Ethical Guidelines for Board Members

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Introduction

The City of Atlanta’s Code of Ethics seeks to ensure that governmental decisions are made in the public’s best interest by prohibiting city officials and employees from participating in matters that affect their personal or financial interests. By following the standards established in the code, board and commission members help the City of Atlanta gain the full trust of its citizens as a government that conducts itself in an open, honest, and fair manner.

Board Members Covered Under the Code of Ethics

The Ethics Code applies to all individuals who are elected or appointed to a city agency, board, commission, committee, or other body, including joint boards to which the Mayor or City Council has appointment powers. It does not matter whether the person serves as a volunteer or is paid for his or her board service.

Conflicts of Interest

A conflict of interest occurs when a board member has a personal or financial interest or engages in an outside activity that is incompatible with the board member’s official duties or impairs his or her judgment or action.

Participation in Contracts. City board members may not participate in any decision related to a contract or other matter in which they, their immediate family, or their business has a financial or personal interest. See § 2-812.

Example: A developer proposes a project that comes before the Atlanta Development Authority. A member of the authority’s board has a financial and personal interest in the developer’s company because his wife works for the developer and owns a significant amount of company stock. As a result, the board member is disqualified from participating directly or indirectly in any discussion, recommendation, review, vote, or decision about the project.

Doing Business with the City. Board members may not conduct business transactions with the board on which they serve unless the business is conducted through a sealed competitive bid process. They may work under contract with another city agency provided the subject matter is unrelated to the board’s jurisdiction. See § 2-820 (c).

Example: An attorney whose law firm represents the City is appointed to the Atlanta-Fulton County Recreation Authority Board. Both the attorney and her law firm may continue to perform legal work for the City during her term of office so long as none of the work is related to the recreation authority.

Private Employment and Services. Board members may not render services for private interests when the service is adverse to and incompatible with the proper discharge of the individual’s official duties. See § 2-820 (b).

Example: A member of the License Review Board is a real estate broker whose clients include bar and restaurant owners. The broker may not engage in real estate sales and leases involving bars and restaurants that seek liquor licenses within the City.

Investments. No board member may hold any direct or indirect investment in any financial, business, or other private transaction that adversely affects the individual’s official duties to the city’s detriment. See § 2-820 (a).

Example: While serving on the Audit Committee, an individual is hired as a partner by the accounting company that is performing the city’s external audit. Although the committee member would not be involved in the external audit or the committee‘s discussion of the audit, the board member should resign from the Audit Committee.

Gratuities

City officials may not accept gifts, personal honoraria, or other things of value from a prohibited source. A gift may include food, flowers, tickets, travel, or discounts.

Prohibited Sources. A prohibited source is a person or entity that seeks official action from the City, seeks or does business with the City, represents a client seeking official action or business, is a registered lobbyist under state law, or has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance of the board member’s official duties. See § 2-801.

Example: A neighborhood association hosts an annual tour of homes and wants to give complimentary tickets to members of the Urban Design Commission. Because the association seeks official action from the City and has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance of the commission members’ official duties, it is a prohibited source. The commission must purchase tickets for its members to attend the tour of homes.

Gifts. A city official must decline any gifts from a prohibited source unless the gift falls within an exception to the definition of gratuity. There are exceptions for (1) awards, plaques, certificates, mementos, novelties, or similar items given in recognition of public service; (2) nominal gifts from representatives of other governments; (3) gifts from family members; and (4) gifts accepted on behalf of the City. See §§ 2-801, 2-817, 2-818.

Example: The board members of Keep Atlanta Beautiful participate in a Christmas tree recycling project sponsored by a local electric utility. They may accept t-shirts as a memento of their community service work, but must decline the gift of two tickets to a professional basketball game.

Meals. Board members may accept reasonable meals and refreshments furnished in connection with their appearance in an official capacity at a public, civic, charitable, or non-profit ceremony, event, convention, or conference. See § 2-801.

Example: A national organization of pension funds is holding its annual conference in Atlanta. The members of the General Employees Pension Fund Board of Trustees may attend a public reception hosted by investment advisers and pension funds.

Travel. Board members may accept reasonable hosting expenses from non-city sources for travel, meals, and lodging provided in connection with teaching, a speaking engagement, participation on a professional or civic panel, or attendance at a conference in an official capacity. See §§ 2-801 & 2-815.

Example: A member of the Commission on Women is invited to participate on a panel at an international women’s conference. She may accept a prohibited source’s offer to pay her conference fee and travel expenses, but must disclose the gift on an online Expense Reimbursement Report in the Electronic Filing System.

Other Provisions

Use of Public Property. City board members may not use city property, vehicles, equipment, labor, or services for their own personal use or for the private advantage of any other person, unless the general public may use the property in the same way. City officials should use city property only to perform official city business. See § 2-811.

Example: An Atlanta Planning Advisory Board member may reserve a city facility for an NPU meeting on the same terms as other city agencies, but must pay the normal fee charged the general public when reserving the facility on behalf of a church group.

Confidential Information. A board member may not disclose any confidential information concerning the property, operations, policies, or affairs of the City or use the information acquired in an official capacity to advance any personal or financial interests. See § 2-819.

Example: An attorney in the Law Department provides a briefing to members of the Civil Service Board in executive session on the status of an employee lawsuit filed against the City. The board members may not disclose the information provided during that session to the plaintiff or her lawyers.

Representation. Board members may not appear on behalf of private interests before their own board or its oversight department, and may not represent private interests before the courts in actions in conflict with the city’s interests or involving the City as a party. See §§ 2-808, 2-809.

Example: An architect who serves on the Tree Conservation Commission may not represent a homeowner in an appeal before the Zoning Review Board, although other members of his firm may represent the homeowner or other private clients before the zoning board.

Solicitations. A board member may not solicit anything calculated to influence a decision or the exercise of official authority. See §2-818.

Candidacy for City Office. City board members must resign from their city position when they file as a candidate for the office of Mayor, City Council president, or City Council member. See § 114-2.

Restrictions on Activities after Leaving City Service. The City has a one-year cooling off period. It prohibits city board members from appearing before the board on which they served or its oversight department for one year and from receiving compensation for any services in any matter in which they were directly concerned, personally participated, actively considered, or acquired knowledge while serving on the board. See § 2-810.

Example: A former hearing officer for the Vehicles for Hire Hearing Panel signs a contract with a private company to provide new taxi driver training. She must wait a year from the date she resigned as a hearing officer before she can teach the training classes.

Disclosure of Interests

Contract Decisions. A board member may not participate directly or indirectly in any contract or subcontract in which the official, an immediate family member, an employer, or a prospective employer has a financial or personal interest. See § 2-813.

Example: A member of the Board of Zoning Adjustment is a real estate broker whose client opposes a property owner’s application for a variance. When the board considers the variance application, the broker must publicly disclose his financial interest in the matter and is then disqualified from participating or voting on the application.

Disclosure of Interests in Decisions. When a board member knows or should know that he or she has a financial or personal interest in any proposal or decision pending before the board, the official is required to publicly disclose the financial or personal interest orally at the meeting where the matter is to be determined, have the disclosure made a part of the board’s minutes or other official record, and complete the Disclosure of Conflicts of Interest form online at https://apps.atlantaga.gov/efile.

Disclosure of Financial Interests. The Code of Ethics requires board members to file a financial disclosure statement every year that they serve and in the year after they leave city service. The statement requires disclosure of employment, sources of business income, contracts with the City, city employment of immediate family members, and ownership of real property. It does not require disclosure of specific amounts of income. The failure to file can result in monetary fines, public reprimands, and removal from office. See § 2-814.

Example: An individual appointed to the Citizen Review Board works for a law firm that conducts real estate closings on behalf of the city’s housing bureau. The board member must disclose the firm’s contract with the City on his financial disclosure statement.

Other Disclosure Forms. City officials must disclose expense reimbursements for travel from a prohibited source and gifts accepted on behalf of the City of Atlanta. See §§ 2-815, 2-818.

This list is a summary of key provisions in the Code of Ethics, sections 2-801 to 2-824 of the Code of Ordinances. It is not intended as a guide in any specific situation. For questions about how these rules apply to you in a particular situation, contact the Ethics Office at ethicsofficer@atlantaga.gov or 404.330.6286.

10/10/2007

Contact Info
City of Atlanta
Ethics Office
68 Mitchell Street, SW
Suite 12130
Atlanta, Georgia 30303

Tel: 404.330.6286
Fax: 404.658.6077
ethicsofficer@atlantaga.gov

Ginny Looney
Ethics Officer

Integrity Line
1.800.884.0911

Atlanta Ethics Website
Electronic Disclosure System

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