Advisory Opinion No. 2000-75

Re: Lois Lanni

QUESTION PRESENTED

The Petitioner, employed by the City of Cranston as a file clerk at the Board of Canvassers, a municipal employee position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she may continue to exercise all of her duties in that position given that her spouse is a candidate for a seat on the City Council in the November 2000 election.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, employed by the City of Cranston as a file clerk at the Board of Canvassers, municipal employee position, may continue to exercise all of her duties in that position notwithstanding her spouse’s candidacy for the City Council. Also, because the Petitioner herself is not a candidate for office we conclude that if a situation arose where her duties put her in a position of exercising discretionary authority that could affect her spouse or one of his opponents, recusal, rather than disqualification for the position, is an appropriate safeguard under the law. Also, any matters involving her husband’s candidacy that came before the Board of Canvassers would not implicate section 5(e) of the Code, which prohibits appearances by an official or employee before his or her own board or agency. That section’s absolute prohibitions do not extend to appearances by family members.

In that regard, we take note of the petitioner's representation that her position as file clerk does not involve exercising any discretionary authority that could affect the candidacy of her spouse or anyone else. We further advise, however, that because the public responsibilities of the Board of Canvassers include administering an impartial election process, the petitioner should exercise diligence in identifying any actions that she might be asked to take that would involve discretionary authority as to the election process and that she should recuse herself from participation and/or vote on any matters relating to or affecting the candidacy of her spouse and/or other City Council candidates. Such participation would constitute a substantial conflict with the discharge of her public duties and/or a use of position for financial gain for a family member. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a), 36-14-5(d). If and when matters involving her spouse or other City Council candidates, and/or the City Council election in general, come before her in her employment capacity, she should (a) advise the Board, in writing, of the nature of her interest in the matter at issue, and (b) recuse from any participation and/or vote in connection with said matters. Notice of recusal should be filed with both the Board of Canvassers and the Ethics Commission pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws, § 36-14-6.

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

98-122
97-22
96-110
96-25
95-39
95-23
92-52
91-62
84-10
83-72
83-40

Keywords:

Family: public employment
Nepotism
Political activity