Filing Number: 94-03
Subject: Honorariums
Keywords: appearance of impropriety, conflict, disclosure, employee, financial interests, gifts, honorariums, impropriety, seminar, sponsor, trade symposium, unwarranted privilege
Decision By: L. Susan Faw, Ethics Commission Counsel
Contact Email: admin@nccethics.org
 
Status: Active

Question:

          1.          Whether a County employee may accept an honorarium from a company, which organizes educational seminars, for participating in a seminar it organized about a particular legal process private citizens may initiate before a County agency, without violating the New Castle County Ethics Code.
 
          2.          Whether the Ethics Code requires that County employee to use vacation time for time spent at the seminar.

Conclusion:

          1.           Yes. The County employee may accept the honorarium without violating the New Castle County Ethics Code.
 
          2.           No. The Ethics Code does not address use by County officials or employees of County property or time. It therefore does not require the County employee to use vacation time.

Analysis:

1.  Honorarium may be accepted.
         
          The County employee has been invited to participate in a seminar about a particular legal process which private citizens may initiate before a County agency. The County employee, who has certain knowledge and expertise regarding this process, would receive an honorarium from the company organizing and sponsoring this seminar.
 
          The company which invited the County employee to participate in its seminar has no relationship with New Castle County. It does not provide goods or services to the County, nor would it be a vendor of the County's in the future.
 
          The lack of any relationship between the County and the company eliminates the possibility that acceptance of an honorarium by the County employee participating in the seminar would create an appearance of impropriety under the Ethics Code.1
 
          This situation is therefore distinguishable from that addressed in Advisory Opinion No. 91-01. There, the Ethics Commission concluded that it would create an appearance of impropriety were a County employee to accept an honorarium for his participation in a trade symposium sponsored :by a vendor of the County's, from which the County employee purchased services on the County's behalf. The Commission's decision hinged on the relationship among the County, this particular employee and the vendor. In light of that relationship, the acceptance of an honorarium from the vendor would have tainted the County employee's future purchasing decisions. Here, no such relationship exists.
 
2.  Ethics Code does not require use of vacation time.
 
           The Ethics Code does not address use by County officials and employees of County property or time. The Code therefore does not require this County employee to use vacation time for time spent participating in this seminar.
 
           As the Commission has stated previously, the Ethics Code establishes a set of restrictions and requirements for County officials and employees. This Code exists independently of other civil and criminal law, and County personnel and departmental rules, regulations and policies. Likewise, internal rules exist separate and apart from the Ethics Code.

Finding:

           Therefore, while the Ethics Code does not require a County employee to use vacation time for time spent participating in a seminar, applicable departmental or personnel rules may mandate that result.
____________________________
L. Susan Faw, Ethics Counsel
April 28, 1994

Footnotes:

1 Section 2-30.2.(g) states: "County officials and county employees shall avoid an appearance of impropriety." "Appearance of impropriety" is defined as "[t]he conduct of a county official or county employee . . . 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." See Section 2-30.1. Definitions. There being no relationship between the company organizing the seminar and the County, there are no "decisions or actions" which may appear to be influenced by the County employee's receipt of an honorarium.