Advisory Opinion No. 98-161

Re: Sue P. Sheppard


The petitioner, the Lincoln Town Clerk, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she and other Department Heads and the Town Administer may exchange holiday gifts in accordance with past tradition.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, the Lincoln Town Clerk, a municipal elected position, and other Department Heads exchange gifts with other Department Heads and may contribute for a gift to the Town Administrator provided it is voluntary and not solicited by the Town Administrator. Commission Regulation 5011, Transactions with Subordinates, provides that a supervisor may not engage in a financial transaction with his/her subordinates unless it is initiated by the subordinate, part of a regular commercial business or occupation, or a charitable or fundraising event under the general sponsorship of a municipality or state. Here, the petitioner represents that there is a long-standing tradition in the Town of Lincoln for the Department Heads to give a gift to the Town Administrator and the Town Administrator to give gifts to the Department Heads. Additionally, the petitioner suggests that the Department Heads initiate the activity without prompting by the Town Administrator. Given these circumstances, the gift giving tradition is not prohibited by the Code of Ethics. Additionally, the new provision regarding Gifts, Regulation 5009, does not apply here since that regulation does not apply to internal departmental matters, but rather to private parties and private financial interests.

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Transactions with subordinates