Advisory Opinion No. 2002-18

Re: David A. Venancio

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Tiverton Electrical Inspector, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may perform inspections for the Town of Tiverton in the Country View Estates development, which employs his spouse and in which they reside.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the petitioner, the Tiverton Electrical Inspector, a municipal appointed position, from performing inspections in the Country View Estates development, provided that he does not inspect his own property.

The petitioner serves as the Town of Tiverton’s Electrical Inspector on a part-time basis. He advises that in 2001 he and his spouse purchased a home in a new Tiverton development, Country View Estates. Subsequently, Country View Estates hired his spouse to be its nighttime property manager. The construction of homes in the development is ongoing. He indicates that his spouse’s duties involve taking emergency calls during the night and referring such calls to any of Country View’s three owners or its maintenance man. He states that she does not exercise any hiring or firing authority, nor does she possess any financial responsibilities.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official 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. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a). An official has an interest in substantial conflict with his official duties if it is likely 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, or his employer. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a). Also, a public official may not use his public office or confidential information received through his office to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for himself, a family member, or an employer. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d).

The Commission concludes that the petitioner may perform electrical inspections for the Town of Tiverton at Country View Estates, provided that he does not inspect his own property. The relevant provisions of the Code, namely sections 5(a) and 5(d), do not require recusal for matters involving a family member’s employer unless it is reasonably foreseeable that the matter under consideration would financially impact the family member. Here, there is no evidence that the petitioner’s performance of electrical inspections would in any way impact his spouse’s employment by Country View Estates, particularly because her duties are ministerial. See A.O. 99-28 (concluding that a Westerly Zoning Board of Review member could participate in the review of the Bess Eaton Donut and Flour Company’s application for a special use permit to construct a drive-thru in two new locations since his relationship with the applicant is too remote to implicate the Code’s prohibitions and there is no evidence that the construction of the drive-thrus would impact his spouse’s employment in the applicant’s bakery department); A.O. 98-45 (advising the Administrator of the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers that he could participate in matters that relate to the telecommunications industry or Bell Atlantic notwithstanding the fact this his spouse was employed by Bell Atlantic since there was no evidence that the matter would impact his wife’s employment interest).

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

2000-25
99-79
99-28
98-45
97-83
96-105
96-6
95-12
91-34

Keywords:

Family: Private Employment