Advisory Opinion No. 96-49

Re: Gary Reis

Question Presented

A Pawtucket firefighter requests an advisory opinion as to whether his ambulance company can be placed on the Pawtucket Fire Department Rescue Division's rotating list of private ambulance companies that respond to calls for ambulances for transport outside of Pawtucket.


The Code of Ethics does not prohibit the petitioner's company from being placed on a list of private ambulance companies called upon by the Pawtucket Fire Department Rescue Division. This opinion is based on the petitioner's representations that (1) the rescue companies are called on a rotating basis, (2) his work unit, the firefighting division, is separate from the rescue division, and (3) the petitioner has no input into or ability to influence the decision to call his company. The Code of Ethics provides that the petitioner cannot use his office to obtain financial gain. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d). Additionally, the petitioner cannot have any interest or engage in any business which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties and employment in the public interest. A substantial conflict exists if the public official has reason to believe or expect that he will derive a direct monetary gain by reason of his official activity. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a) & 36-14-7(a). Given that there is a system in place so that the petitioner cannot influence the frequency with which his company's services are requested by the rescue division and that the rescue division is separate, the Commission concludes that there is no inherent conflict of interest. This opinion is consistent with previous opinions whereby a public official's private business was either placed on a rotating list or subject to an open bid process. See A.O. 89-60 (Department of Environmental Management employee 's trapping company is not prohibited from being on a list of companies responding to nuisance animal calls which are called on a strictly rotating basis by the DEM Dispatcher) See also A.O. 94-04 and A.O. 94-14 (public official's private business subject to open and public bid process). Conversely, where such a system was not in place, the Commission has advised public officials that they must exercise the recusal sections of the Code based on potential violations of R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a), (d), (e), (h) and §36-14-7(a). The petitioner is cautioned and advised that in the event a situation should arise whereby his or his company's interests appear before him as a Firefighter or before the Firefighting Division, he should notify the Fire Department of his interest and refrain from participating in the discussion of such matter. (See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6)

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business interest