Advisory Opinion No. 98-169

Re: Susan Johnston


Whether the petitioner, the part-time Film Office Coordinator for the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, a state employee position, may accept outside employment in the film industry and, if so, with what, if any, restrictions.


It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, the part-time Film Office Coordinator for the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (the “EDC”), a state employee position, may accept outside employment in the film industry subject to a variety of restrictions imposed by provisions of the Code of Ethics. As an initial matter, the petitioner’s position is part-time and subject to an annual funding test. Nonetheless, pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2 and Commission Regulation 36-14-2002, her position constitutes state employment for purposes of the Code of Ethics. As to any outside employment, the petitioner may not accept outside employment that would either impair her independence of judgment as to her official duties or cause her improperly to disclose confidential information. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b). She may not use her state employment position to obtain financial gain or take any official action in that position if she has reason to believe that as a result of that action she may derive a direct monetary gain. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), (d) and 7. Finally, the petitioner may not seek or accept a promise of future employment based on any understanding that official action by her would be influenced by such promise. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(g).

The unique nature of the Economic Development Corporation presents a unique set of issues under the Code of Ethics for its employees and officers. The EDC is neither a regulatory agency nor a procurement agency. Its involvement with private business interests is as a promotional arm of the State. The petitioner here advises that paramount among her responsibilities as Film Office Coordinator is to entice, encourage and attract the film industry to do business in the State of Rhode Island. If and when a private film industry venture decides to come to Rhode Island she has succeeded in her mission. The promotion done by the petitioner does not involve her making substantive policy decisions affecting private film industry interests, nor does she make substantive decisions directing state funding or assistance to private business concerns.

Before taking a part-time position with the EDC the petitioner worked in various capacities in the film industry. She continues to do so while employed at the EDC, both with the knowledge and consent of her supervisors. In fact, her past and continuing contacts in the industry contributed to her being hired by the EDC and provide an important resource for her promotional efforts.

The petitioner advises that private film industry interests who choose to do business in Rhode Island often seek to hire her to work on their projects in the State. Sometimes those seeking to hire her have not had dealings with her in her role at the EDC, other times they have. Absent an on-going supervisory responsibility by the petitioner with a private concern that wishes to hire her, involvement by the petitioner in a substantive decision made at the EDC that affected the private concern, an agreement between the petitioner and the private concern that she would be hired by them in return for some official action, or use of her position at the EDC to promote her own private employment, the petitioner may accept and work with private film industry interests whether or not she dealt with them at the EDC.

Code Citations:









Outside employment

Confidential information