Advisory Opinion No. 2006-21

Advisory Opinion No. 2006-21

Re: John St. George


The petitioner, Chief of the Manville Fire Department, a regional appointed position, requests an advisory opinion regarding whether his employment for a business that provides and services the Manville Fire Department's equipment and apparatus creates a conflict of interest under the Code of Ethics. 


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, Chief of the Manville Fire Department, a regional appointed position, is required to recuse from any decisions relative to the Manville Fire Department's financial interactions with the petitioner's private employer.

The petitioner has been the Chief of the Manville Fire Department ("the Fire Department") since 2001, and has been a member of the Fire Department since 1982.  The petitioner was appointed to the position of Chief by the Board of Wardens of the Manville Fire District, an entity that is also ultimately responsible for overseeing the Fire Department's finances.  The Fire Department is all volunteer, although the Chief and Deputy Chief both receive stipends.  The petitioner states that, as Chief, his duties are generally to supervise the day to day operation and administration of the Fire Department.  Among the day to day matters that arise are issues relating to the purchase, upkeep and repair of fire fighting equipment and apparatus.  The petitioner represents that the decision to utilize a particular vendor for repairs would normally rest with the Chief, although expensive repairs may be put out to bid and require the approval of the Board of Wardens.

Since 2003 the petitioner has been privately employed as a full-time mechanic for C&S Specialty Inc. ("C&S").  C&S is a business that sells and services fire apparatus and equipment.  For the past twelve years, C&S has provided mechanical and repair services to the Department.  The petitioner states that while C&S is not the only business that provides such services to the Department, it provides the bulk of such services.  The petitioner asks whether his duties as the Chief of the Fire Department are in conflict with his private employment for C&S.

The Code of Ethics provides that a public official such as the petitioner shall not have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, or engage in any employment or transaction that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a).  A substantial conflict of interest occurs if the public official has reason to believe or expect that he or any business by which he is employed, among others, will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by reason of his official activity.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a).  A public official may not use his public office or confidential information received from his public office to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for himself, a family member, business associate or private employer.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d).  Finally, a public official may not accept any reward or promise of future employment in return for or based on any understanding or expectation that his vote, official action or judgment would be influenced thereby.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(g).  When the interests of a public official's employer appear before his agency, the official is required to recuse from participation in the matter.  Commission Regulation 36-14-5002(3).

The above provisions of the Code of Ethics clearly prohibit the petitioner from participating in any decision of the Fire Department to do business, or not to do business, with the petitioner's private employer, C&S.  See A.O. 99-84 (member of the State Investment Commission is required to recuse on certain matters that come before him on the State Investment Commission that affect his employer).  This includes, but is not limited to, decisions regarding the selection of a vendor, the approval of work or the authorization of payment. It would also include setting or providing input on bid specifications for work that C&S is likely to bid on.  Furthermore, the petitioner is not permitted to delegate this decision-making to any of his subordinates.  Rather, upon his recusal this decision-making must be made by a person or entity not under the petitioner's supervision or control, such as the Board of Wardens.  Upon his recusal, the petitioner must file a conflict of interest statement pursuant to the requirements of R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

Code Citations:





Commission Regulation 36-14-5002(3)

Related Advisory Opinions:










Private Employment