Advisory Opinion No. 2002-60

Re: Florence Weintraub

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a former Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) member, a state appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she may apply for a grant from RISCA within one year of her resignation.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a former Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) member, a state appointed position, may not apply for a grant from RISCA given that she would appear before her former board prior to the expiration of one-year from her resignation, in violation of R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(e)(4).

The petitioner’s term as a Rhode Island State Council on the Arts member expired in March 2002. She advises that she is a violinist and currently is a member of a string quartet that performs for schools and nursing homes throughout the state. She indicates that she wishes to apply for a grant from RISCA to cover expenses associated with the quartet’s performances at schools and nursing homes. The deadline for this grant application is October 1, 2002. A second application period will expire on April 1, 2003.

The Code of Ethics provides that the petitioner may not appear before any state or municipal board of which she is a member or by which she is employed. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(e)(1). Section 5(e)(4) extends this prohibition for a period of one year after the petitioner has officially severed her position with her former board. The legislative intent of this revolving door provision presumably is to minimize any influence the former public official may have with respect to her former board. Finally, R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5 (c) and (d) prohibit the use and/or disclosure of confidential information acquired by an official or employee during the course of or by reason of her official employment, particularly for the purpose of obtaining financial gain.

The Commission consistently has concluded that under the very strict, but very clear, language of Section 5(e) public officials and employees may not appear before their own agency or board before the expiration of one year from their date of separation. See A.O. 96-11 (concluding that a former Senior Budget Analyst may not represent himself, any other person or entity, or act as an expert witness before the State Budget Office for a period of one year after having officially severed his position with that office); A.O. 94-06 (opining that a violation would result if a former Newport City Councilor were to appear before the Council as the Executive Director of the Newport Chamber of Commerce for a period of one year after the date of his termination from the Council); A.O. 89-2 (holding that a DEM employee could accept private employment as a consultant, but could not represent himself, any other person, or act as an expert witness before DEM for a period of one year after officially severing his position).

The petitioner’s application for a grant from RISCA would require her to appear before her former state board prior to the expiration of one year after her official severance from that public entity. In Advisory Opinion 95-105, the Commission previously held, inter alia, that the Code of Ethics prohibited members of the Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission (HPHC) from applying to the HPHC for loans, given the discretionary role its members exercised in the application and loan approval processes. Here, RISCA exercises discretionary authority regarding the award of the grant sought by the petitioner. Accordingly, she may not apply for any grants during the one-year period following her severance from office, including the October 1, 2002 application period. However, she would not be prohibited from applying for grant funds during the second application period that expires April 1, 2003. Finally, the petitioner is reminded that she may not use any confidential information acquired by her in the course of her service on RISCA to obtain an advantage in securing grant funds from her former board. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5 (c) and (d).

Code Citations:

36-14-5(c)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-5(e)

Related Advisory Opinions:

2000-58
2000-3
99-126
98-96
98-13
97-146
97-18
96-102
96-84
96-11
95-105
89-2

Keywords:

Grants
Revolving door