Advisory Opinion No. 97-81

Re: Richard S. Humphrey, Esq.


The Petitioner, Town Solicitor for the Town of Little Compton, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may represent the Town as an interested abutter in a matter before the Town's Zoning Board, given that as Town Solicitor he regularly represents and advises both the Town Council and the Zoning Board.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, Town Solicitor for the Town of Little Compton, may not represent the Town in a matter before the Zoning Board. At least two separate provisions of the Code of Ethics are implicated here. First, a public official may not act in a situation where he or she has an interest in substantial conflict with his or her duties in the public interest. Here, the petitioner, if he represented the Town before the Zoning Board, would be presenting a matter before a board that he regularly advises in his role as Town Solicitor. Conversely, if he advised the Zoning Board, one of the parties presenting arguments before him would be his employer, the Town of Little Compton. In either instance, the petitioner's independence would be compromised, thereby creating the sort of substantial conflict proscribed by the Code of Ethics. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a).

Second, the Zoning Board is a component part of the Town of Little Compton, which employs the petitioner. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a) bars a public employee or official from appearing before a state or municipal agency by which he or she is employed. It therefore acts as a bar to the petitioner appearing before any boards or commissions in the town, including the Zoning Board.

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