Advisory Opinion No. 98-88

Advisory Opinion No. 98-88

Re: Paul F. Caranci


The Petitioner, a North Providence Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may vote on the Town budget given that one of its line items is the School Department's budget which includes a salary adjustment for his spouse as Clerk to the School Committee.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, a North Providence Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, may participate and vote to approve or reject the Town budget as a whole notwithstanding the fact that his spouse may be affected by his vote. The Town’s School Department budget, which includes a salary adjustment for his spouse, is presented to the Town Council as a line item in the overall Town budget. The Petitioner had no involvement with the development of the School Department’s budget and he has no ability to affect the Department’s budget once it reaches the Council for a vote.

The Petitioner represents that his spouse is the Clerk of the Town’s School Committee. The School Committee has proposed a salary increase for her that is consistent with a union negotiated salary adjustment for clerks, although his wife is not in the union. The Town Council did not participate in the salary negotiations with the union or otherwise have the ability to influence that process or the decision to extend the salary increase to his wife. In addition, the Petitioner represents that the School Department budget is level funded from last year. As a result, the Department’s budget is presented to the Town Council as a single line item within the overall Town budget. The Council considers and votes to approve or reject the Town budget as a whole, but cannot add, cut or change lines or items within the School Department’s budget.

In prior advisory opinions the Commission has concluded that town council members with family members in their town’s school departments may vote on the town’s overall budget even if by so doing they are voting on school department matters that affect members of their families. The Commission has reasoned that in circumstances such as those, voting on an overall town budget is sufficiently remote from specific items within a school department budget so as not to constitute a substantial conflict of interest. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(a). The Commission further concludes that town council members may not vote on the overall town budget in such circumstances if they have the ability to affect the school’s budget and the law requires recusal on any specific matters that may relate to a family member's employment. Therefore, the Petitioner may participate in the overall vote on the Town budget, but may not participate in the consideration of matters particular to his spouse or her employment. In the event such matters come before the Council, the Petitioner, in addition to recusing from participation, should file a recusal statement with the Town Council and with the Ethics Commission pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

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Family: Public employment