your lunch hour. However, you must never wear a City uniform while assisting in a political campaign. You can also take official leave to work on a campaign if the leave time has already been earned. No leaves of absence shall be granted for the purpose of participating in a political campaign.

Q. Can I solicit campaign contributions from my supervisor, co-workers, subordinates or other members of the City government?

A. During duty hours, employees may not perform any campaign-related activities. In fact, it is unlawful to solicit or knowingly accept any campaign contribution in a building owned by the City or an independent agency. However, when you are “off the clock,” employees may seek voluntary contributions from anyone for the party or candidate of his or her choice outside of public buildings. Even when they are “off the clock,” Supervisors of City employees may not solicit their subordinate employees to contribute time, money or anything else of value to any candidate or political party or committee.

Q. Can I request my co-workers to vote for my candidates?

A. During duty hours, employees may not perform any campaign-related activities. In fact, it is unlawful for any person to engage in political campaigning in a public building where public employees are working. However, when you are “off the clock,” employees may seek votes from anyone for the party or candidate of his or her choice outside of public buildings. Even when they are “off the clock,” Supervisors of City employees may not request employees to support or vote for any political candidate, political party, or public measure.

Q. Can I distribute campaign materials, bumper stickers, surveys, or forms to my co-workers in City Hall?

A. It is unlawful for any person to erect, place or install a political sign or advertisement on public property. It is unlawful for any person to engage in political campaigning in a public building where public employees are working.

Q. Can I wear my political T-shirt and buttons to work?

A. No.

Q. What do I do if I see any of these political activities going on in my workplace?

A. Notify your supervisor or someone else in your chain command. If additional assistance is required, notify the Supervisor of Elections Office and the Ethics Office.

Lobbying

Q. Definitions of Lobbyist, Principal and Compensation

A. Relevant definitions under the Ethics Code, section 602.201 are as follows:

(v) Lobbyist means any natural person who, for compensation seeks, or sought during the preceding 12 months, to influence the governmental decision making of an officer (*see question 2 for definition of officer) or employee of the City or seeks, or sought during the preceding 12 months, to encourage the passage, defeat, or modification of any proposal or recommendation by an officer or employee of the City.

h) Compensation, as used in Sections 602.801-803 (the lobbying law), Jacksonville Ordinance Code, means any payment received or to be received by a lobbyist for the performance of lobbying activities, whether the compensation is in the form of a fee, salary, retainer, forbearance, forgiveness, or other form of valuable recompense, or any combination thereof.

(u) Lobbying principal means any person providing compensation to a lobbyist in consideration of his or her performance of lobbying activities, regardless of the technical or legal form of the relationship between the principal and the lobbyist. Principal specifically includes a person whose employee or agent lobbies on behalf of the employer or for the benefit, or in the name of the employer.

Q. Who is an officer of the city?

Per the Ethics Code, section 602.201: (x) Officer means any person elected to any City office and any appointed official. An appointed official under section (d) is any person appointed to any board, commission, or authority, but excludes any advisory body official (defined in section a).

Q. Are lawyers lobbyists?

A lawyer is a lobbyist if they are a 'natural person who, for compensation seeks...to influence governmental decision making of any officer or employee'; (see questions 1 and 2 above).

If the lawyer is representing someone in a quasi judicial hearing (zoning, civil service hearing or construction trade matters) they are not a lobbyist while in the hearing. If they are also conducting activities outside of the hearing, i.e., ex parte discussions, they are lobbying. Please seek legal counsel or consult with the Office of General Counsel for specific questions on this issue. This FAQ should only be used as a general guidline on the matter; specific circumstances may be relevant to the determination of whether or not the activity is 'lobbying' under the Code.

Hotline

Q. How confidential is the hotline? Can someone get my phone number if I call it?

A. The hotline phone is not connected to the City of Jacksonville's phone system. It has been set up so the phone number of the person calling the Hotline is not recorded or announced. The hotline phone is in the office of the city's ethics officer. When she is not in the office, it forwards to a cell phone that is kept personally by her assistant. This cell phone was also set up so that incoming phone numbers are not recorded in any way. (This took some time as phone companies are not used to people working to remove features!)

Q. Who will answer the hotline if I call?

A. If the Ethics Officer is in the office when you call, she will answer the line and talk to you. If she is not, the phone call may be answered by her assistant or go to a message system if it is after hours. You can call the hotline, and if you get a message or the ethics assistant, you can arrange an appointment time to call back and talk to the ethics officer. You can do this without leaving your name. For example, if you call and get the ethics assistant, ask when the ethics officer will be available for a hotline call back. A time will be set up for you to call back and the ethics officer will be sure to answer the hotline number at that time.

Q. Will my call be kept confidential?

A. If you have concerns about your identity being known, do not state your name or phone number on a message or to anyone you talk to when you call the hotline. Then talk to the ethics officer about the protection you have under Florida law. If you then chose to not disclose your name, it does make it more difficult to investigate any claims or complaints. There is whistleblower protection under Florida law. (See whistleblower information.)

Q. Are there other ways to get information to the ethics officer?

A. Yes, you can send a letter to Carla Miller, Ethics Officer, City Hall, 117 West Duval St., Suite 450, Jacksonville, Florida 32202. You can also slip a note/letter under the door—room 450 Ethics Office on the fourth floor of City Hall, but this is not the best way as someone can step on it!