November 12, 2010

By: Justino D. Petrarca and Jessica M. Bargnes

The ethical conduct of elected officials and governmental employees including school board members and district employees has come under increased scrutiny over the years.  As the date of the Illinois Association of School Board’s 2010 Joint Annual Conference approaches, Scariano, Himes and Petrarca, Chtd. would like to remind you about the prohibitions contained in the Illinois Gift Ban Act. The Act generally prohibits a board member or district employee from soliciting or accepting any “gift” - including food and drink - from any “prohibited source” as defined in the Act, or in violation of any State or federal law. 

1.          MANDATE

The Gift Ban Act generally prohibits public officials and/or employees from soliciting or accepting any gift from a "prohibited source."   The mandate covers Board members, employees (full and part time), and Board member or employee spouses and immediate family members residing with the Board member or employee.  This prohibition is very broad and applies unless the "gift" fits one of the exceptions noted in number 3 below.


A "prohibited source" is any person or entity which:

a.         Seeks official action from the Board, its members or employees;

b.         Does business or seeks to do business with the board, its members or employees;

c.         Conducts activities regulated by the Board, its members or employees;

d.          Has interests that may be substantially affected by the performance of duties of the Board, its members or employees; or

e.         Has registered or is required to be registered with the Secretary of State as a "lobbyist."


There are several exceptions to the Gift Ban Act.   Below we highlight only those most relevant to the upcoming IASB conference in Chicago.

The restrictions of the Act do not apply to:

a.         Opportunities, benefits and services available on the same conditions as for the general public (i.e. theater tickets).

b.         Anything for which the Board, its members or employees pay market value.

c.         Educational materials and "missions" having a close connection to the recipient's office or employment; that predominantly benefit the public, not the recipient; and that are approved by the recipient entity's local ethics officer in advance of the "mission" or receipt of materials.    If advance approval is not practicable, then approval must occur as soon thereafter as practicable, with a detailed explanation as to why advanced approval was not possible.    At the IASB conference, be conscious of those gifts distributed in the vendor exhibition hall.

d.          Travel   expenses   having   a   close   connection   to   the   recipient's    office   or employment,   and which predominantly   benefit the public, not the recipient. These travel expenses must be in a manner and style characteristic with the conduct of State business and are subject to the same prior approval requirements noted above.  Beware of limousines!

e.               Food and refreshments not exceeding $75 per person per calendar day.   In order to qualify for this exception the food must be either catered or consumed on the premises from which the food was purchased or prepared.

f.           Any item(s) from any one prohibited source during any calendar day having a cumulative total value of less than $100.   With this exception, a school board member or district employee most likely may accept the souvenirs offered at the IASB Joint Annual Conference vendor exhibition hall!

With regard to the IASB Joint Annual Conference,  we caution that the greatest scrutiny will be focused on the cost and location of hotel rooms, the occupants of those rooms (relatives,  friends,  etc.),  transportation expenses to,  from,  and during the conference, meals,   liquor purchases,  tours,  tickets to   events (plays, concerts, etc.), and other items/services of value that may not easily fit any of the noted exceptions.

If you have specific questions about the application of the Illinois Gift Ban Act, please do not hesitate to call Scariano, Himes and Petrarca.  We look forward to seeing you at the Illinois Association of School Board’s Joint Annual Conference!