Advisory Opinion No. 2003-73

Re: Edward Pimentel, AICP


The petitioner, the Zoning Officer for the City of East Providence, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion regarding his ability to accept a position as Town Planner for the Town of Barrington.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner's simultaneous services as the East Providence Zoning Officer and as the Barrington Town Planner would not, in and of itself, present a conflict under the Code of Ethics.

The petitioner represents that in his capacity as the East Providence Zoning Officer, he is responsible for the enforcement of all zoning related matters, forwarding for prosecution those matters involving individuals who fail to comply with applicable zoning regulations. He also serves as staff to the East Providence Zoning Board of Review, and is directly involved in all subdivision and developmental reviews.

The petitioner advises that the Town of Barrington is seeking a Town Planner/consultant with duties that would include review of subdivision, design and site plan applications to the Barrington Planning Board, review of zoning ordinance amendments, site visits and consultation with applicants, preparation of monthly reports, attendance at Planning Board meetings, and provision of support to the Town's administrative officer. The petitioner wishes to apply for the Barrington Town Planner position, and asks whether such simultaneous service is prohibited by the Code of Ethics.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official or employee may not use his position, other than as provided by law, to benefit himself, and may not participate in any matter in which he has an interest in substantial conflict with his public duties. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a). A substantial conflict of interest exists if, for example, an official has reason to believe or expect that he or a private employer will derive a direct monetary gain or loss by reason of his official activity. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a). Also, R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b) prohibits a public official or employee from accepting other employment that will either impair his independence of judgment as to his official duties or employment or require him to disclose confidential information acquired by him in the course of his official duties. Finally, R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d) provides that a public official may not use his office for pecuniary gain, other than provided by law, for himself, a family member, employer, business associate, or business that he represents.

Sections 5(a) and 5(d) of the Code do not create an absolute bar to simultaneous service as a Zoning Officer for one municipality while a Town Planner for another municipality. Rather, those provisions require a case by case evaluation and determination as to whether substantial conflicts of interest exist with respect to carrying out his official duties in the public interest. In order for a substantial conflict of interest to exist, there must be some evidence of a financial nexus between his public positions and his private financial interests. Although there may be overlap in the petitioner’s public roles as both the East Providence Zoning Officer and the Barrington Town Planner, a substantial conflict of interest is not apparent solely by reason of him holding these positions simultaneously.

The petitioner notes that from time to time there are multi-jurisdictional zoning or planning matters that require review by both East Providence and Barrington. For instance, there is currently an application for a commercial development that staggers the boundaries of both municipalities. The petitioner represents that in this case, and in any other such multi-jurisdictional matter, he will recuse from any participation in his position as Barrington Town Planner. He further asserts that both municipalities have accepted this proposed course of action.

Given the facts presented, there is no evidence to suggest that the petitioner would receive a personal financial benefit by or because of any official action he may take in his capacity as the East Providence Zoning Officer and as the Barrington Town Planner. The petitioner is cautioned, however, that if any particular matter should arise in either of these positions that could financially benefit him, then petitioner must recuse from participation and vote on such matter pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-14-6. Furthermore, as specific matters arise that raise potential conflicts of interest, the petitioner is urged to seek further and specific advice from the Ethics Commission.

Finally, the petitioner is advised that this opinion solely addresses whether the Code of Ethics prohibits him from simultaneously holding these public positions. This opinion does not, and cannot, address whether the town charters or ordinances of East Providence or Barrington, or any other statutes, rulings or policies prohibit such simultaneous service.

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Dual public roles