Advisory Opinion No. 98-127

Re: Robert Ritacco


The Petitioner, a Westerly Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether under any circumstances he may vote to indemnify himself for a fine imposed by the Ethics Commission and related legal fees incurred.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that in the event that a vote by the Westerly Town Council results in a tie, the Petitioner, a Westerly Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, may not vote to indemnify himself for a fine imposed by the Ethics Commission and related legal fees incurred. Based upon the specific facts of this matter and the nature of the Petitioner’s conflict of interest, the Commission finds that his recusal would not sufficiently inhibit governmental processes so as to warrant an exception under the Rule of Necessity or otherwise.

By an informal resolution and settlement agreement, the Ethics Commission recently ordered the Petitioner to pay a $300 fine for actions taken in his official capacity in violation of the Code of Ethics. The Petitioner advises that the Town Council now may consider whether the Town of Westerly should indemnify him for the fine, as well as $9,897.74 in related legal fees that he claims to have incurred. He indicates that he intends to recuse himself from participation and/or vote on the indemnification issue, but that an initial vote by the Council may result in a tie.

Under the Code of Ethics, the Petitioner may not participate in any matter in which he has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a). He also is prohibited from using his public position or confidential information received through his position to obtain financial gain for himself, other than that provided by law. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d).

The Commission has recognized a “Rule of Necessity” exception in a narrow range of situations where recusals would inhibit governmental processes, such as where the majority of a public body’s members must recuse themselves and the resulting failure of the quorum renders the entity unable to act. See e.g., A.O. 92-1 and A.O. 98-43. In past advisory opinions, the Commission has found circumstances warranting its application where the matter at issue affected the municipality as a whole and no official action could otherwise be taken. See A.O. 97-55 (where denial would prevent the Westerly Town Council from approving the Town budget); and A.O. 93-31 (where exception needed for the Town of Richmond to accept new streets into its public roads system). The Commission also granted an exception where the inability of the Workers Compensation Court’s Medical Advisory Board to select a preferred provider network would affect health care options for all injured workers. A.O. 96-65.

Here, however, no such compelling circumstances are present. In the event that the Council’s vote results in a tie, the motion to indemnify the Petitioner simply will not pass. The Petitioner’s recusal does not render the Council unable to act, but rather, unable to act in his favor. Accordingly, the Petitioner must recuse himself from any participation and/or vote on the matter. Notice of recusal should be filed with both the Town Council and the Ethics Commission pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-(6).

Code Citations:





Related Advisory Opinions:










Rule of necessity