Advisory Opinion No. 97-76

Re: Cynthia A. Fagan


The Petitioner, a member of the Coventry Planning Commission, a municipal appointed position, (The Petitioner also was a member of the Coventry Conservation Commission. Originally her advisory opinion request queried whether she could serve simultaneously on the Planning and Conservation Commissions. The Coventry Town Solicitor recently opined that under the Town's Charter the Petitioner was precluded from such dual service and, accordingly, she withdrew that part of her request here.) requests an advisory opinion as to whether she may participate in decisions regarding a proposed subdivision in the Town given that her brother is one of 12-15 property owners with land abutting the proposed project.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, Coventry Planning Commission member, a municipal appointed position, may not participate in decisions regarding a proposed subdivision in the Town given that her brother owns land butting the project. 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). Public officials also are prohibited from using their positions or confidential information received though their positions to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for himself or any person within his family. SeeR.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d). In previous advisory opinions the Commission has concluded that town officials could not participate and vote on matters involving subdivisions to be located adjacent to their property since they would have a direct financial interest in any official activity. See, e.g., A.O. 92-24, A.O. 90-85.

The same general rule applies here and, absent some evidence that no action by the Planning Commission regarding the proposed subdivision could affect the financial interests of her brother as an abutter, the Petitioner should not participate in any decisions regarding this specific subdivision. She is not precluded, however, from participating in policy discussions or decisions regarding planning issues generally, even though such decisions may impact all proposed subdivisions, including the one at issue here. Whenever a matter comes before the Coventry Planning Commission involving this particular subdivision, the petitioner should (a) notify the Planning Commission, in writing, of the nature of his interest in the matter at issue; and (b) recuse herself from any votes or discussions relating to this matter. The petitioner should also comply with the filing requirements set forth in R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

Code Citations


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family: property interest