Advisory Opinion No. 2008-64

Rhode Island Ethics Commission

Advisory Opinion No. 2008-64

Re: Charles W. More


The Petitioner, a member of the Richmond Planning Board and a member of the Richmond Rural Preservation Trust, municipal appointed positions, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he is prohibited from simultaneously serving in both positions.


It is the opinion of the Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, a member of the Richmond Planning Board and a member of the Richmond Rural Preservation Trust, municipal appointed positions, is not prohibited from simultaneously serving in both positions.

The Petitioner states that he is currently a member of the Richmond Planning Board (“Planning Board”) and that his term expires on January 31, 2009.  He represents that as part of his Planning Board duties, he serves as liaison from the Planning Board to the Richmond Rural Preservation Land Trust (“Land Trust”), informing the Land Trust as to Planning Board practices and procedures.  He states that the Land Trust is a municipal entity which purchases, holds, and maintains undeveloped land and conservation easements on land.  The Petitioner represents that in the past year, several trustees resigned from the Land Trust, creating vacancies, and thus, the Petitioner volunteered to become a trustee.  Accordingly, the Town Council appointed him a trustee in September of 2008.

The Petitioner states that recently, a citizen in Richmond raised the issue of whether it was a conflict for the Petitioner to simultaneously serve in these dual public roles.  The Petitioner states that he does not receive a stipend for serving in either position and serves on a purely volunteer basis.  Furthermore, the Petitioner states that if matters came before him as he is serving in either capacity that would have a foreseeable impact upon the other entity, he would recuse in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.  Given this set of facts, the petitioner requests an advisory opinion as to whether he is inherently prohibited by the Code of Ethics from serving in both capacities simultaneously.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official may not participate in any matter in which he has an interest, financial or otherwise, that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties or employment in the public interest.   See 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, any person within his family, a business associate or an employer will derive a direct monetary gain or loss by reason of his official activity.  See 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 a business that he represents.

A business is defined as “a sole proprietorship, partnership, firm, corporation, holding company, joint stock company, receivership, trust or any other entity recognized in law through which business for profit or not for profit is conducted.”  R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2(2).  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).  A person is defined as “an individual or a business entity.”   R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2(7).

Initially, the Commission concludes that the aforementioned provisions of the Code of Ethics do not create an absolute bar to the Petitioner’s simultaneous service as a member of both the Planning Board and the Land Trust.  See A.O. 99-100 (opining that a Tiverton Planning Board member was not inherently prohibited from simultaneously serving on the Tiverton Conservation Commission). Rather, those provisions require a matter by matter evaluation and determination as to whether substantial conflicts of interest exist with respect to carrying out an official’s duty in the public interest.  As neither the Planning Board nor the Land Trust are considered to be “businesses” as that term is defined in the Code, prohibitions regarding “business associates” that would otherwise constrain the Petitioner while carrying out his public duties, specifically section 5(f) of the Code, do not apply regarding these two entities.  See A.O. 2008-40 (opining that the Town of Warren and the Warren Town Council are not considered to be "businesses" or "business associates" under the Code of Ethics); A.O. 2003-61 (Code of Ethics does not consider relationship between public official and public body to be that of "business associates"); A.O. 2002-55 (term "business" as used in the Code of Ethics does not include public entities such as the Town of Richmond).

The petitioner is cautioned, however, that if any matters should come before him as he is carrying out his duties in either of his public roles  which present any other potential conflict of interest that is not otherwise contemplated in this advisory opinion, or circumstances in which it is reasonably foreseeable that there will be a financial impact upon the petitioner personally, he should either request further advice from this Commission or exercise the recusal provision found at R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.  Additionally, we note the Petitioner’s willingness to recuse from his duties on the Planning Board if matters concerning the Land Trust come before that entity.

Finally, this opinion solely addresses whether the Code of Ethics prohibits the petitioner from simultaneously holding these respective positions. This opinion does not, and cannot, address whether any other statutes, charters, ordinances, rulings or policies prohibit such simultaneous service. 

Code Citations :

§ 36-14-5(a)

§ 36-14-5(b)

§ 36-14-5(d)

§ 36-14-5(f)

§ 36-14-6

§ 36-14-7(a)

Related Advisory Opinions :

A.O. 2008-40

A.O. 2003-61

A.O. 2002-55

A.O. 99-100

Keywords :

Business Associate

Dual Public Roles