It was more than a year ago when PublicCEO ran an editorial regarding the precautions public officials must take when it comes to receiving gifts.

Back then, we wrote that 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.

The issue is back in the news, as the Ventura County Star reported that “Oxnard Public Works Director Ken Ortega failed to declare numerous gifts from companies doing business with the city over the past four years.”

According to the newspaper:

Ortega conceded in an interview last week that he received tickets to Lakers and Dodgers games, as well as free games of golf and meals, but didn’t report those gifts on financial disclosure forms.

The omission appears to have triggered an internal inquiry by the city, according to several city sources.

Ortega, who got into hot water last year over contract change orders and the underwriting of a lavish party for a new desalination plant, said there was nothing untoward about what he called mostly social interactions. In addition, he believes he did not have to report the gifts.

Ortega said his understanding of the rule from the California Fair Political Practices Commission is that he is required to report gifts that total more than about $420 in a single year from a single source.

But public officials with contracting authority must disclose all gifts of $50 or more, according to the FPPC. They also cannot accept more than $420 cumulatively from a single source in a single year.

PublicCEO contributor, Lance Howland, wrote on the topic.  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.