Advisory Opinion No. 98-55

Re: James A. Briden, Esq.


The Petitioner, the Central Falls City Solicitor, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion on behalf of himself and the City of Central Falls as to what restrictions may attach to his presentation of applications for zoning variances on behalf of the City to the Central Falls Zoning Board of Review, a municipal agency for which the Petitioner routinely acts as legal advisor.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that no violation of the Code of Ethics will result for the Petitioner, the City Solicitor for the City of Central Falls, a municipal appointed position, by the mere presentation of applications for zoning variances on behalf of the City to the Central Falls Zoning Board of Review. The applications and their presentation are uncomplicated matters that are essentially ministerial in nature. Therefore, the fact that the Petitioner will present them on behalf of the City to a board that he routinely represents and advises on other, unrelated matters does not run afoul of any provisions of the Code of Ethics. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a), (b) and (e).

The zoning matters at issue involve requested relief from the dimensional and parking space requirements enumerated in the City’s Zoning Code relating to an extensive school construction project. The voters of Central Falls approved the project by referendum and it also has been authorized by appropriate legislation at both the state and local levels. Unlike some other municipalities, Central Falls does not exempt the City and City agencies from the reach of its Zoning Code. Therefore, the Zoning Board of Review must act in order for the construction project to go forward as approved.

Assuming the Petitioner represents the City in presenting the matter to the Zoning Board, he obviously may not act as counsel to the Board in its consideration of the matter. No conflict of interest will arise if the Assistant City Solicitor acts as the Board’s advisor, however. The City Solicitor neither hires nor has supervisory responsibilities for the Assistant Solicitor. Both are hired by the Mayor, subject to approval by the City Council, and serve at his pleasure. Therefore, no improper delegation occurs if the Assistant City Solicitor acts as advisor to the Board on a ministerial matter being presented by the City Solicitor.

Finally, this Advisory Opinion cannot address every possible circumstance or permutation that might occur during and/or related to the presentation of the matter to the Zoning Board. If, for instance, one or more abutters or other interested persons object to the requested variances, necessitating a full contested hearing on the matter, the process may cease being ministerial in nature. In and when that happens, the Petitioner is advised to seek further direction from this Commission.

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