Advisory Opinion No. 2000-2

Re: Scott D. Wheeler

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Newport Tree and Park Supervisor, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may accept payment of expenses associated with a presentation from Newport Electric given that the petitioner issues permits to Newport Electric for pruning public trees.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, the Newport Tree and Park Supervisor, a municipal appointed position, may not accept payment of expenses associated with a presentation at the Tress and Utilities Conference from Newport Electric since it is an interested person under Commission Regulation 5009.

The petitioner has received a request to participate in a presentation with Eastern Utilities on Community/Utility Partnerships at the Trees and Utilities Conference in Nebraska on February 2, 2000. Due to the municipality’s limited conference budget, Newport Electric has offered to pay the petitioner’s expenses associated with the conference. The petitioner represents that as Tree Warden he issues permits to Newport Electric to prune public trees pursuant to the Tree Preservation and Protection Ordinance Chapter 12.36.19. The petitioner has discretion as to whether to issue such permits and conditions to attach to the permits. Appeals of the denials of the permits may be made to the Newport Tree Commission and Municipal Court.

Commission Regulation 36-14-5009, which became effective on July 1, 1998, provides that no person subject to the Code of Ethics shall accept a gift from an “interested person,” with only a few exceptions. The regulation narrowly defines “interested person” as an individual or business entity “that has a direct financial interest in a decision that the person subject to the Code of Ethics is authorized to make, or to participate in the making of, as part of his or her official duties.”

Since the petitioner has discretion in carrying out his permit authority over Newport Electric, he has the requisite decision-making authority to trigger the provisions of the gift regulation. Additionally, Newport Electric is an interested person as contemplated by that regulation. Therefore, the petitioner may not accept payment for his expenses for the Tree and Utilities conference from Newport Electric.

Code Citations:

36-14-5009

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-121
98-20

Keywords:

Gifts
Travel