Advisory Opinion No. 97-110

Michael A. Ursillo, Esq.


The Petitioners, members of the Bristol Town Council, municipal elected positions, request an advisory opinion as to whether they may consider an expenditure for a redevelopment project given that the former Chair of the Bristol Redevelopment Authority is now a partner of the company that will own and operate the hotel.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioners, Bristol Town Council, municipal elected positions, may consider the expenditure for a redevelopment project notwithstanding the participation in the project by the former Chair of the Bristol Redevelopment Authority. However, this opinion does not address the propriety of the former Chair's actions given that 1) the former chair is not the Petitioner here, and 2) the actions of the former chair constitute past conduct and advisory opinions are issued only on a prospective basis.


1. Facts

The Bristol Town Solicitor asks on behalf of the Bristol Town Council for an advisory opinion. The Town Council is scheduled to take action with respect to a request for funds in support of a redevelopment proposal. The Town Council is concerned about taking such an action given that the former Chair of the Redevelopment Authority participated in the proposal, and is now a partner in the company involved with the proposal. The Redevelopment Authority is responsible for promoting the revitalization of areas and buildings in Bristol. Although it may have the authority to purchase property, its role has been limited to facilitating the sale and purchase of properties.

In this matter, the redevelopment project concerns a block of buildings including the Harriet Bradford Inn. The Redevelopment Authority has been involved in the restoration of the building. The Redevelopment Authority has sought proposals during the last two years consisting of the sale of the properties and its redevelopment into a hotel or other commercial enterprise. The former Chair, as acting Chair, took part in negotiations for the sale of the property with a partner of the newly formed Belvedere Hotel Limited Liability Corporation ("Belvedere"). In January 1997 a purchase agreement was entered with a Belvedere partner who would simply purchase a portion of the property. The Redevelopment Authority, however, was still responsible for finding persons to operate the hotel and purchasers for the remaining property before the sales agreement would be consummated. The former Chair represents that the seller decided not to issue further extensions on the option to purchase, resulting in a deadline of July 16, 1997 for the redevelopment project to go forward. On July 16, 1997, the Chair announced that he was entering an agreement with Belvedere partners as a participant and investor in the partnership and also announced his resignation from the Redevelopment Authority. Other buyers have complained about the former Chair's involvement.

The Town Council expects Belvedere to make a presentation to them. Additionally, they ask whether the former Chair's involvement with Belvedere is a violation of the Code of Ethics.

2. Analysis

The Code of Ethics provides that a public official shall not have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, or engage in any employment or transaction which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his/her duties in the public interest. A substantial conflict of interest occurs if the public official has reason to believe or expect that he/she or any family member or business associate, or any business by which he/she is employed will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by reason of his/her official activity. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 7(a). Additionally, the Code provides that a public official shall not accept other employment which will either impair his/her independence of judgment as to his/her official duties or induce her to disclose confidential information acquired by her in the course of and by reason of her official duties. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b). Also, Section 5(e) of the Code states that a public official cannot appear before his/her own agency and for one year after his/her offical severance from the position.

Here, the Bristol Town Council and Redevelopment Authority must act with regard to a redevelopment proposal. Provided that the Town Council or Authority members otherwise do not have conflicts of interest (and there is no indication that they do), they may participate in the redevelopment proposal. The fact that the former Redevelopment Chair is now a partner of Belvedere does not create a conflict for members of the Town Council or the Authority. The propriety of the members of the Town Council acting depends upon their own relationships to the project and related matters, not the relationship had by a third party with the proposal. The Commission, however, will not offer an advisory opinion as to whether the former Chair's prior actions complied with the Code of Ethics. Advisory opinions are issued solely for prospective conduct.

Additionally, nothing under the Code of Ethics prevents the Former Chair from appearing before the Town Council since he never was a member of that body. He would, however, be prohibited from appearing before the Authority pursuant to Section 5(e) of the Code for one year from his official severance from his position, July 16, 1997.

Code Citations:


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