Whether an employee who is a member of the board of a state created entity may accept gifts of the reasonable costs of attendance at professional conferences from that body.
The Ethics Code expressly permits an employee to accept the reasonable costs of training offered by a governmental entity as long as the employee has the approval of his or her department manager, agency head or elected office holder.
As part of his County duties, an employee has been assigned to be the designee of the County Executive on the governing board of an entity which, according to the Delaware Code, "constitutes a governmental subdivision" of the State of Delaware 1. The State code identifies the County Executive or his designee as a member of the board and also provides for the election of some members from the private sector. The entity is administered by a department of the State of Delaware and its purpose is to benefit the public by conserving and protecting State land and water resources. The board formulates polices, programs, and projects to be carried out by the entity in conjunction with the State department and under other contracts in the New Castle County area.
In order to advance the interests of the entity, the board encourages its members to attend regional and national conferences throughout the year and provides the cost of transportation, food, room, and fees. The employee asks whether he may accept the gift of these expenses from the entity or the administering department.
Code or Prior Opinion:
Section 2.03.104(I)(7) of the New Castle County Ethics Code gift law is determinative regarding this request. Unlike gifts, training expenses from private non-governmental sources which may not be accepted unless they are approved in advance by the Ethics Commission, 2 gifts from governmental bodies or associations governmental bodies of "training expenses, including reasonable transportation/lodging/ subsistence costs or reasonable reimbursement for such expenses" may be accepted at any time without recording in a public gift log if approved by a department manager, agency head, or elected office holder."
The entity on which the employee serves as the designee of the County Executive is a governmental body as defined in State law. It has deemed the conferences in question as helpful to the supervisory roles of the board members. Therefore, these expenses are in the nature of training expenses and the Ethics Code permits an employee to accept payment of reasonable expenses for training from a governmental entity upon approval by his department manager, agency head or elected office holder without a prior request for approval from the Ethics Commission.
The employee may accept the payment of expenses for the conferences as long as he has received approval from his department manager or the County Executive.
In issuing this Advisory Opinion, the Ethics Commission is applying the New Castle County Code of Ethics, which establishes the minimum level of ethical conduct required of County officials and employees. The Commission cautions, however, that each County department, board, or other unit of County government may impose as part of its own policy, additional or greater restrictions on its officials and employees than those set forth in this Opinion.
BY AND FOR THE NEW CASTLE COUNTY ETHICS COMMISSION ON THIS 11th DAY OF JUNE, 2008.
John McMahon, Chairperson
1 7 Delaware Code §3908
2 See New Castle County Code Section 2.03.104(I)(9).