Advisory Opinion No. 2003-68

Re: Raymond A. Ranaldi


The petitioner, a member of the Narragansett School Committee, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion providing guidance as to the application of the Code of Ethics given his spouse’s employment as a Narragansett School teacher.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics prohibits the petitioner from participating in matters that are likely to financially impact his spouse. Additionally, the Code of Ethics prohibits the petitioner from using his position or confidential information obtained from his position to financially benefit his spouse.

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 and employment in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a). The petitioner will have an interest in substantial conflict with his official duties if he has a reason to believe or expect that a "direct monetary gain" or a "direct monetary loss" will accrue, by virtue of his official activity, to himself, a family member, a business associate, an employer, or any business which he represents. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a). Additionally, R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d) provides that a public official may not use his office for pecuniary gain, other than as provided by law, for himself, a family member, employer, business associate, or a business that he represents.

While the Code of Ethics does not create an absolute bar to service as a School Committee member when a family member is a teacher in the same town, it does place limitations on those matters in which the School Committee member may participate. The aforementioned provisions of the Code of Ethics require a matter by matter evaluation and determination as to whether substantial conflicts of interest exist with respect to carrying out an official's or employee's duty in the public interest. Here, the petitioner requests general guidance as to when the Code of Ethics will require his recusal. Without reference to specific agenda items, this inquiry is too speculative at this juncture for the Commission to frame an unequivical response. If and when one or more specific issue relating to a potential conflict of interest arises, it would be appropriate for this Commission to address that matter in an advisory opinion.

However, the Commission notes that specific issues relating to school committee members have been addressed by the Commission in previous advisory opinions. While each opinion addresses specific factual situations, the petitioner may discern certain general guidelines applicable to his circumstances. For example, school committee members may participate in general budgetary and/or contractual matters provided that any resulting effect on a family member would be to no greater or lesser extent than the effect on an entire class of persons (e.g., all teachers or employees in a school district). See A.O. 2003-29 (opining that a member of the Cranston School Committee may participate and/or vote on matters relating to teacher contracts provided that his spouse, a teacher in the school system, is not affected individually by the contract, except as a member of the entire class of teachers in the system). Also, relatives or business associates of school committee members may apply for employment positions with the school committee, but the member may have no involvement with or influence on the hiring process. See A.O. 97-52 (finding that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit family members of a Cranston School Committee member from applying for positions within the school system provided the School Committee member does not participate in the hiring process). Whether and to what extent these previous opinions may impact specific situations that might arise involving this petitioner cannot be addressed and the petitioner is advised to request additional guidance from the Ethics Commission if and when matters raising potential conflicts of interest come before the Narragansett School Committee.

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Family: public employment