Advisory Opinion No. 97-64

Re: Rick Harrison


The Petitioner, Executive Director of the Pawtuxet River Authority, requests an advisory opinion on behalf of members of the Authority, regional appointed positions, as to whether the Authority may adopt a clause in its by-laws that would allow members to continue serving as voting representatives beyond the termination date of their appointments in the absence of a replacement.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not bar the members of the Pawtuxet River Authority, regional appointed positions, from adopting a clause in their by-laws that would allow members to continue serving as voting representatives beyond the termination dates of their appointments in the absence of a replacement, provided the adopted by-law does not confer an economic benefit on the current members of the Authority. R.I. Gen. Laws § 46-24-4, pertaining to the Pawtuxet River Authority, provides for an annual salary for members not to exceed $500, as well as reimbursement of expenses. Members of the Authority are appointed for three year terms on a staggered basis. General Commission Advisory No. 6 provides that public officials cannot directly or indirectly vote to increase their own compensation. An important basis for that general advisory is the provision in the Code that a public official has a substantial conflict of interest with his/her duties in the public interest if the public official has reason to believe or expect a financial gain by reason of his/her official activity. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§36-14-5(a), 7(a).

Here, the members of the Authority presumably seek to address the fact that their appointing authorities in the five municipalities that make up the Authority sometimes fail or are unable to make timely appointments or reappointments. By voting to extend terms of office, however, whatever the motivation, members may receive additional salary if their replacements are not appointed, resulting in a financial gain to themselves. This concern could be addressed, however, if the proposed by-law were not to apply to those members currently on the Authority, and/or if the current members received no additional compensation as a result of the by-law.

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financial interest