Advisory Opinion No. 2002-41

Re: Nicholas M. Castagna

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Westerly Town Council member, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may participate in the Council’s consideration of matters involving an individual with whom his father has had business dealings in a real estate broker/client relationship.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Westerly Town Council member, a municipal elected position, may participate in the consideration of matters involving an individual with whom his father has had business dealings in a real estate broker/client relationship. The petitioner's relationship with the individual is too remote to trigger the prohibitions set forth in the Code of Ethics.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official may not participate in a matter in which he has an interest, financial or otherwise, that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his public duties. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a). A substantial conflict of interest exists if the official has reason to believe or expect that he, a member of his family, or any business associate will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by reason of his official activity. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a). He is prohibited from using his public position or confidential information received through his position to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for himself, a business associate or a family member. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d). Section 5(f) of the Code requires a public official to recuse himself from voting or otherwise participating in the consideration and/or disposition of a matter involving a business associate. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(f). Under R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2(3), a “business associate” is defined as any individual or entity joined with a public official “to achieve a common financial objective”.

The petitioner advises that the Westerly Town Council may consider zoning and regulatory matters concerning property owned by Robert Lucey. He represents that his father is a real estate broker who has had several business dealings with Mr. Lucey in a broker/client relationship. Assuming an ongoing broker/client relationship exists between the parties, Mr. Lucey would be the “business associate” of the petitioner’s father, rather than that of the petitioner. Absent some evidence that the Town Council’s consideration of matters involving Mr. Lucey and/or his property would have a financial impact on the petitioner’s father, no conflict of interest exists under the facts as presented. See A.O. 97-36 (advising a Narragansett Town Councilor that the law allowed him to participate in matters concerning the South County Museum notwithstanding the fact that his wife served on the Board of that museum since the museum and its principals were the spouse’s, and not the petitioner’s, business associates). Any relationship the petitioner may have with Mr. Lucey through his father is too remote to implicate the prohibitions set forth in the Code of Ethics. As such, recusal is not required when issues involving Mr. Lucey and/or his property appear before the Town Council.

Code Citations:

36-14-3
36-14-5(a)  
36-14-5(f)
36-14-7(a)

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-85
99-24
98-25
97-36
96-45

Keywords:

Business associate
Family member