Advisory Opinion No. 97-24

Re: Brian P. Thalmann


The Petitioner, a member of the Board of Directors of the Greenville Water District, a regional elected position, requests an advisory opinion, as to whether and to what extent he may participate as a member of the Board and of an engineering subcommittee regarding the District's engineer consultant given that the Petitioner is employed by a consulting firm that may bid on the engineer consultant position.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, a member of the Board of Directors of the Greenville Water District, a regional elected position, should recuse himself on matters concerning bid development and the hiring of the Engineer Consultant given that his employer may bid on the position. Although the Petitioner works in a separate division of the company that may bid on the project, a distinction cannot be drawn since it is his employer who would directly benefit if it were the successful bidder for the contract. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a) and (d).

The Petitioner represented in his request that matters concerning the Engineering Consultant arise regularly at meetings of the Water District since the District is involved in the review of plans and extensions to expand. Also, the Engineering Consultant likely would be hired for a three year period. Finally, the Petitioner also advised that he is the sole engineer sitting on the Board and that his input would be valuable to the Board since he could explain the Engineering Consultant reports to the other Board members.

Although the Commission recognizes that the Petitioner's participation is valuable to the Board given his technical background, the Code does not provide a hardship exception for substantial conflicts; consequently, if his employer is involved in the bidding process and/or is hired as the Engineering Consultant, the Petitioner cannot participate in matters relating to the work being performed, or to be performed, by the consultant. As to matters subsequent to the hiring of the Engineering Consultant, assuming that his employer does not win the bid, the Petitioner may participate if his employer is not awarded the contract provided that his independence of judgment as a Board member would not be impaired.

Code Citations:


Related Advisory Opinions:



private employment