Advisory Opinion No. 2002-68

Re: Albert V. Ranaldi, Jr.

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Lincoln Town Planner, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether his father may participate in tax sale to be administered by the Town of Lincoln.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the father of the petitioner, the Lincoln Town Planner, a municipal appointed position, from participating in the Town of Lincoln’s tax sale given that the petitioner has no involvement in the Town’s administration of the tax sale.

The petitioner advises that his father wishes to participate in an upcoming tax sale to be administered by the Town of Lincoln. He states that the Lincoln Finance Department and a consultant are responsible for preparing the tax sale. He represents that he has had no involvement with the Town’s preparation for the tax sale. Finally, he informs that he has attended weekly department head staff meetings, at which time the status of the tax sale has been reported.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official may not have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, 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). A substantial conflict of interest occurs if he has reason to believe or expect that he or any family member or business associate, or any business by which he is employed or represents 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 also 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 family member, business associate, or any business by which he is employed or represents. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d). Further, no person subject to the Code or any person within his or her family may enter into a contract with any state or municipal agency unless “the contract has been awarded through an open and public process, including prior public notice and subsequent public disclosure of all proposals considered and contracts awarded.” See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(h).

The Commission previously has found that municipal employees with discretionary authority regarding whether to place municipal property for bid at a tax sale may not bid on that property. Further, if an employee has provided substantive input into the decision to put the property to tax sale, or as to requirements of the bids, the employee, his family members and business associates may not bid on the sale of the property. See A.O. 98-65 (finding that Town of Cumberland employees may bid on property offered for tax sale by the Town, provided that those employees involved in the decision to put property to tax sale may not bid on the property); A.O. 97-48 (opining that the RIDOT Property and Right-of-Way Division may accept bids on RIDOT property from other state employees or their relatives so long as those employees or relatives have not participated in the bid development process for the particular RIDOT property).

Based upon prior advisory opinions and the petitioner’s representation that he has no discretionary authority over and/or involvement with the administration of the tax sale, the Commission concludes that his father may participate in the Town of Lincoln’s tax sale. To the extent that the petitioner has received any information regarding the properties to be sold during his attendance at weekly Department head meetings, the Code of Ethics prohibits his disclosure of such information for his family member’s private financial gain or advantage. See § 36-14-5(d).

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

98-65
97-48
90-55

Keywords:

Discretionary Authority
Family: contracts