Advisory Opinion No. 2000-23

Re: Joseph Pratt

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Newport City Councilor, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may participate in matters when his brother-in-law, an attorney, appears before him.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Newport City Councilor, may not participate in matters where his brother-in-law, an attorney, appears before him if it involves a potential financial benefit for his brother-in-law. In such a circumstance, he should: (a) notify the Town Council, in writing, of the nature of his interest in any matter, and (b) recuse from participating in any such matter. Notice of any recusal must be filed with the Ethics Commission pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

Under the Code of Ethics, the petitioner, as a Town Councilor, may not participate in a matter in which he or his family has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his public duties. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a). A substantial conflict of interest occur if the official has reason to believe or expect that he, a member of his family, or any business associate will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by reason of his official activity. R.I.

Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 7(a). Commission Regulation 36-14-5005 extends the definition of family members to brother-in-laws.

This Commission has previously ruled that public officials faced with making a governmental decision that may affect a family member’s interests must exercise notice and recusal when such matters arise. See. A.O. 95-114 (concluding that a Richmond Town Council, may not participate in any matter come before him in which his brother or his brother's law firm entered an appearance on behalf of a client/developer, or otherwise involves potential financial benefit for his brother or his brother's law firm); A.O. 89-7 (finding that a member of the Cranston Planning Commission may not participate in matters concerning his son-in-law and/or other members of his son-in-law's) A.O. 99- 48 (advising that Cumberland Town Councilor may not vote on the appointment of his uncle to a position in the Town since his uncle is a “family member” of his); A.O. 99-93 (advising a State Senator that she may not participate in or vote on legislation designed to revamp the system for managing traffic offenses because the legislation relates to and affects the petitioner’s daughter as a Municipal Court Judge).

Accordingly, we conclude that the petitioner, a Newport City Councilor, may not participate in matters where his brother-in-law, an attorney, appears before him if it involves a potential financial benefit, such as fees, for his brother-in-law.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-7(a)
36-14-5005

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-142
99-93
99-48
95-114
95-89
89-7

Keywords:

Family: Acting as Agent