Advisory Opinion No. 2000-80

Re: Pawtucket Police Department

QUESTION PRESENTED

The Pawtucket City Solicitor requests an advisory opinion on behalf of the Pawtucket Police Department, a municipal agency, as to whether its Records Division may charge law firms and insurance companies a fee higher than the statutory rate for the retrieval and provision of reports on an expedited or preferential basis.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that no provisions of the Code of Ethics would prevent the Pawtucket Police Department, a municipal agency, from charging law firms and insurance companies a higher fee for the retrieval and provision of reports on an expedited or preferential basis.

Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 38-2-4, the Pawtucket Police Department charges citizens 15 cents per page for documents. However, the Department has charged insurance companies and law firms five dollars per report based upon the fact that those entities receive expedited or preferential treatment in the retrieval and copying of documents. Under the Code, a public official may not participate in any matter in which he or she has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a). An official will have an interest in substantial conflict with his or her official duties if he or she has a reason to believe or expect 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, a business associate, an employer, or any business which the public official represents. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a). The issue raised by the petitioner here, whether the Pawtucket Police Department may charge certain entities increased fees for documents, is not addressed by any provisions of the Code of Ethics and does not implicate any potential private financial interests.

Finally, the petitioner is advised that this opinion solely addresses whether the Code of Ethics prohibits the Police Department from engaging in this practice. This opinion does not, and could not, address whether any other statutes, rulings or policies prohibits said practice. 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)
36-14-7(a)

Related Advisory Opinions:

2000-18

Keywords:

Code jurisdiction