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Officers Dos & Don’ts


City officers play a key role in building a culture of ethics. Leadership sets the tone for what behavior is acceptable, and what is not. This guide highlights some of the key regulations officers should not only abide by themselves, but actively promote within the workplace.

Building A Culture of Ethics

Ethics is about focusing on fair service to all. It’s not just about following the letter of the law, but the spirit of it.
Building a culture of ethics leads to a healthy work environment and deters poor behavior. Conversely, a weak culture can encourage unethical behavior. This can quickly slide into illegal actions.

Each of us, in our roles, can shape a healthier and more ethical work environment for all.  

Use & Misuse of Position

Your role with the City & County of San Francisco is for the public good. Therefore, there are some guidelines about how you can use your role.
Here’s the short version: don’t use your title or office materials for anything than your role.
No one can use their position to:
• Help hire a family member or romantic partner
• Seek services, like a reservation at a restaurant, for yourself or a family member
• Pursue contributions to an organization you or a family member are a part of
• Endorsing political campaigns (unless for “identification purposes only”)

Don’t Use Position For Personal Gain

When you work for the City, your position is one of service. Don’t use your position to advance the interests of yourself, a family member, or an organization.
There are restrictions on how you can use your position to support this. Generally speaking, you cannot:
• Engage in hiring or managing relativities
• Use your title or official materials (like business cards and your title) to advocate for a family member or organization
• Use your position for personal gain outside your official compensation.

Can I be a career reference for a relative?
Things you can do:
• You can make any references you see fit and may share you’re your background. For example, you could say: “In my experience as a city planner, Julie is immensely qualified.”

Things you can’t do
You may never use any of the trappings of your office, including:
• Agency letterhead
• The city seal
• Sharing your work-issued business card.

Can a relative apply to work for the City?
Things you can do
• Anyone may apply to work for the City & County of San Francisco provided they meet the criteria.
Things you can’t do
• You can’t be involved in the hiring or decision-making regarding a family member or romantic partner.

Can I support a charity?
Things you can do
• On your own time, you may typically support a charity that is not engaged with your agency’s work.
*Check your agency’s statement of incompatible activities and rules about Behested Payments.
Things you can’t do:
You may never use any of the trappings of your office, including:
• Agency letterhead
• The city seal
• Sharing your work-issued business card.

Learn more about nepotism at the Department of Human Resources’ website.

When you need to disclose a personal relationship

As City officers and employees, we serve the public fairly and equally. Favoritism, nepotism , and abuse of power have no place in government. To support this, some relationships must be disclosed. This includes family relations and romantic partnerships.
Disclosing relationships as a manager:
You must notify your supervisor if you are in a management role over:
• Someone you are related to
• Someone you are romantically involved with
We are prohibited from influencing any decision involving a relative or a romantic relationship. You must notify your supervisor if you are related to or romantically involved with another employee in the workplace if you have the authority to impose or recommend an employment action over that person.
For example, imagine you are a deputy director of a City department and you recently learned that an analyst in your department is married to one of your cousins. Given that your position gives you the authority to potentially influence that analyst’s employment (e.g., promotions, firing, etc.), you should notify your supervisor that you are related to that employee.
Disclosing relationships in decision-making
If you are making a government decision that financially affects a friend, family, colleague, business partner or any other personal, professional, or business relationship, you should disclose this relationship on the public record.
If the government decision affects your own financial interests or the financial interests of your direct family (spouse, registered domestic partner, or dependent children) you must also recuse yourself from participating in the decision.
A “decision” is actually a vague term. It includes voting and making decisions, but it also includes being involved in the decision-making process. Be safe: if you have a relationship, stay out of the entire process.
• Commissioners and Board Members who have a financial conflict of interest arising from pending matters  must:
o announce their own or their immediate family’s financial interest on the public record
o recuse themselves from discussing or acting on the matter
o leave the room while the issue is being discussed and decided, and
o file a public disclosure form with the Ethics Commission within 15 days after the date of the meeting when the recusal happened (even if the member did not attend the meeting.) File the Notification of Recusal electronically through the Ethics Commission website.
Filing a notification for recusal does not apply to the Board of Supervisors.
Here are some examples of when to disclose personal relationships.
• A Commission member is voting to award a grant to a nonprofit whose Executive Director is a friend.
o The Commissioner should disclose that personal relationship on the public record.
• Another Commissioner is voting to award a grant to a nonprofit organization where his or her spouse is an unpaid Board Member.
o The Commissioner should also disclose the relationship on the public record and recuse themselves from participating in the decision in any way, leave the room while the matter is being discussed and decided, and file a Notification of recusal with the Ethics Commission within 15 days.
If you have questions about disclosing a personal relationship, reach out to your supervisor, your DHR representative or the Ethics Commission at 415-252-3100 or email

How do I recuse myself? 

You should disclose the conflict of interest on the public record and abstain from discussing or participating in the decision. The public record means the minutes of a public meeting where the decision is taking place, or a memorandum kept on file at your department’s offices (if the decision is not being made at a public meeting.) 

Elected officials, Commissioners and Board Members, and City officials who manage public investments must announce their financial interest on the public record, recuse themselves from discussing or acting on the matter, and leave the room while the issue is being discussed and decided. 

Members of City boards and commissions who file Forms 700 ) must also file a Notification of Recusal with the Ethics Commission within 15 days of the date when the recusal took place (even if the member did not attend the meeting.) (The Board of Supervisors are exempt from this.) 

Political Activity @ Work

Many people in government are politically active. On their own time, that is usually okay. But political activity is not allowed at work.
This is to prevent the use of public resources for campaigning.  Otherwise, government officials could unethically use their position and power to sway elections. That is wrong and inappropriate.
No government resources – including City equipment and your work hours – can ever be used for any political activity.

When can I be politically active?
Things you can do: You can make political phone calls on your personal phone out of the office during break, lunch, or after work.
Things you can’t do: You may never use work phones, computers, printers, or other equipment – even on your breaks or after work hours.

Can I campaign for myself or ballot measure with workplace connections?
Things you can do: You can contact a list that includes many people, some of whom may be city employees. However, make an effort to remove city employees from the list.
Things you can’t do: You may not:
1) Campaign during work hours
2) Ask someone you manage for support or donations
3) Use workplace emails, phone, or other resources
Can I endorse a candidate or ballot measure?
Things you can do: You can endorse candidates or ballot measures as an individual
Things you can’t do
You may not present your endorsements with government “trappings” (like letterhead)

Can I use my job title to support candidates?
Things you can do
Your name can appear with your job title or description if it is for “identification purposes only” and it is clear that your endorsement is personal.
For example: Supported by Jane Doe, Dog Catcher*
*For Identification Purposes Only

Things you can’t do: Your support may not be grounded in your official role.
For example: “As the City Dog Catcher, I endorse you!”
Can I answer a question about a ballot measure if a public member asks it?
Things you can do: You can always share impartial information about a measure before the voters.
Things you can’t do: You can never, on city time or through your position, advocate a stance on an issue or provide impartial information.

There are other rules to follow too. These are primarily about the use of city-funded mailers, conflicts of interest, donations from contractors, and more. You can read more in detail here.
Note that employees in the Department of Elections, the Office of the City Attorney, and the Ethics Commission are all subject to additional restrictions, even off-work hours.

Statements of Economic Interests (Form 700s)

What is a Form 700, and Who Files It?

Many government employees and officers must regularly disclose their financial interests to the public. This filing is called a Statement of Economic Interests (SEI), but is better known as Form 700 .
Those who are typically required to complete Form 700 include Commissioners, elected officials, department heads, and managers.

Disclosing Your Financial Interests Matters. Public officials may not use their position to influence a government decision in which they have a financial interest. Financial disclosures ensure government transparency and accountability.

What do I need to disclose? Things that earn you or your family additional income beyond your job or what is available. For example, a second home that you rent for income, or stock in a local company.

Typically, you don’t need to disclose the home you live in or retirement investments available to the public (like many mutual funds).

Why this distinction? The government decisions you’re involved in shouldn’t be influenced by your personal opportunity for financial gain or loss. Therefore, the public is entitled to know where these interests are. Then, it can be determined if there is a conflict on any given issue.

Form 700 Deadlines

If you are in a position that files a Form 700, you must file:

An Assuming Office statement, no later than thirty (30) days after assuming your office or position

An Annual statement by April 1st every year

A Leaving Office statement, no later than thirty (30) days after leaving your office or position

Keep in mind: It is very important to file Form 700 accurately and by the deadline. Failing to file Form 700 by the deadline, as well as making intentional omissions and errors can have serious consequences, including fees, penalties, discipline, and disqualification from voting on matters before your Board or Commission.

Can the public view a Form 700?

Yes! Form 700 filings are available to the public in the Form 700 Online Database. Limited redactions may be needed.
Visit the Ethics Commission’s Form 700 page for more information about Form 700, deadlines, how to access Form 700 filings, trainings and FAQs, and much more.

If you need help searching filed statements, don’t hesitate to ask! Contact the Ethics Commission at 415-252-3100 or

Behested Payments

What are “Behested Payments?”
A behested payment is one made (for example, to a non-profit) because of a request by a public official or employee to someone to make that payment. A “payment” can be cash, goods, or services.
Because these requests can raise ethical flags about fairness in governmental decision making, the practice is regulated by both state and San Francisco laws.
Learn more about the limits on requesting Behested Payments on our website. (

Sunshine Laws: Overview 

“Sunshine” rules are about transparency in government work. The public is entitled to a wide range of information.
Some information, like agendas and meeting content, must be provided proactively. Other information, like internal memos or emails by city staff, can be requested.
The Sunshine Task force oversees these rules. You can learn more about them, the laws they enforce, and your rights by visiting this website. (

Compensated Advocacy

City officers are expected to do their job without any conflicts of interest or competing priorities. Therefore, they are not allowed to take pay or other compensation (other than from their City job) to attempt influence in government decisions. “Compensated Advocacy” describes this activity.
Exceptions to this restrictions are allowed (read more here).

City Gifts Rules

• We can’t accept gifts for doing our jobs. Accepting or asking for gifts for providing City services, assistance, advice, or anything related to our City jobs is prohibited.
• We can’t accept or ask for gifts from the people we manage.
• If a contractor or other restricted source gives you a gift, don’t accept it! Restricted sources include contractors or someone who seeks to contract with your department. It also includes anyone who has tried to influence you in any legislative or administrative action in the past 12 months.

Form 700 filers:
In addition to the rules above, if your level of decision-making authority requires you to disclose your financial interests on Form 700, more gift rules apply.
Visit the Ethics Commission Resource Page for Form 700 filers for more information about gift limits and disclosures.

The City’s gift laws are comprehensive, can apply in a wide range of scenarios, and can also have some common exceptions. So, the most important rule is: seek guidance before accepting a gift to avoid violating the law.
Don’t hesitate to ask – the Ethics Commission is here to assist you! Visit the Ethics’ Commission webpage on Gifts and Travel for more information or contact us at 415-252-3100 or


Gifts of travel are also subject to the City Gifts rules .
If you file a Form 700 (Statement of Economic Interests):
Generally, travel payment (including reimbursement) must be reported on your Form 700 as a gift or income.
If the travel payment is a gift, it is also normally subject to the $520 gift limit. If it is income, it may be considered an honorarium. In any case, you may need to disqualify yourself from any decision that could reasonably impact on whoever paid for your travel.
Learn more about travel restrictions, limitations, and exceptions in the FPPC’s Limitations and Restrictions on Gifts, Honoraria, Travel and Loans Fact Sheet.
If you are an elected officer
You must file the Gifts of Travel form before accepting any out-of-state travel gift paid by anyone other than the City and County of San Francisco, another governmental body, or a bona fide educational institution. Find out more details and fill out the Gifts of Travel form on the Ethics Commission Gifts and Travel page.
In cases where there is a discrepancy between this summary and the law, the law governs.


Receiving payment for making a speech, publishing an article, attending a conference, convention, meeting, social event, meal, or similar is an “honorarium”.
The short version is this: if you are required to file a Form 700 (Statement of Economic Interests), you cannot take honorarium payments from any reportable source within your disclosure category.
This means that:
• If you are in disclosure category 1, you can’t accept honoraria from anyone.
• If you are in disclosure category 2, you can’t accept honoraria payments from any source if you are required to report income or gifts from that source on their Statements of Economic Interest.
Learn more about Honoraria restrictions and limited exceptions in the FPPC’s Limitations and Restrictions on Gifts, Honoraria, Travel and Loans Fact Sheet.

Post-Employment Restriction

People employed by the City & County of San Francisco hold valuable information about the government’s workings. To avoid abuse of this position and conflicts of interest, there are some restrictions on what a person can do once they leave the City.
These restrictions are:
§ No lobbying their former department for one year after leaving
o Example: a former legislative aide cannot lobby the Board of Supervisors for one year after departing.
§ No employment or other compensation from someone with a contract the employee engaged with
o Example: a planner who helped approve a consultant contract cannot leave the City to then work for those who were awarded that contract.
§ No advocating before a court or other public body on an issue both the City and the former employee were involved
o Example: a former employee previously involved with buying vehicles for the City cannot go to the Air District and discuss rules impacting government’s ability to purchase vehicles

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