Advisory Opinion No. 2000-18

Re: Frank J. Milos Jr., Esq.

QUESTION PRESENTED

The Pawtucket Assistant Solicitor requests an advisory opinion on behalf of the petitioner, a Pawtucket City Councilor, a municipal elected position, as to whether the Code of Ethics prohibits the City Council from offering a recommendation to the Zoning Board regarding a specific application for relief.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that no provisions of the Code of Ethics would prevent the Pawtucket City Council from offering a recommendation to the Zoning Board regarding a specific application for relief.

The issue raised by the petitioner here, whether the City Council may offer a recommendation to the Zoning Board relative to a specific application for relief, is not addressed by any provisions of the Code of Ethics. Under the Code, a public official may not participate in any matter in which he or she has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her 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 his or her official duties if he or she 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. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a).

The petitioner advises that the Zoning Enabling Act requires the Department of Planning and Development to issue an opinion regarding requests for zoning relief, but is silent as to whether the Council may provide its own opinion. The Commission concludes that prohibitions contained within the Code of Ethics would not prevent the Council from offering an opinion as to a request for relief. The issue is one of governmental function, and does not implicate any potential private financial interests. However, in the event that the Council offers such an opinion, the petitioner is reminded that a councilor may not participate and/or vote if the request for relief affects himself or herself, a family member, an employer or a business associate. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a) and 36-14-7(a). In such an instance, notice of recusal should be filed with both the Ethics Commission and the City of Pawtucket in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-128

Keywords:

Code jurisdiction