Advisory Opinion No. 96-118

Re: The Honorable James R. Langevin


The petitioner, the Secretary of State, a state elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may hire and employ his Chief of Staff's mother as the Legislative Report Coordinator in the Office of Public Information given that his Chief of Staff had no involvement in the hiring process or in setting the salary and compensation for the position, and that the Legislative Coordinator works in a different division from the Chief of Staff, reporting directly to that division's director who in turn reports directly to the Secretary of State.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Rhode Island Code of Ethics does not prohibit the petitioner Secretary of State, a state elected position, from hiring and employing Patricia Tabella, the mother of his office's Chief of Staff, John Tabella. While the Code of Ethics prohibits public officials and employees from participating in particular employment matters involving their immediate family members, in this instance the Secretary of State has devised both hiring and supervisory procedures that insulate the family member from public employment decisions directly affecting the other.

Specifically, the Secretary of State structured a hiring process for the position for which Ms. Tabella was hired that ensured no involvement by his Chief of Staff. As detailed in the advisory opinion request, the hiring decisions focused on unique qualifications and experience offered by Ms. Tabella in the areas of communications and information systems. She had gained this experience through her involvement with a company owned and run by her son in the private sector that provided information and reports to paying customers regarding the workings of the General Assembly, including tracking legislation. The Secretary of State was personally familiar with Ms. Tabella's work and relied on this knowledge in making the decision to hire her. After making the hiring decision the Secretary of State structured the divisions in his office so that the Chief of Staff's mother reports directly to a division director who in turn reports directly to the Secretary of State; i.e., the Chief of Staff has no supervisory duties with respect to either his mother or his mother's supervisors.

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Related Advisory Opinions:





family: public employment

family: supervision