Advisory Opinion No. 2000-27

Re: Allan Booth, Jr.

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Newport Tax Assessor, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may 1) accept part-time employment with a local appraisal company, provided that he would have no involvement with properties located in Newport; and/or 2) assist private parties with appeals of property valuations in other communities.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, the Newport Tax Assessor, a municipal appointed position, may accept part-time employment with a local appraisal company and/or assist private parties with appeals of property valuations in other communities, provided that 1) he has no involvement with properties located within his official jurisdiction; 2) he performs such work on his own time and without the use of public resources; and 3) he does not use his position as Tax Assessor to recruit potential clients.

As the Newport Tax Assessor, the petitioner is responsible for determining the fair market value of all properties located within the City of Newport. He advises that a local appraisal company has offered him part-time employment that would involve assigning appraisals and coordinating with institutions requesting appraisals and clients with interests in the properties to be appraised. He represents that he would not be involved with matters involving Newport properties. However, he may be asked to work for individuals who own businesses or property outside of his jurisdiction, but who also happen to own property in Newport. He also indicates that he has been asked to provide opinions regarding the value of property outside of his jurisdiction and to assist law firms with appeals of property valuations in other communities.

Under the Code of Ethics, the petitioner 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). He may not accept other employment which will impair his independence of judgment as to his official duties. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b). Further, he is prohibited from using his public position or confidential information received through his position to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for himself. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d).

Here, the petitioner wishes to accept part-time, private employment that would involve properties outside of his official jurisdiction as the Newport Tax Assessor. Given that he will not be acting in matters in his private capacity where he exercises authority in his public capacity, the petitioner will not be in substantial conflict with his duties in the public interest nor should his judgment be impaired as to his public duties. The Commission concludes that the petitioner may accept such private employment, provided that he has no involvement with properties located within his official jurisdiction and that all private work is performed on his own time and without the use of public resources.

The petitioner is reminded that he may not in any way use his public position to solicit business for himself in his private employment. See R.I. Gen Laws § 36-14-5(d). The fact that his private employment may involve property matters outside of Newport for businesses or individuals who also happen to own other property within his official jurisdiction, in and of itself does not constitute a conflict of interest under the Code. However, in the event that he is required to take official action regarding his private clients, he should exercise the notice and recusal provisions of the Code. See R.I. Gen Laws § 36-14-6. Finally, if the petitioner believes that his independence of judgment as to his official duties may be impaired or result in the disclosure of confidential information, he should refrain from accepting such private employment.

This opinion is consistent with past advisory opinions where we have given approval for employees to accept outside employment provided that a) the employees’ official duties for their agency do not directly relate to their private employment; b) they complete the work before or after their normal working hours; and c) the employees do not appear before their own agency. See A.O. 99-102 (advising that a Providence Water Supply Board employee may work for a computer vendor since he did not have any authority or control over the vendor for work provided to the Water Supply Board); A.O. 98-135 (concluding that a Providence employee in the Forest Management Program at the Scituate Reservoir may provide services to private landowners if he does not exercise authority over those landowners in his public employment); A.O. 96-31 (concluding that two Social Caseworkers for the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), who in their private capacities operated a graphic design studio on a part-time basis, could provide graphic design services to residential facilities provided that they completed all graphic design services after normal working hours and other officials at DCYF decide where, if necessary, to place developmentally delayed children); D.R. 95-2 (opining that state employees who served process in their official capacities or were employed by a state agency involved in the service of process should not serve process as private agents outside of normal working hours since the outside employment directly related to their official duties; however, employees who did not serve process in their official capacities and who were not employed by an agency that is responsible for the service of process may serve process as private agents since their official duties and the official duties of their agency do not directly relate to such private employment); A.O. 97-98 (advising Superior Court Clerk that she could accept other employment so long as she did not receive special access of information from the Court in performing her private employment).

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-119
99-102
99-39
98-169
98-135
98-110
98-103
98-69
98-34
97-150
97-108
97-107
97-98
97-45
97-39
96-72
96-55
96-31
95-80
95-50
95-11
93-22
Declaratory Ruling 95-2

Keywords:

Private employment