Advisory Opinion No. 2000-56

Re: Tara Thibaudeau

QUESTION PRESENTED

The Chair of the Town of Warren Recreation Board requests an advisory opinion on behalf of the petitioner, a Warren Recreation Board member, a municipal appointed position, as to whether she also may serve on the Bristol/Warren Regional School Committee, a regional elected position.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Town of Warren Recreation Board member, a municipal appointed position, may simultaneously serve on the Bristol/Warren Regional School Committee, a regional elected position, without running afoul of the Code of Ethics.

Under the Code of Ethics, the petitioner may not participate in any matter in which she has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of her duties in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a). A public official will have an interest in substantial conflict with his or her 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 a business associate. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a). R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b) provides that the petitioner may not accept other employment which would impair her independence of judgement or require her to disclose confidential information acquired in the course of her official duties. Finally, the Code prohibits the petitioner from using her public position or confidential information received through her position to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for herself, a family member, or business associate. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d).

The petitioner advises that she presently serves on both the Warren Recreation Board and the Bristol/Warren Regional School Committee. She represents that she recuses herself from the Recreation Board’s consideration of matters involving the use of school property. She also recuses herself from participation in Board matters concerning the hiring of summer playground personnel, given that it affects a family member. She further indicates that the Warren Town Charter prohibits dual office holding.

Sections 5(a) and 5(d) of the Code of Ethics do not create an absolute bar to simultaneous service as a Bristol/Warren Regional School Committee member and a Warren Recreation Board member. Rather, those provisions require a matter by matter evaluation and determination as to whether substantial conflicts of interest exist with respect to carrying out an official or employee’s duty in the public interest. For instance, as correctly noted by the petitioner in her request, she would not be able to participate in Recreation Board matters affecting the School Department while serving as a member of that Board.

In an analogous advisory opinion, the Commission previously concluded that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit a Bristol Recreation Board member from simultaneously serving on the Bristol/Warren Regional School Committee, given that one entity does not exercise fiscal or jurisdictional control over the other. See e.g., A.O. 97-43. Here, the Commission likewise concludes that the petitioner’s simultaneous service on the Warren Recreation Board and the Bristol/Warren Regional School Committee does not present an inherent conflict of interest under the Code of Ethics.

It is unlikely that the petitioner’s involvement with the School Committee would impact on her responsibilities with the Recreation Board, and vice versa, given the different spheres of responsibilities that fall to the respective agencies. In the event that such matters would arise, however, the petitioner is required to recuse from participation and vote. Notice of recusal should be filed with the Town of Warren and the Ethics Commission in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

Finally, the petitioner is advised that this opinion solely addresses whether the Code of Ethics prohibits from simultaneously holding her respective positions. This opinion does not, and cannot, address whether the Warren Town Charter or any other statutes, rulings or policies, specifically from the State Board of Elections or the Attorney General’s Office, prohibit such simultaneous service. The Ethics Commission does not exercise jurisdiction over those statutes and, therefore, is not empowered to issue advisory opinions addressing or interpreting their effect.

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

2000-22
99-109
99-100
99-89
99-62
99-12
98-116
98-75
98-37
97-47
97-43
96-26
94-48
95-62
93-13

Keywords:

Dual public roles