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Original Author: Leydorf, Donna
Date of Material: 09/26/2000

Subjects(s):
Ethics
Fire--Equipment--Vehicles
Fire--Personnel
Purchasing--Surplus property disposal

Gift of City Property to an Employee

Reviewed Date: 07/20/2021
Summary:
MTAS was asked whether the City may give a retiring city official the vehicle he was using for department purposes, as a retirement present.


RE: Gift of city property to an employee

You have asked whether or not the City may give the retiring Fire Chief the vehicle he was using for department purposes, as a retirement present. I could find nothing in the City Charter which would allow such a gift. Furthermore, there is a statute which prohibits a municipal official or employee to even buy surplus property except by bid at public auction. §6-54-125, Tennessee Code Annotated. Violation of this statute by a purchaser of public property under other circumstances would be a Class A misdemeanor. By inference, if an employee cannot buy surplus property except by bidding at a public auction, an employee, even the mayor, cannot give it away.

You asked for case law supporting the above proposition. I haven’t found anything directly on point, but can cite State ex rel. Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities v. City of Jackson, 573 S.W.2d 750 (Tenn. 1978). In that case, the Supreme Court upheld a lease entered into by the City with a private party to operate a museum. The Court stated that where the City seeks to dispose of property in any manner, the facts of each case must be examined in light of the surrounding circumstances. The case is pertinent to your question because it lists factors the Court would look at in deciding whether a transfer of property was proper, including whether the transfer of property served a public purpose, whether it represents a misuse or abuse of the discretion and authority of the Board, or whether the action was “ultra vires”, that is, outside the scope of the powers of the Board.

In the facts you presented to me, I believe the Court would look at a gift of a motor vehicle to a retiring City employee as an “ultra vires” act, and one beyond the discretion of the public board. I don’t see how making a gift of a City vehicle could possibly be construed to constitute a “public purpose.”

There is also an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office that opines that a County may not lease things like trucks and shovels to private persons. OAG 86-133. Again, if leasing is not allowed, one must assume that a gift would certainly be improper.

I’m enclosing copies of the statute and the case and opinion cited. Please call me if you have further questions.