Advisory Opinion No. 2000-79

Re: Theodore F. Green II

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a University of Rhode Island (URI) Campaign for Green Hall Committee member, a state appointed official, requests an advisory opinion as to whether the Code of Ethics prohibits the low bidder on the Green Hall restoration project from subcontracting with a company with which he has a business association.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the low bidder on the Green Hall restoration project may subcontract with a business associate of the petitioner, a University of Rhode Island (URI) Campaign for Green Hall Committee member, a state appointed official, given that the Committee had no involvement with the bid specification process and/or the awarding of contracts related to the project. Further, the potential for the petitioner's business associate to realize a financial gain or loss by reason of the Committee’s fundraising efforts is too remote and speculative to trigger prohibitions under the Code of Ethics.

The petitioner serves on the University of Rhode Island’s (URI) Campaign for Green Committee as a descendant of Senator Theodore Francis Green. The Committee was established to coordinate fundraising for the renovation of Green Hall. He advises that the Committee has no input regarding the development of architectural plans and specifications for the construction contract, and its responsibilities solely relate to fundraising. The petitioner is the president and sole employee of Proreps, Inc., a company providing project management services to subcontractors in the construction industry. Proreps currently is performing work in Connecticut for H. Carr & Sons, a drywall and plastering subcontractor. He indicates that the Green Hall project would be put out to bid among general contractors, which in turn would seek subcontract bids for various elements of the project. He advises that H. Carr & Sons has performed work at URI in the past and potentially could submit a subcontract bid on the Green Hall project.

Pursuant to 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. A substantial conflict of interest occurs if the petitioner has reason to believe or expect that he or any family member or business associate, or any business by which he is employed, will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by reason of his official activity. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 7(a). He may not accept employment that will impair his 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, a business associate or a family member. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d). “Business associate” is defined as any individual or entity joined with a public official or employee “to achieve a common financial objective.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2(3).

Here, the potential for a benefit or detriment affecting the petitioner’s business associate, and thereby constituting a substantial interest under the law, to arise by virtue of the Campaign Committee’s fundraising activities is too remote and speculative to trigger prohibitions under the Code of Ethics. As a Campaign Committee member, the petitioner has raised funds for a renovation project on which H. Carr & Sons potentially could submit a subcontract bid. Given that the Campaign Committee had no involvement in the bid specification process and/or awarding of contracts to the low bidder, there is no opportunity for any of his private financial interests, and those of his business associate, to impair his independence of judgment with respect to his public duties. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), (b) and (d). Finally, the petitioner is cautioned that, to the extent that he may become privy to confidential information as a result of his position on the Campaign Committee, he may not use or disclose such information to benefit his business associate. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(c).

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

2000-65
99-26
96-95
95-116

Keywords:

Business associate
Contracts
Private employment