Advisory Opinion No. 2000-90

Re: Michael C. Cerullo, Jr.

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, an Exeter Planning Board candidate, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether the Code of Ethics would require his recusal on Planning Board matters involving a research and technology park to be located at the former Ladd Center, given that his mother-in-law owns land that directly abuts the subject property.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, an Exeter Planning Board candidate, a municipal appointed position, may not participate in the Planning Board’s consideration of matters involving a research and technology park to be located at the former Ladd Center, given that his mother-in-law owns land that directly abuts the subject property.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official may not participate in any matter in which he or she has an interest, financial or otherwise, that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties or employment 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). R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d) further prohibits an official from using his or her position or confidential information received though his or her position to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for himself or herself or any person within his or her family. Finally, Commission Regulation 36-14-5005 specifically includes in-laws as members of one's family.

The Commission previously has concluded that the Code of Ethics prohibits public officials from participating in matters that may affect their families, including decisions regarding property. See, e.g., A.O. 97-63; A.O. 92-24; A.O. 90-85. The Commission has expanded its analysis to include participating in property matters where a family member is an abutter. See A.O. 98-39 (concluding that the Coventry Town Solicitor could not advise the Council regarding parcels that are adjacent to land owned by a corporation in which his brother-in-law has a substantial interest); A.O. 97-76 (finding a Coventry Planning Commission member could not participate in matters relating to a proposed subdivision given that her brother was an abutter to the project). The same analysis applies here, where the petitioner’s mother-in-law owns property abutting the site of a proposed research and technology park. Absent some evidence that no action by the Planning Board regarding the project would affect the financial interests of his mother-in-law as an abutter, the petitioner may not participate in the Board’s consideration of matters involving the Ladd Center project. Notice of recusal should be filed both with the Exeter Planning Board and the Ethics Commission in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-6
36-14-5005

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-99
99-34
98-47
98-39
98-26
97-76
97-63
94-42
92-24
90-85

Keywords:

Candidate
Family: property interest
Recusal