Advisory Opinion No. 2008-24

Rhode Island Ethics Commission

Advisory Opinion No. 2008-24

Re: Lynn Ceglie


The petitioner, a potential candidate for the Newport School Committee (“school committee”), a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she is prohibited by the Code of Ethics from seeking election to the school committee, given that she is an employee of East Bay Community Action Program (“EBCAP”), and as such, performs speech and language development screenings on preschool students within the Newport Public Schools.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that there is nothing in the Code of Ethics that inherently prohibits the petitioner from seeking election and serving on the Newport School Committee (“school committee”) while simultaneously employed by the East Bay Community Action Program (“EBCAP”), performing speech and language development screenings on preschool students within the Newport Public Schools.

The petitioner states that she is considering running for a seat on the Newport School Committee in the fall of 2008.  She further states that for approximately the past four years, she has been employed by the East Bay Community Action Program (“EBCAP”), working within a federally funded program called Child Outreach, whose mission it is to conduct screenings on all pre-school children in Newport, Rhode Island.  As such, the petitioner states that she conducts speech and language development screenings on children in all licensed pre-schools, which includes a pre-school in the Newport Public Schools.  The petitioner further states that while she is an employee of EBCAP and is paid by EBCAP, her performance reviews have in the past been conducted annually by Newport School Department personnel; however, she states that it is her current understanding that in the future these reviews could be conducted by EBCAP personnel.

Under the Code of Ethics, the petitioner 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 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 her official duties if she has reason to believe or expect that a "direct monetary gain" or a "direct monetary loss" will accrue, by virtue of her official activity, to herself, a family member, a business associate, an employer, or any business which she represents.  See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(a).  Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(e)(1) and (2), the petitioner may not represent herself or any other “person” before any state or municipal agency of which she is a member or by which she is employed.  A “person” is defined as an individual or business entity.  R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2(7).  R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(e)(3) further provides that the petitioner may not act as an expert witness before her agency with respect to any matter the agency’s disposition of which will, or can reasonably be expected to, directly result in an economic benefit or detriment to her, a family member, business associate or any business by which she is employed or represents.  Additionally, R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(c) and (d) prohibit the use and/or disclosure of confidential information acquired by an official or employee during the course of or by reason of her official employment, particularly for the purpose of obtaining financial gain.  Finally, section 5(f) of the Code further requires the petitioner to recuse from voting or participating in the consideration and disposition of a matter involving a business associate.  See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(f).

It is the opinion of the Ethics Commission that there is nothing in the Code of Ethics that inherently prohibits the petitioner from seeking or accepting elective office, specifically as a member of the Newport School Committee.  Rather, the above-cited conflict of interest provisions require a matter by matter analysis 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.  The petitioner must determine, if elected to the school committee, whether she is participating in a matter that may impact herself, a family member, an employer or a business associate.  If so, then the petitioner will be required to recuse from such matter pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6. 

As a speech and language development screener for EBCAP, the petitioner is considered an employee of that entity; as such, if elected, she will need to determine what matters coming before the school committee, if any, will have a financial impact upon EBCAP, and recuse from participation in those matters, and further, refrain from representing her employer in matters coming before the school committee or its subsidiary boards.  See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-5(f), 36-14-7(a) and Regulation 36-14-5016.  Such conflicts may be present during the school committee’s budget process, however the state of the facts at present are too hypothetical for the Commission to offer formal guidance as to the existence and avoidance of such conflicts.  See A.O. 2005-41 (opining that a prospective applicant for the position of Jamestown Town Administrator, whose husband was the Jamestown Fire Chief, may return for further guidance from the Commission if appointed, but the facts at the time of the request were too hypothetical for the Commission to offer formal guidance as to potential conflicts occurring during the Town’s budgetary process).  Furthermore, if elected, the petitioner will need to recuse or seek further guidance from this Commission if school district personnel coming before her on school committee matters are responsible for her performance evaluations as an EBCAP employee.  See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b). Thus, if elected, the Commission encourages the petitioner to seek further guidance as to whether any particular matter creates a conflict of interest that requires such recusal. 

Finally, the petitioner is advised that this opinion solely addresses the application of the Code of Ethics.  We note that this opinion does not address whether any municipal charter provision or ordinance prohibit such simultaneous service.  Such matters are outside the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission and, as a result, cannot be addressed in this advisory opinion.

Code Citations :









Related Advisory Opinions :

A.O. 2005-41

Keywords :

Business Associate