Advisory Opinion No. 98-151

Re: Richard Sardella


The Petitioner, a Newport City Councilor, a municipal elected position, who as a member of the City Council sits on the Board of License Commissioners, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may participate and vote on matters relating to the hospitality industry given that he owns a restaurant in Newport.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, a Newport City Councilor, a municipal elected position, who as a member of the City Council sits on the Board of License Commissioners, may participate in and vote on matters involving the hospitality industry provided they do not have a direct financial impact on him or his business.

In the City of Newport the City Council also functions as the Board of License Commissioners. The Petitioner represents that as a Board of License Commissioners member he hears matters involving licensing transfers and allegations of operating in violation of licensing requirements. The Petitioner’s private livelihood is as a restaurant owner in Newport. In that capacity he has and applies for liquor, victualing, and entertainment licenses.

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. Substantial conflict is defined as a "direct monetary gain or a direct monetary loss" that accrues, by virtue of the public official's activity, to that individual, a family member, a business associate, an employer, or any business which the public official represents. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a). Additionally, the Code provides that a public official or employee may not use his office to obtain financial gain other than as provided by law. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d).

The Commission issued an advisory opinion to the Petitioner, A.O. 96-70, that addressed issues similar to the ones raised here. At that time the Commission advised him that the law did not prohibit him from serving on the City Council and, generally, from considering matters relating to the zoning or licensing of restaurants and bars. The Commission further advised, however, that when an issue came before the City Council involving a competing business that was in close proximity to his own, or that otherwise directly impacted the his business interests, the Petitioner should recuse from participation in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

The same analysis applies here. As an owner of a restaurant that maintains liquor, victualing and entertainment licenses the Petitioner is an active participant in the hospitality industry in Newport. The fact that a matter that comes before the City Council or the Board of Liquor Commissioners may impact the hospitality industry in and of itself does preclude the Petitioner from participating in the consideration of it. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(b). The law does not bar the Petitioner from participating in matters involving the hospitality industry or individual members of that industry, or otherwise for that matter, so long as those matters do not directly impact his business and/or his personal financial interests. In previous advisory opinions the Commission has found that, as a general rule, an individual’s business interests would not be impacted directly if his business were not in close proximity to the subject business.

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