Public officials need to be precautious and thorough when it comes to receiving gifts.

Take the extra time and be certain you’re operating within the law and avoid a fine – or worse – handcuffs.

The April 1 deadline for the annual Form 700 – the form in which city, county and municipal agency officials file potential conflict-of-interests with the state – is fast approaching.

Everyone is looking back over the last calendar year to determine what needs to be disclosed. (Unfortunately, many people will have fewer stocks to disclose, as the $2,000 threshold does not apply to as many holdings as before.)

The reporting of gifts is always difficult.  

Did that person buy lunch because you were college roommates, because you were the best man in his wedding or because you are now an Assistant City Manager?  

Some of these decisions are always going to be difficult. So as obvious or unapparent as it may be, check off every potential conflict of interest.

What we saw recently in San Bernardino County with James Erwin was not a difficult judgement.  If anyone gives the gift of a $13,000 Rolex watch, it’s clear that public official has an obligation to consider exactly what the circumstances are.  

If it’s unclear, ask questions.

PublicCEO contributor, Lance Howland, wrote on the topic recently.  He included the commission’s toll-free line to get simple advice of 1-866-ASK-FPPC or 1-866-275-3772. For more involved matters, the FPPC has a legal division to issue written advice.

There is a bigger picture message at work. Public disclosure is something that we expect from public administrators and elected officials.  It is part of maintaining the public trust.   

Remember to be careful when filling out those Form 700s.

When in doubt, disclose it.  It serves you and the public perception of the Public CEO profession.