Advisory Opinion No. 98-166

Re: Bernard F. Magiera


The petitioner, a West Warwick Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may participate in contract negotiations with the West Warwick Police union and AFSME, the municipal employees' union given that his daughter is a municipal employee in West Warwick and his son is a patrolman with the West Warwick Police Department.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a West Warwick Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, may vote on matters relating to police and municipal employee contracts as a member of Town Council provided that his daughter, a municipal employee, and his son, a patrolman with the Police Department, are not affected individually by the respective contracts, except as a member of the entire class of municipal employees or police officers in the system. The petitioner also may participate in contract negotiations provided that it is not reasonably foreseeable that terms of the contract to be considered could affect his daughter or son individually or as part of a smaller subgroup of employees/officers. This opinion is based on and limited by Section 7(b) of the Code which provides that the petitioner may participate in actions as a public official so long as they do not affect him or his family to any greater extent than any other similarly situated member of a significant and definable class.

The petitioner represents that 61 police officers are covered by the subject contract and approximately 100 municipal employees are covered by the AFSME contract. Neither his son nor his daughter are officers of their respective unions. The Ethics Commission has concluded in past advisory opinions that School Committee members with family members in the school system could participate in negotiations and voting on contracts so long as the family members were part of a significant and definable class; for example, all of the teachers in a school system. Correspondingly, the Commission has concluded that School Committee members with family members in the school system may not participate in negotiations or voting when a matter concerning a family member's subset of teachers (e.g., nurses or teachers aides) or the family member individually came before them. See A.O. 97-65 and A.O. 95-23. See also A.O. 97-75 (finding that DEM employee could not participate in settlement negotiations involving a bargaining unit of the Division of Parks & Recreation given that her brother is a member of that group of 85 employees since it was not a significant and definable class because, in part, the employees were part of only one Division of DEM).

Additionally, we note that the issue of whether there should be more restrictions for negotiating contracts, rather than merely voting on them, has been in issue in past advisory requests. Various opinions issued to legislators concluded that they could not participate in negotiations related to pension benefits for state workers and teachers since they had an interest and because the class exception could not be applied because of the tentative nature of which groups would be significant and definable during the negotiations. A.O. 95-54, A.O. 95-55, A.O. 95-56, A.O. 95-63, A.O. 95-64, A.O. 95-69, A.O. 95-70, A.O. 95-75. While an outright prohibition on participating in the negotiation of the instant contracts is not set out here, the petitioner must be aware of or reasonably foresee whether such negotiations will include a separation of groups of employees or officers that will be treated differently. In such instances, recusal is required.

In situations requiring recusal the petitioner should follow the dictates of Section 6 of the Code and complete a recusal form, filing a copy with the Ethics Commission.

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Class exception


Family: public employment