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Unofficial Opinion 2000-10

Unofficial Opinion 2000-10

September 27, 2000
To: 

Representative
District 41

Re: 

Disclosure of a public officers direct ownership interest in a tract of real property is required pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 21-5-50(b)(4) where the net fair market value of the interest exceeds $20,000.00 as of December 31 of a covered year, regardless of where the real property is located.

You have requested my opinion as to whether O.C.G.A. § 21-5-50(b)(4), which governs the disclosure by a public officer of direct ownership interests in tracts of real property, requires the disclosure of an interest in real property which is not located in the United States. Pursuant to the Georgia Ethics in Government Act, O.C.G.A. § 21-5-1 et seq., a public officer is required to file a financial disclosure statement containing, among other things, information regarding:

Each tract of real property in which the candidate for public office or public officer has a direct ownership interest as of December 31 of the covered year when that interest has a net fair market value in excess of $20,000.00. As used in this paragraph, the term “net fair market” value means the appraised value of the property for ad valorem tax purposes less any indebtedness thereon. The disclosure shall contain the county and state and general location therein where the property is located[.]

O.C.G.A. § 21-5-50(b)(4).

The cardinal rule to guide the construction of a statute is “to ascertain the legislative intent and purpose in enacting the law, and then to give it that construction which will effectuate the legislative intent and purpose.” City of Jesup v. Bennett, 226 Ga. 606, 608 (1970) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Another settled rule of statutory construction is that “[i]n all interpretations of statutes, the ordinary signification shall be applied to all words, except words of art or words connected with a particular trade or subject matter, which shall have the signification attached to them by experts in such trade or with reference to such subject matter.” O.C.G.A. § 1-3-1(b).

With regard to the ordinary signification of “each,” the term is defined as referring to “every one of the persons or things mentioned; every one of two or more persons or things, composing the whole, separately considered.” BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY 507 (6th ed. 1990). The word “each” is equivalent to “any” and is synonymous with “all.” Id. (citation omitted). Applying the ordinary signification of “each” as used in O.C.G.A. § 21-5-50(b)(4), it is clear that the term refers to any and all tracts of real property in which a public officer has a direct ownership interest with a net fair market value in excess of $20,000.00 as of December 31 of a covered year.

Although an argument can be made that O.C.G.A. § 21-5-50(b)(4), by requiring the disclosure of the county and state where the property is located, is limited to real property located within the United States, the disclosure requirement must be construed in a manner which effectuates the intent and purpose of the General Assembly. This intent and purpose was codified by the General Assembly as O.C.G.A. § 21-5-2, and states as follows:

Further, it is the policy of this state that the state’s public affairs will be best served by disclosures of significant private interests of public officers and officials which may influence the discharge of their public duties and responsibilities. The General Assembly further finds that it is for the public to determine whether significant private interests of public officers have influenced the state’s public officers to the detriment of their public duties and responsibilities and, in order to make that determination and hold the public officers accountable, the public must have access to the disclosure of the significant private interests of the public officers of this state.

Thus, in light of the stated purpose of the General Assembly that public officers must disclose their significant private interests, as well as the ordinary signification of “each,” it is my unofficial opinion that disclosure of a public officer’s direct ownership interest in a tract of real property is required pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 21-5-50(b)(4) where the net fair market value of the interest exceeds $20,000.00 as of December 31 of a covered year, regardless of where the real property is located.

Prepared by:

KYLE A. PEARSON
Assistant Attorney General