Advisory Opinion No. 97-74

Re: Frank M. Sylvester


The Petitioner, Chief of the Lime Rock Fire District, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may work paid details at certain Class A places of assembly given his position.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not per se prohibit the Petitioner, Chief of the Lime Rock Fire District, a municipal appointed position, from working paid details at certain Class A assembly venues. In this matter, the Petitioner, an appointed municipal official, represents that the Rhode Island Fire Safety Code, R.I. Gen. Laws § 23-28.1-1 et. seq., mandates that a firefighter must be on duty at Class A places of assembly (capacity of 1001 persons or more). The Petitioner states that there are several Class A establishments in his twelve square mile jurisdiction, including the Lincoln Greyhound Park, Community College of Rhode Island, and Davies High School. Some of these facilities expend a large sum of money for the details. While the Petitioner, as Fire Chief, oversees the inspections of facilities, the particular facilities are inspected by the State Fire Marshal's Office. (The Petitioner has provided additional facts since his first request that have substantially changed the substance of this draft opinion. Additionally, given the uniqueness of this situation, a general commission advisory does not appear to be needed.)

The Code of Ethics prohibits the Petitioner from accepting other employment which will either impair his independence of judgment as to his official duties or require him or induce him to disclose confidential information acquired by him in the course of and by reason of his official duties. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b). In addition, the Code prohibits the Petitioner from having any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, or engage in any business, employment, or transaction which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest. Such substantial conflict occurs if the Petitioner has reason to believe or expect that he will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by reason of his official activity. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a), 7(a).

Here, the Petitioner does not participate in inspecting or overseeing inspections at these facilities. The State Fire Marshal is called upon for that work. Therefore, he could not have a substantial conflict with his duties as Fire Chief, since he would not have a reason to expect a monetary gain by reason of his official activity even if he worked details at the facilities. However, we caution the Chief that if he takes part in the management or assignment of details, while contemporaneously working details at the involved venues, a system should be in place so that the Petitioner cannot influence the frequency with which he is selected to work a detail, i.e., a rotating list or its functional equivalent.

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financial interest