Advisory Opinion No. 2000-10

Re: James F. Towers

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Tiverton Town Administrator, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether persons affiliated with a political party or who are members of either town committee may run for a non-partisan position on the Tiverton Budget Committee.

RESPONSE

Political affiliations and alliances do not fall within the Code of Ethics. In and of themselves, shared political affiliations and objectives are not relevant for purposes of the Code of Ethics. What constitutes a non-partisan budget committee and whether it comports with the Town Charter is a matter for the Town to address. However, we note that if budget committee members with party affiliations hold a position on a political town committee, he or she may face other restrictions in participating in matters (See A.O. 99-33, concluding that a Town Councilor should not participate on a matter affecting his fellow committee members since they are considered “business associates” under the Code of Ethics).

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official may not participate in any matter in which (s)he has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of her/his duties in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a) 36-14-7(a). An official will have an interest in substantial conflict with her/his official duties if (s)he/ has a reason to believe or expect 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, a business associate, an employer, or any business which the public official represents. Further, the Code provides that (s)he shall not solicit or accept gifts, loans, campaign contributions, or a promise of future employment based on any understanding that her/his vote, official action, or judgment would thereby be influenced. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(g).

The Code of Ethics does not bar members of the Tiverton Budget Committee from belonging to political committees, or any other organization. The Code does impose restrictions on public officials, however, depending on the nature of their involvement in activities and organizations beyond their public duties. Provisions of the Code of Ethics prohibit public officials from acting to benefit financially themselves, family members and business associates. See, e.g., R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), (b), (c) and (d). Therefore, individual members of the Budget Committee should seek additional guidance from the Commission if questions arise as to whether certain conduct constitutes a conflict of interest under the Code of Ethics, but the law does not prohibit their participation on the such a committee.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(g)
36-14-7(a)

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-96
99-38
99-33
99-32
98-146
98-107
96-78
95-41
94-43
92-46

Keywords:

Political activity