Advisory Opinion No. 2001-19

Re: Thomas B. Hevner, Jr.


The petitioner, a Lincoln Planning Board member, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he must recuse himself from the Planning Board’s consideration of matters involving the Whipple-Cullen Farm, a proposed residential development that abuts his property.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Lincoln Planning Board member, a municipal appointed position, may not participate and or vote on matters involving the Whipple-Cullen Farm, given that he owns property abutting the proposed residential development.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official may not participate in any matter in which he has an interest, financial or otherwise, that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his 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 official duties if he 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 position or confidential information received though his position to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for himself, business associate or any person within his family.

In previous advisory opinions, the Commission has concluded that town officials may not participate and vote on matters involving subdivisions to be located adjacent to their property since they would have a direct financial interest in any official activity affecting the subdivision. See, e.g., A.O. 97-63 (finding that an Exeter Planning Board Member may not participate in matters involving a proposed combined preliminary and final plan for the development of a subdivision given that he resides within 1,000' of the development); A.O. 92-24; A.O. 90-85. The Commission consistently has found substantial conflicts requiring recusal to exist where the official is an abutter to the applicant, normally defined as residing within 200' of the property at issue. See, e.g., A.O. 95-27; A.O. 90-85; A.O. 90-34. Here, absent some evidence that action by the Planning Board regarding the Whipple-Cullen Farm would not affect the financial interests of the petitioner as an abutter, the petitioner may not participate in any decisions regarding the proposed development. Notice of recusal should be filed both with the Ethics Commission and the Town of Lincoln in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

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Property interest