Advisory Opinion No. 2006-36

Advisory Opinion No. 2006-36

Re: Mark A. McSally


The petitioner, a Narragansett Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, and owner of a hair salon, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she may participate in a liquor license hearing where the manager of the restaurant under review will be a witness at said hearing and is a long-time customer of her hair salon.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the petitioner, a Narragansett Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, from participating in a liquor license hearing in which a customer of her hair salon, who is also the manager of the restaurant under review, will be a witness at said hearing since her relationship with such individual is not a business association that would trigger the prohibitions set forth in

R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a) and 7(a).

The petitioner is the President of the Narragansett Town Council (hereinafter “the Town Council”).  Pursuant to state law, the Town Council is the licensing authority which deals with all matters relating to liquor licenses. 

The petitioner advises that a petition came before the Town Council in January of this year, seeking to modify certain conditions attached to a restaurant liquor license.  She informs that the manager of the restaurant is scheduled to testify on behalf of the restaurant at the liquor license hearing.  The petitioner states that the manager of said restaurant is also a long-time customer of her hair salon.  Given these representations, the petitioner seeks guidance from the Commission as to whether the Code of Ethics would prohibit her from participating in the liquor license hearing.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official may not participate in any matter in which she has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of her duties in the public interest.  See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a).  An official will have an interest in substantial conflict with her official duties if it is likely 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.  See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a).  Business associates are defined as individuals or entities joined together to "achieve a common financial objective."  See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2(3).

In 2001, the Commission addressed an analogous matter in A.O. 2001-7.  There, the Commission opined that a Westerly Town Council member, who was also the owner of a local haircutting business, could participate and/or vote on Council matters involving customers of his haircutting business since his relationship with such individuals was not a business association as defined by the Code of Ethics.

Here, the petitioner does not have any specific business relationship with the restaurant in question; her hair salon merely provides services to the manager of the restaurant in the ordinary course of business.  Further, there is no evidence that the petitioner’s business would be financially impacted by a decision of the Town Council as it relates to the liquor license.  Absent some direct and ongoing financial relationship, the normal commercial dealings between the petitioner and her customers do not rise to the level of business association as defined in R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2(3). 

Code Citations:




Related Advisory Opinions:



Business associate

Business interest

Financial interest