Advisory Opinion No. 2000-78

Re: Sharon G. Hoffman

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Chariho/Tri-Town Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator, requests as advisory opinion on behalf of the Task Force as to whether members who are privately employed as subcontractors to the Task Force may be restricted from voting on matters concerning programs they provide through their private employment and/or their contracts with the Task Force.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not bar members of the Chariho/Tri-Town Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention who are privately employed as subcontractors to the Task Force from voting on matters concerning programs they provide through their private employment and/or their contracts with the Task Force. Since its members are neither regional appointed officials nor employees, they need not abide by the statutory and regulatory provisions of the Code of Ethics in carrying out their duties and responsibilities.

The petitioner advises that the Chariho/Tri-Town Task Force on Substance Abuse Prevention operates under the umbrella of the Rhode Island Substance Abuse Prevention Act, R.I. Gen. Laws § 16-21-1, et seq., and serves the towns of Richmond, Hopkinton and Charlestown. The Task Force previously contracted with a private vendor for the provision of two drug abuse prevention counselors for the school district. The two counselors, who were the vendor’s employees, also were Task Force members. The Task Force is not renewing its contract with the vendor and has publicly advertised the counselor positions. The petitioner indicates that the two members who previously served as counselors are the most qualified among the applicants. The Task Force wishes to employ its own members as subcontractors since they have experience and helped to implement the programs currently in place in the school district. She represents that it would be detrimental to the students to change their counselors mid-year.

The petitioner further represents that the 10-12 member Task Force is comprised of citizens, school personnel, representatives of law enforcement and social service agencies, students and business leaders. She advises that service on the Task Force is voluntary and without compensation, and that individuals interested in drug abuse prevention are recruited by word of mouth to fill vacancies. The Richmond Town Clerk confirmed that Task Force members do not receive appointment by or through the regional town councils and/or the mayors or town managers, nor are they regional employees. (The Town of Richmond acts as the Task Force's agent.) In November of 1987, the Richmond Town Council approved a citizen’s request to become actively involved as a task force for the purpose of obtaining drug abuse prevention grants. Thereafter, the Council took no further action with regard to the Task Force.

The Code of Ethics provides that state and municipal elected officials, state and municipal appointed officials, and employees of state and local government, boards, commissions, and agencies are covered by the Code. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-4. An employee is defined as any full-time or part-time employee in the classified, non-classified and unclassified service of the state or of any city or town within the state, any individual serving in any appointed state or municipal position, and any employee of any public or quasi public state or municipal board, Commission, or corporation. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-(2)(4). Here, Task Force members are neither elected nor appointed officials, nor are they employees as defined by the Code of Ethics. Since the Task Force is not a governmental agency, its members are not subject to the statutory provisions of the Code. However, given that the Task Force acts as the regional agent for purposes of receiving grant funds and administering drug prevention programs within the Chariho school district, the region and/or individual municipalities may wish to examine how members come to serve on that entity and whether they should be subject to the Code of Ethics, by means of municipal appointments or otherwise.

Code Citations:

36-14-(2)(4)
36-14-4

Related Advisory Opinions:

2000-70
2000-13
2000-14
2000-15
99-18
98-49
97-141

Keywords:

Code jurisdiction
Contracts