Advisory Opinion No. 2000-64

Re: Nancy A. Devaney

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a candidate for Narragansett School Committee, a municipal elected office, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she may, if elected, continue in her position as Executive Director of the Narragansett Youth Task Force, Inc.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a candidate for Narragansett School Committee, a municipal elected office, may, if elected to the School Committee, continue in her position as Executive Director of the Narragansett Youth Task Force, Inc. However, the petitioner must recuse as a School Committee member on matters affecting the Task Force. Finally, if elected, the petitioner may not represent the Task Force before the School Committee while serving as a member and for one year thereafter.

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. Substantial conflict is defined as a “direct monetary gain or a direct monetary loss” that accrues, by virtue of the public official’s activity, to that individual, a family member, a business associate, an employer, or any business which the public official represents. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 7(a). She may not accept outside employment that will impair her independence of judgment as to her official duties or responsibilities. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b). Additionally, the Code provides that a public official or employee may not use her office to obtain financial gain other than as provided by law. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d). Also, a public official may not represent another person before her own agency while she is a member and for one year thereafter. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(e).

The petitioner advises that the Narragansett Youth Task Force is the state designated drug prevention organization in the town of Narragansett. The funding source for the Narragansett Youth Task Force is through the 1987 Rhode Island Substance Abuse Prevention Act. The funds come from the state and Narragansett acts as a fiduciary agent. The petitioner advises that she would not expect matters concerning her employer to come before the School Committee. She advises that some of the Task Force programs are through the school, but that they are supplementary to what the school provides. Additionally, the petitioner represents that the school employees with whom she works do not make any decisions that impact the Task Force.

The mere fact of petitioner’s private employment with the Narragansett Youth Task Force does not bar her service on the School Committee. However, if the petitioner is elected and in the event that any matter affecting her employer comes before the School Committee, the petitioner should (a) notify the School Committee, in writing, of the nature of her interest in the matter at issue, and (b) recuse from any participation or voting in connection with such matter. Notice of recusal should be filed with the School and with the Ethics Commission in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6. In sum, while simultaneous service in either of the two positions is not barred by the Code of Ethics, the relevant statute and regulations require that the petitioner be particularly vigilant as to matters in which she participates.

Further, Section 5(e) of the Code provides, inter alia, that no public official may represent any other person before a state or municipal agency of which he or she is a member of for one year thereafter. This restriction would apply to the petitioner’s appearance before the School Committee to represent the interests of the Narragansett Youth Task Force.

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-35
99-22
98-10
97-142
97-93
96-7
95-66

Keywords:

Private Employment