Advisory Opinion No. 97-65

Re: Ernest Marcure


The Petition, a member of the Scituate School Committee, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether may participate and vote as a member of the School Committee, or as a member of a two-person negotiating subcommittee, regarding labor contracts with three non-certified employee groups, given that his wife is a member of one of the groups.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, Scituate School Committee member, a municipal elected position, should not participate in negotiations, votes or other matters affecting the labor contract with the teachers' aides. The Code of Ethics provides that a public official may not participate in any official action when he or she has an interest, financial or otherwise, that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties or employment in the public interest. A substantial conflict includes potential financial benefit for the official, a family member, or a business associate. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a). Clearly, negotiating, voting, or otherwise participating with respect to an employment contract for a spouse constitutes a substantial conflict. The Petitioner acknowledges this, indicating that the charge of the subcommittee would require him to negotiate financial terms, benefits and employment conditions that would affect his wife as an employee. The Code of Ethics recognizes an exception to this prohibition if the potential financial benefit to the public official or, as in this instance, the official's family member, would accrue to him or her to no greater extent than any similarly situated member of a significant and definable class of persons within a particular business, profession, occupation or group. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(b).

The negotiations here involve three employee groups: teachers' aides (45 members), school secretarial staff (6 members) and clerical office support staff (4 members). The Petitioner's wife is a teachers' aide. The Commission concludes that an employee group of 45 members in a single school system does not constitute such a significant and definable class of persons so as to trigger the 7(b) exception. In previous advisory opinions, the Commission has recognized 7(b) exceptions when a public official's actions would impact, for instance, all of the teachers in a school system, including an official's family member. Those opinions involved definable classes, however, much larger than the 45 teachers' aide found in the employee group here. Here, the Code of Ethics prohibits the Petitioner from participating in negotiations, votes or other matters relating to or affecting the labor contract with the teachers' aides.

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Related Advisory Opinions:



class exception
union/bargaining unit