Advisory Opinion No. 98-130


Re: Joseph A. Terranova


The Petitioner, a candidate for election to the Town of Westerly School Committee, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may seek and/or hold that office given that his spouse is a full-time elementary school teacher in the Town; and further, whether he may participate in various matters as a member of the School Committee that may impact his spouse or other family members.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the Petitioner, a candidate for election to the Town of Westerly School Committee, a municipal elected position, from seeking or holding that elective office while his spouse or other family member is employed by the Town as a full-time elementary school teacher or elsewhere in the School Department. Sections 5(a) and 5(d) of the Code of Ethics do not create an absolute bar to service as a School Committee member for family members of teachers. Rather, those provisions require a matter by matter evaluation and determination as to whether substantial conflicts of interest exist with respect to carrying out an official's or employee's duty in the public interest.

We further conclude that the Petitioner’s additional inquiries are too speculative at this juncture for this Commission to frame a response. If and when the Petitioner gains election to the School Committee and one or more potential conflicts of interest arise, it would be appropriate for this Commission to address those matters in an advisory opinion or opinions.

The Commission notes, however, that issues similar to those raised by the Petitioner have been addressed by the Commission in previous advisory opinions. While each opinion addresses specific factual situations, the Commission has developed certain general guidelines applicable to members of school committees. For example, school committee members may participate in general budgetary and/or contractual matters so long as any resulting effect on a family member would be to no greater or lesser extent than the effect on an entire class of persons (e.g., all teachers or employees in a school district). Also, relatives or business associates of school committee members may apply for employment positions with the school committee, but the member may have no involvement with or influence on the hiring process. Whether and to what extent these previous opinions may impact specific situations that might arise involving this Petitioner cannot be addressed unless and until he is elected to the Westerly School Committee.

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Family: public employment