Advisory Opinion No. 2002-47

Re: Raymond Doughty

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Field Clerk in the Town of Burrillville Tax Assessor’s Office, a municipal employee position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may accept assignments from his part-time employer to perform appraisals in the Town of Burrillville for lending and refinancing purposes.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Field Clerk in the Town of Burrillville Tax Assessor’s Office, a municipal employee position, may accept assignments from his part-time employer to perform appraisals in the Town of Burrillville for lending and refinancing purposes provided that he performs such work on his own time, without use of and/or special access to public resources and that he does not use his position as Field Clerk to recruit potential clients.

The petitioner represents that as a Field Clerk for the Burrillville Tax Assessor, he does not determine property values or exercise any judgment or opinion regarding valuations. Rather, the Field Clerk merely collects assessment-related data such as building size and dimensions and an inventory of businesses for use by the Tax Assessor, who then assesses the properties using this information. Keegan Appraisal Co. of Smithfield, Rhode Island employs the petitioner part-time as an appraiser. The petitioner wishes to accept appraisal assignments in the Town of Burrillville. He represents that all such private work would take place during evenings and weekends, and that these appraisals would be for lending and refinancing purposes, rather than tax appeal purposes.

Under the Code of Ethics, the petitioner 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), 36-14-7(a). He may not accept other employment which will impair his independence of judgment as to his official duties. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b). Further, 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, his employer or business associates. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d).

Here, although the petitioner wishes to accept part-time, private employment that would involve properties within his public jurisdiction as a Field Clerk for the Town of Burrillville, he represents that he has no discretion or decision-making authority as to the Town’s tax assessments. Furthermore, his work for his private employer in Burrillville would be limited to appraisals for lending purposes. Since he would not be acting in matters in his private capacity in which he exercises decision-making authority in his public capacity, the petitioner would not be in substantial conflict with his duties in the public interest, nor should his judgment be impaired as to his public duties. Based upon the petitioner’s representations, the Commission concludes that he may accept such private employment, provided that all private work is performed on his own time and without the use of public resources.

The petitioner is reminded that he may not in any way use his public position to solicit business for himself in his private employment. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d). Further, he is not permitted special access to any information maintained by the Town for use in his private employment, but may access such information only in the same manner and at the same times such information is available to other members of the public. Finally, if the petitioner believes that his independence of judgment as to his official duties may be impaired or result in the disclosure of confidential information, he should refrain from accepting such private employment.

This opinion is consistent with past advisory opinions where the Commission 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. 99-102 (advising that a Providence Water Supply Board employee may work for a computer vendor since he did not have any authority or control over the vendor for work provided to the Water Supply Board); A.O. 98-135 (concluding that a Providence employee in the Forest Management Program at the Scituate Reservoir may provide services to private landowners if he does not exercise authority over those landowners in his public employment); 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. 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).

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(b)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-6
36-14-7(a)

Related Advisory Opinions:

2000-27
99-119
99-102
99-39
98-169
98-135
98-110
98-103
98-69
98-34
97-150
97-108
97-107
97-98
97-45
97-39
96-72
96-55
96-31
95-80
95-50
95-11
93-22

Keywords:

Private employment