Advisory Opinion No. 97-114

Re: Theresa J. Melvin

The Petitioner, a Cumberland Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she may attend Zoning Board meetings and the address the Board and under what conditions, given that the Town Council appoints members to the Zoning Board.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, a Cumberland Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, may attend and participate in meetings of the Zoning Board. Additionally, the Petitioner may address the Zoning Board except in certain limited circumstances. Commission Regulation 5008 provides that a public official may not act as an agent or attorney for compensation before agencies over which he or she exercises fiscal or jurisdictional control. The Cumberland Zoning Board is under the fiscal and jurisdictional control of the Cumberland Town Council. Therefore, the Petitioner cannot address the Board on behalf of another person if she is being paid for that representation unless (1) it is in the proper discharge of official duties; or (2) the particular matter requires only ministerial acts involving neither adversarial hearings nor the authority of the agency to exercise discretion or render decisions.

Additionally, Commission Regulation 7003 provides that apublic official may publicly express his or her own viewpoints in a public forum on any matter of general public interest or on any matter which directly affects said individual or his or her spouse or dependent child. Therefore, the Petitioner may address the Zoning Board at any meeting so long as she does not receive access or priority not available to any member of the public. This, of course, does not apply to executive sessions, since those meetings are not generally accessible to the general public. We further caution the Petitioner that she may not in any way use her position to influence members of the Zoning Board improperly. (See R.I. Gen. Laws 36-14-5(d) providing that a public official is prohibited from using her public office or confidential information received through her public office to obtain financial gain for herself, her family, a business associate, her employer, or business that she represents.)

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Related Advisory Opinions:



Acting as agent
Public forum exception