A strict ban on gifts to city officials from people who do business with the city, including even a stick of gum, received preliminary approval on Tuesday from the City Council.
The ordinance is designed to bolster public confidence in local government and prevent even the appearance of impropriety, said Councilman Robert L. Richardson, who proposed the ban.
"This is intended as a preemptive measure, not in response to anything that has occurred before," Richardson said. "Hopefully, other cities and counties would like to follow our lead and adopt this ordinance."
Modeled after a similar law passed recently by the county, the ban prohibits officials from accepting gifts from anyone who holds or seeks city contracts or acts as a lobbyist.
"It does prohibit (giving) a piece of gum," City Atty. Edward J. Cooper said. "It sets no monetary limit."
Councilman Ted R. Moreno, who joined in the unanimous vote, said: "It's good for the city. It will give more confidence to residents, so they won't think we're being bribed, even with a $5 lunch."
Exceptions to the ban include gifts of flowers, balloons and similar tokens to express condolences, congratulations or get-well wishes, as long as the gifts' combined value does not exceed $50 a year per source. Other exceptions include meals, drinks and free admission to events sponsored by--or for the benefit of--charity, educational or academic groups, although those gifts also may not exceed the annual limit of $50 per source, Cooper said.
Violation of the ban is a misdemeanor both for the gift-giver and recipient and is punishable by a $1,000 fine and six months in jail. Cooper said that until now, city law prohibited public officials from accepting gifts worth more than $25 a month from people doing business with the city.
The new ordinance states that acceptance of such gifts "erodes public confidence in the impartiality of decisions made by those officials."
Cooper said the council will consider final approval of the ban on July 19. If approved then, it would become effective 30 days later.