Advisory Opinion No. 98-140

Re: Dorothy C. Berube


The Petitioner, a Coventry Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she may participate in a vote for Town sponsorship of a golf tournament given that (1) the Town of Coventry formerly owned the golf course at which the tournament would be held and still holds the mortgage on it; (2) the net revenue from the tournament would go into a scholarship fund held by the Town; and, (3) Town resources and personnel may be used to prepare for and/or assist at the event.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, a Coventry Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, is not prohibited from voting on Town sponsorship of a golf tournament that will generate revenue for a Town scholarship fund. Involvement of the Town as the sponsor of the golf tournament may, however, raise additional issues under the Code of Ethics for the Petitioner, as well as for other Town officials.

The Commission has previously advised public officials that solicitations for private donations and/or involvement in charitable events of this type should be broad based, rather than focusing exclusively on persons or entities currently doing business with the city or agency. See A.O.s 95-42, 95-73, 96-28, and 98-63. Compare with A.O. 94-09 (prohibiting a public official from raising funds for a non-profit organization where the fundraising involved soliciting from business entities with which he was connected through the awarding of public contracts). The Commission also has advised public officials actively involved in solicitations from private individuals and entities that the law may require future recusals by them in matters affecting solicited parties. If and when the Town Council, or other Town officials, go forward with solicitations to the private sector for the golf tournament they should be mindful of the requirements of the law outlined in these previous opinions or, if necessary, seek additional advice from this body.

Based on the Petitioner’s representations that the Town Council would be sponsor for the event and that the revenues from the golf tournament would exclusively benefit a Town sponsored scholarship program, we conclude that Commission Regulation 36-14-5011, Transactions with Subordinates, is not applicable here. That Regulation specifically allows charitable events and/or solicitations that are the subject of general sponsorship by a state or municipal agency through official action by a governing body or highest government official. Also, whether or not matters relating to the tournament may be performed with Town of Coventry resources and personnel in compliance with the Code of Ethics depends on whether the golf tournament is considered a Town event. If the golf tournament is a Town event, nothing in the Code of Ethics prevents Coventry resources and personnel from being used in preparation for the event. See A.O. 95-73. If, however, a private individual or entity, other than a scholarship recipient, were to benefit financially from the use of Town resources of personnel then it would be a violation of the law.

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Charitable events