Advisory Opinion No. 97-49

Re: John R. Pagliarini

QUESTION PRESENTED

The Petitioner, the Community Development Coordinator for the City of Warwick, a municipal appointed official, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may administer and oversee the contracts awarded to a landscape architectural firm owned by his uncle and four first cousins (Central Nurseries, Inc.) or his third cousin (Warwick Nurseries, Inc.), when such contracts were awarded before the Petitioner became the Community Development Coordinator and through a competitive bidding process.

RESPONSE

The Code of Ethics prohibits public officials from taking any official action that is likely to have a direct financial or monetary impact on, among others, a family member or from having an interest which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of their duties in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-5(d) and 36-14-7(a). A substantial conflict of interest occurs if the Petitioner has reason to believe or expect that a family member will derive a direct monetary gain by reason of his official activity. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a). Commission Regulation 35-14-5005 extends the prohibitions regarding "family members" set forth in R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5 (with the exception of § 5(h)) to uncles and first cousins, whether by blood, marriage or adoption.

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics, particularly R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a) and 5(d), prohibits the Petitioner, the Community Development Coordinator for the City of Warwick, a municipal appointed official, from overseeing or having any involvement that would require him to exercise discretion regarding the contract awarded to the architectural firm owned and operated by his uncle and first cousins, Central Nurseries, Inc. This opinion is consistent with past advisory opinions which have prohibited public officials from overseeing the work performed by family members, as the term is defined in Commission Regulation 36-14-5005. See A.O. 95-116, A.0 94-22, A.0. 92-3. However, as to the contract awarded to his third cousin's firm, since the prohibitions set forth in 36-14-5(a) and 5(d) do not extend to third cousins, the Petitioner may oversee the contract awarded to his third cousin's firm, Warwick Nurseries, Inc.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-7(a)
36-14-5005

Related Advisory Opinoins:

96-110
96-4
95-116
95-46
94-44
94-22
92-3

Keywords:

contracts
family: financial benefit
family: supervision
nepotism