Advisory Opinion No. 2014-17

Rhode Island Ethics Commission 

Advisory Opinion No. 2014-17

Approved: June 3, 2014

Re:  Lisa A. DiBello 


The Petitioner, a member of the Town Council of the Town of Charlestown, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion regarding whether she may accept private employment as a hot dog cart operator from an individual with whom the Town has entered into a food concession contract at the Town Beach.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, a member of the Town Council of the Town of Charlestown, a municipal elected position, may accept private employment as a hot dog cart operator from an individual with whom the Town has entered into a food concession contract at the Town Beach.

The Petitioner is a member of the Town Council of the Town of Charlestown (“the Town”).  She states that the Town owns and operates two public beach facilities for which the Town’s Parks and Recreation Department advertises requests for proposals seeking interested parties to operate food concessions.  The Petitioner represents that the Director of Parks and Recreation reviews all proposals, selects the best offer and then submits a recommendation to the Town Council for the approval of a food concession contract.

The Petitioner states that in 2013 the Town Council approved a recommendation to award a beach concession contract to Deborah Dellolio, d/b/a “The Dog Pound,” to operate a hot dog cart at Charlestown Town Beach.  The Petitioner represents that she recused from participating in the Town Council’s discussion and voting relative to this concession because Ms. Dellolio is a good friend of hers.[1]  According to the Petitioner, after being awarded the 2013 contract Ms. Dellolio suffered from a health condition that left her unable to operate the hot dog cart.  As a result, several of her friends and family members, including the Petitioner, volunteered to help operate the cart.  The Petitioner states that she received no financial compensation whatsoever for her assistance in 2013.

The Petitioner states that, pursuant to a renewal option in the 2013 contract, Ms. Dellolio will again operate her hot dog cart at Charlestown Town Beach during the summer of 2014.  Ms. Dellolio has asked the Petitioner to work at the cart on a more regular and paid basis for this summer season.  The Petitioner states that she would like to accept this offer of employment, but given her status as a member of the Town Council and Ms. Dellolio’s status as a vendor to the Town, she seeks guidance from the Ethics Commission as to whether such employment would be consistent with the requirements of the Code of Ethics. 

The Code of Ethics provides that a public official shall not have an interest, or engage in any business or employment, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of her duties in the public interest.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a).  A substantial conflict of interest occurs if the public official has reason to believe or expect that she or any family member or business associate, or any business by which she is employed, will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by reason of her official activity.  Section 36-14-7(a).

Additionally, pursuant to section 36-14-5(d), a public official is prohibited from using her public position or confidential information received through her position to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for herself, a family member, business associate or employer.  Finally, Commission Regulation 36-14-5014 provides that no municipal elected official “shall seek or accept” employment with any municipal agency in the municipality in which said official serves, “other than employment which was held at the time of the official’s election or appointment to office.” Id.  The term “employment” as used in this section expressly includes service as an independent contractor to the municipality or municipal agency.  Commission Regulation 36-14-5014(a)(1). 

Although this request for advice presents a case of first impression as to the application of Commission Regulation 5014, a somewhat analogous situation was presented in Advisory Opinion 2011-25 in which a State Representative asked whether the Code of Ethics’ similar prohibition on state employment and contracting by members of the General Assembly (Commission Regulation 36-14-5007) prohibited him from accepting work as a subcontractor to a general contractor who had been awarded a state contract.  It was the Ethics Commission’s opinion that while the Representative was prohibited from contracting directly with the state, he was not barred by the Code of Ethics from performing subcontracting work for other state contractors.

Consistent with the reasoning of that prior opinion, in the instant matter although municipal elected officials are barred from seeking or accepting employment or independent contracting work from their own municipalities, the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the Petitioner from accepting private employment from a person or business that is a municipal vendor, at least under circumstances such as those presented here and in A.O. 2011-25 where the public official did not participate in awarding the contract.

Although the Petitioner is not precluded by the Code of Ethics from accepting employment from Ms. Dellolio, she will be required to recuse from participating in any Town Council discussions and voting on matters that are likely to financially impact her employer such as, but not limited to, the review of the current contract and the award of a future one.  Notice of recusal shall be filed with the Town and the Ethics Commission consistent with section 36-14-6.

This Advisory Opinion is strictly limited to the facts stated herein and relates only to the application of the Rhode Island Code of Ethics.  Under the Code of Ethics, advisory opinions are based on the representations made by, or on behalf of, a public official or employee and are not adversarial or investigative proceedings.  Finally, this Commission offers no opinion on the effect that any other statute, regulation, ordinance, constitutional provision, charter provision, or canon of professional ethics may have on this situation. 

Code Citations:

§ 36-14-1

§ 36-14-5(a)

§ 36-14-5(d)

§ 36-14-6

§ 36-14-7(a)

Commission Regulation 36-14-5014

Commission Regulation 36-14-5017

Related Advisory Opinions:



Revolving Door

Prospective Employment