Advisory Opinion No. 2003-38

Re: Helen M. Furriel


The petitioner, a Portsmouth Open Space Commission member, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she is required to file an annual financial disclosure statement with the Ethics Commission.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Portsmouth Open Space Commission member, a municipal appointed position, is required to file an annual financial disclosure statement with the Ethics Commission in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-16.

The petitioner advises that she is a member of the Portsmouth Open Space Commission. She informs that the purpose of this commission is to help retain the rural character of the community. She represents that the Commission works with public officials, non-profit groups and other organizations. She informs that the Commission makes recommendations to the Town Council on proposed land acquisitions. She states that this Commission does not have the authority to make any financial decision. The petitioner inquires as to whether she is required to file a financial disclosure statement.

The Code of Ethics requires all state and municipal elected and appointed officials to file annual financial statements with the Ethics Commission. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-16. Pursuant to both R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2(9) and Commission Regulation 2002(2), a “state or municipal appointed official” includes any officer or member of a state or municipal agency who is appointed to an office specified by the constitution or a statute of this state or a charter or ordinance of any city or town or who is appointed by, through or with the advice and consent of a governing body, or any court, in state or municipal government, or highest official of state or municipal government. The Code defines “municipal agency” to include any department, division, agency, commission, board, office, bureau, authority corporation or subsidiary, quasi-public authority, or school, fire or water district within Rhode Island, other than a state agency, and whether comprised of officials and employees from a single or multiple municipalities which exercises governmental functions other than in a purely advisory nature. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2(8)(ii); Regulation 2002(4)(b).

Here, the Portsmouth Town Council appointed the petitioner to a term of office on the Portsmouth Open Space Commission pursuant to Portsmouth Town Charter Article X, Section 1004. Therefore, the petitioner is a “state or municipal appointed official” within the meaning of R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-4. Additionally, under the provisions of the Portsmouth Town Charter Article X, Section 1004(a), the function of the Open Space Commission is not purely advisory. The Commission’s duties and responsibilities include the management of existing public open space and conservation lands, the identification and protection of significant natural and scenic resources and the identification and development of potential nature sanctuaries and greenways. Additionally, the Commission is responsible for the inventory of open space and all town-owned land. Finally, the Commission advises and assists the Town Council in the acquisition of development rights and land for open space.

This Commission has found that other boards and commissions exercising similar authority are not purely advisory in nature and that their members, therefore, must file financial disclosure statements. For example, in A.O. 97-60 the Commission opined that a Rhode Island Historical Records Advisory Board member was required to file a personal financial statement under the Code of Ethics since he was appointed by the governor and the Board was not purely advisory in nature. There, the Commission reasoned that although the “Board's function clearly includes an advisory component, and it does not have final decision-making authority, its role in reviewing and recommending actions to the Commission constitutes sufficient subjective involvement in the policy-making area to warrant the categories of disclosure mandated by the General Assembly in the Code of Ethics.

Given that the petitioner is appointed to her position by the highest governing body in the municipality, the Portsmouth Town Council, and the Open Space Commission is not purely advisory, she is required to file a financial disclosure statement pursuant to the requirements set forth in R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-16.

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Financial disclosure