Filing Number: 92-09
Subject: Gift of Cost of Attendance
Keywords: appearance of impropriety, business, conflict, disclosure, educational, employee, expenses, gifts, impropriety, invitations, private business, public bid, public notice, supervisor, vendor
Decision By: L. Susan Faw, Ethics Commission Counsel
Contact Email: admin@nccethics.org
 
Status: Active

Question:

          Whether a County employee may participate in a training session for representatives of a manufacturer of equipment (hereinafter "Manufacturer") for which the County employee drafts plans and specifications.

Conclusion:

          Since this County employee is not involved in deciding from which manufacturer the County purchases equipment, he may participate in this Manufacturer's training session without creating an appearance of impropriety under Section 2-30.2(g) of the New Castle County Ethics Code ("Ethics Code"). However, the County employee's transportation, lodging and hospitality expenses incurred in attending the training session and reimbursed or paid by the Manufacturer should be disclosed on the County employee's next Statement of Financial Disclosure, in accordance with Section 2-30.4(b)(8).

Facts:

           A County employee has been invited to participate in a training session for representatives of the Manufacturer, a maker of playground equipment. The County employee has expertise and experience in the community installation of playground structures and his presentation at the Manufacturer's training session would focus on this topic. All expenses incurred by the County employee, e.g., lodging, transportation, would be paid by the Manufacturer.
 
          As part of his work, this County employee participates in the drafting of plans and specifications for the purchase and installation of playground equipment for the County. However, the County's purchase of such equipment is placed out to open bid through the County's Department of Administrative Services. The County employee does not participate in reviewing bids or deciding from which manufacturer the County will purchase equipment.1

Analysis:

           The ethical issue which arises is whether this County employee may participate in the Manufacturer's training session without creating an appearance of impropriety.2 An "appearance of impropriety" is:
 
The conduct of any county official or county employee which does not constitute a conflict of interest but which undermines the public confidence in the impartiality of a governmental body with which a county officer or employee is or has been associated, by creating an appearance that the decisions or actions of the county official, county employee or the governmental body are influenced by factors other than the merits.3
 
          The Manufacturer's invitation to the County employee to participate in its training session at its expense could create an appearance of impropriety were this County employee involved in deciding from which playground equipment manufacturer the County would purchase equipment. However, since such decisions are made via open bids, a process in which this County employee does not participate, no "appearance of impropriety" arises.

Finding:

          Accordingly, this County employee may accept the Manufacturer's invitation to participate in its training session at its expense without violating Section 2-30.2(g) of the Ethics Code. See footnote 2, supra.
 
          This County employee should disclose on his Statement of Financial Disclosure for the 1992 calendar year, (the year of the Manufacturer's training session), the identity of the Manufacturer and
 
the amount of any payment for or reimbursement of actual expenses for transportation and lodging or hospitality received in connection with county office or employment where such actual expenses for transportation exceed $200, or lodging and hospitality exceed $100 in the course of a single occurrence.
 
See Section 2-30.4(b) (8).

Footnotes:

1 Currently, there are very few manufacturers of playground equipment suitable for community installation. The Manufacturer is not among them. If this Manufacturer begins to make playground equipment suitable for community installation, this would enlarge the number of potential bidders for County projects.
 
2 Section 2-30.2(g) provides: "County officials and county employees shall avoid an appearance of impropriety."
 
3 See Section 2-30.1. Definitions.