Advisory Opinion No. 2006-16

Advisory Opinion No. 2006-16

Re: Robert Ritacco


The petitioner, a potential candidate for the Westerly Town Council or Westerly School Committee, both municipal elected positions, requests an advisory opinion regarding whether the Code of Ethics prohibits his candidacy or service on either body given his membership and service as an officer on the Westerly Democratic Town Committee.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a potential candidate for the Westerly Town Council or Westerly School Committee, both municipal elected positions, may run for and, if elected, serve on either body notwithstanding his simultaneous membership and service as an officer on the Westerly Democratic Town Committee (WDTC).

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official may not accept other employment which will either impair his independence of judgment as to his official duties or require him to disclose confidential information acquired by him in the course of and by reason of his official duties.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b).  A public official 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 in the public interest.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a).  An official will have an interest in substantial conflict with his official duties if he has reason to believe or expect that a "direct monetary gain" or a "direct monetary loss" will accrue, by virtue of the public official's activity, to the official, a family member, a business associate, an employer, or any business which the public official represents.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a).  A business associate is defined as "a person joined together with another person to achieve a common financial objective."  R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2(3).

The Commission has previously addressed a similar question involving the same organization in the Town of Westerly.  In Advisory Opinion 2001-72, members of the Westerly Town Council asked whether their status as members and officers of the WDTC would prohibit their consideration of a Council matter involving an officer of the WDTC.  The Commission opined that Council members who were officers in the WDTC would be considered "business associates" of their fellow WDTC officers, and must therefore recuse from participation in matters impacting fellow officers.  However, members of the Council who were mere members of the WDTC or were endorsed by the organization were not considered to be "business associates" and could therefore participate.  Relevant to the instant question, we wrote:

The Code of Ethics does not bar members of the Westerly Town Council from belonging to political committees, or any other organization.  The Code does not address political affiliations and alliances.  However, it does impose restrictions on public officials depending on the nature of their involvement in activities and organizations beyond their public duties.  Provisions of the Code of Ethics prohibit public officials from acting to benefit financially themselves, family members and business associates.  See, e.g., R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), (b), (c) and (d).

A.O. 2001-72.  Although the opinion allowed simultaneous service as a member of the Town Council and as an officer of the WDTC, it concluded that those Council members holding both positions must recuse from participation and/or vote when the Council considers a matter involving a fellow officer.

As in A.O. 2001-72, in this matter we opine that the petitioner's status as a member and officer of the WDTC does not prohibit him from seeking election to, and serving upon, the Westerly Town Council or School Committee.  If elected, however, the petitioner will be required to recuse from matters, if any, involving the WDTC or its officers.  Notice of recusal should be filed with the Ethics Commission consistent with the provisions of R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.     

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Related Advisory Opinions:









Business associates

Political activity