Advisory Opinion No. 2000-9

Re: Leanne M. Cuomo

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Director of Administration for the City of Cranston, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether his spouse’s part-time employment with an entertainment management company in Providence constitutes a conflict of interest, given that the company also manages a Cranston facility that is owned by the City of Cranston and for which the City shares in any profits.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the part-time employment of the spouse of the petitioner, the Director of Administration for the City of Cranston, a municipal appointed position, by an entertainment management company in Providence, where the company also manages a Cranston facility that is owned by the City of Cranston and for which the City shares in any profits, does not constitute an inherent conflict of interest under the Code of Ethics. The petitioner’s relationship with the company is too remote to implicate the prohibitions set forth in R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a) and 5(d), and there is no evidence that the City’s contract with the company would impact his spouse’s employment.

The petitioner advises that an entertainment management company in Providence employs his spouse on a part-time basis. Her position involves booking children’s birthday parties and yields annual earnings of approximately $4,500.00. She does not receive any employment benefits. He represents that the company also manages the Veterans Memorial Ice Rink in Cranston, which is owned by the City of Cranston. He indicates that the company receives no municipal funding under its contract with the City, and that the City shares in any profits made by the company. He further advises that the Providence facility is under separate financial, legal and administrative contractual obligation and control than the Cranston facility.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official may not participate in any matter in which he has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a). An official has an interest in substantial conflict with his official duties if it is likely that a “direct monetary gain” or a “direct monetary loss” will accrue, by virtue of the public official’s activity, to the official, a family member, or his employer. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a). Also, a public official may not use his public office or confidential information received through his office to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for himself, a family member, or an employer. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d). Finally, Commission Regulation 36-14-5002 requires an official to recuse himself whenever his employer or the interest of his employer comes before his board or agency.

After considering the relevant provisions of the Code of Ethics and past advisory opinions, the Commission concludes that the part-time employment of the petitioner’s spouse at the Providence facility does not present an inherent conflict of interest with his duties as the Cranston Director of Administration. The petitioner does not have an inherent conflict of interest that would preclude his participation in matters involving the management company’s contract with the City of Cranston. The relevant provisions of the Code, namely sections 5(a) and 5(d) and Commission Regulation 5002, do not require recusal for matters involving a spouse’s employer.

Further, there is no evidence that matters involving the management company’s contract with the City of Cranston would affect the petitioner’s spouse’s part-time employment as a children’s party booker at the company’s Providence facility. The Code does not generally preclude a public official from participating in matters affecting a spouse’s employer unless there is evidence that the matter under consideration would affect the family member. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a); see also A.O. 99-28 (concluding that a Westerly Zoning Board of Review member could participate in the review of the Bess Eaton Donut and Flour Company’s application for a special use permit to construct a drive-thru in two new locations since his relationship with the applicant is too remote to implicate the Code’s prohibitions and there is no evidence that the construction of the drive-thrus would impact his spouse’s employment in the applicant’s bakery department); and A.O. 98-45 (advising the Administrator of the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers that he could participate in matters that relate to the telecommunications industry or Bell Atlantic despite the fact this his spouse was employed by Bell Atlantic since there was no evidence that the matter would impact his wife’s employment interest).

Finally, whether the petitioner’s participation in matters involving the management company results in an appearance of impropriety is not a matter for the Ethics Commission to decide. When enacting the Code of Ethics, the General Assembly included as one of its legislative purposes the elimination of appearances of impropriety. The legislature did not, however, make the appearance of impropriety a violation of the law. Therefore, while this Commission may recommend to the petitioner that he should publicly disclose the nature of his relationship with the company, and the basis upon which he intends to participate (or not), whether an act or failure to act creates an appearance of impropriety must be determined by public officials themselves, by public bodies, and, ultimately, by the public at large.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-6
36-14-7(a)
36-14-5002

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-79
99-28
98-45
98-41
97-83
96-105
96-73
96-6
95-12
91-34

Keywords:

Contracts
Family: Financial interest
Family: Private employment