Advisory Opinion No. 2001-32

Re: Jennifer M. Olivelli


The Associate Director of Human Resources for the Department of Corrections (DOC) requests an advisory opinion on behalf of the petitioner, the Associate Director of the DOC’s Planning & Research Unit, a state employee position, as to whether she may accept part-time employment as a consultant for George Washington University ‘s Institute on Crime, Justice and Corrections, a DOC vendor, given that she is the Institute’s contract manager.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the petitioner, the Associate Director of the Department of Correction’s (DOC) Planning & Research Unit, a state employee position, from accepting part-time employment as a consultant for George Washington University’s Institute on Crime, Justice and Corrections, a DOC vendor, provided that 1) she cedes her supervisory authority over the Institute as its contract manager; 2) she recuses herself from participation in all DOC matters involving the Institute; 3) any inquiries regarding the availability of consultant work were initiated by the Institute; and 4) all such work is performed on her own time and without the use of public resources.

The petitioner advises that she has been offered part-time employment with George Washington University’s (GWU) Institute on Crime, Justice and Corrections (the Institute). The Department of Corrections (DOC) currently has a contract with the Institute for assistance in calculating population projections and the petitioner serves as its contract manager. She indicates that the proposed employment would entail completing various data analyses relating to the Institute’s contracts with other states and would not involve work on its contract with Rhode Island. She represents that she serves on the DOC’s Technical Review Committee and reviews bids submitted in response to Requests For Proposals (RFP) for vendors to provide inmate population forecasts. The Committee provides recommendations to the State Purchasing Office, which selects the vendor.

Under the Code of Ethics, the petitioner may not participate in any matter in which she has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of her duties in the public interest. Substantial conflict is defined as a “direct monetary gain or a direct monetary loss” that accrues, by virtue of the public official’s activity, to that individual, a family member, a business associate, an employer, or any business which the public official represents. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 7(a). Additionally, the Code provides that a public official or employee may not use her office to obtain financial gain for herself, her family, business associates, employer, or business that she represents other than as provided by law. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d). Also, pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b), a public official may not accept other employment which will either impair her independence of judgment as to her official duties or require her, or induce her, to disclose confidential information acquired by her in the course of her official duties. And finally, Commission Regulation 5011 prohibits individuals subject to the Code from engaging in a financial transaction with subordinates over whom he or she exercises supervisory responsibilities in the course of his or her official duties. The regulation specifically provides that subordinates include contractors of the official’s agency. However, that prohibition does not apply where the subordinate initiates the transaction, it is part of a regular commercial business or occupation, or is a charitable or fund raising event under the general sponsorship of a municipality or state.

The Commission has issued a number of advisory opinions where it has given approval for employees to accept outside employment provided that a) the employees' official duties for their agency do not directly relate to their private employment; b) they complete the work before or after their normal working hours; and c) the employees do not appear before their own agency. See A.O.96-31 (concluding that two Social Caseworkers for the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), who in their private capacities operated a graphic design studio on a part-time basis, could provide graphic design services to residential facilities provided that they completed all graphic design services after normal working hours and other officials at DCYF decide where, if necessary, to place developmentally delayed children); D.R. 95-2 (opining that state employees who served process in their official capacities or were employed by a state agency involved in the service of process should not serve process as private agents outside of normal working hours since the outside employment directly related to their official duties; however, employees who did not serve process in their official capacities and who were not employed by an agency that is responsible for the service of process may serve process as private agents since their official duties and the official duties of their agency do not directly relate to such private employment); A.O. 97-45 (concluding that Department of Corrections employee could accept private employment as a group counselor for men who are on probation, parole, and electronic monitoring parole provided that she does not participate in activities in her private employment where her inmates are involved, not accept as clients in her private employment individuals who have a reasonable likelihood of having professional contact with her as a result of her public duties and responsibilities, and in situations where an existing private client becomes involved with the Department of Corrections, she should recuse from participation in her role as Community Program Counselor involving that client); A.O. 97-98 (advising Superior Court Clerk that she could accept other employment so long as she did not receive special access of information from the Court in performing her private employment); A.O. 98-169 (finding that EDC film coordinator could accept employment with private film industry interests provided that she did not have an on-going supervisory responsibility with a private concern that wishes to hire her, involvement in a substantive decision made at the EDC that affected the private concern, an agreement between the petitioner and the private concern that she would be hired by them in return for some official action, or use of her position at the EDC to promote her own private employment); A.O. 99-70 (concluding that DEM employee could work for a private company so long as he did not submit material for approval before his former Division until one year from the official severance of his position with that Division).

Under Commission Regulation 5011, the petitioner may not engage in a financial transaction with a subordinate over whom she exercises supervisory responsibilities in her public employment. Contractors are specifically included within the definition of subordinates. Therefore, the petitioner may not engage in personal financial transactions (with limited exceptions) with DOC contractors. However, if the petitioner cedes her supervisory responsibility as the Institute’s contract manger, then the prohibition would not apply and she could accept part-time consultant work with that vendor. In that circumstance, she must recuse herself from participation in all DOC matters relating to the vendor, both as the Institute’s contract manager and as a member of the DOC’s Technical Review Committee. Further, the petitioner would be required to recuse from establishing RFP criteria for inmate forecasting and the Technical Review Committee’s bid review and selection. Notice of recusal should be filed with both the DOC and the Ethics Commission pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6. Finally, the petitioner is reminded that she may not use any confidential information obtained while working for the DOC in her consultant work for the Institute. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b), (c), (d).

Code Citations:








Related Advisory Opinions:












DR 95-2


Private employment

Transactions with subordinates