Advisory Opinion No. 99-2

Re: Peter F. Lambert

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Burrillville School Committee member, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may continue to serve on the June Rockwell Levy Rink Board of Overseers, a municipal appointed position, in light of his recent election to the School Committee.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Burrillville School Committee member, a municipal elected position, may continue to serve on the June Rockwell Levy Rink Board of Overseers, a municipal appointed position, provided that he recuse himself from participation and voting whenever 1) matters involving the School Committee and/or its interests come before the Board of Overseers; and 2) matters involving the Board of Overseers and/or its interests come before the School Committee.

The petitioner advises that the School Committee appointed him to the Board of Overseers in January of 1997, and re-appointed him to a three-year term in July of 1998. The petitioner receives no remuneration for his service on the Board. Although the Board is responsible for the management and administration of the Rink, the petitioner represents that the Rink operates under the auspices of the School Committee. In addition to exercising its appointment power over the Board, the School Committee approves all contracts in excess of one year/five thousand dollars, as well as major repairs or renovations to the Rink. The Board also submits quarterly financial reports to the School Committee. Further, the School Committee leases the Rink for school athletics and physical education classes. The petitioner advises that he was elected to the School Committee in November of 1998.

Commission Regulation 5006 provides that no elected or appointed official may accept any appointment by the body of which he is a member, to any position which carries with it any financial benefit or remuneration while a member of the body and for a period of one year after termination of membership on said body. Here, since the petitioner receives no remuneration for his Board service, Regulation 5006 does not bar such simultaneous service. Sections 5(a) and 5(d) of the Code of Ethics do not create an absolute bar to simultaneous service as a member of both the School Committee member and the Board of Overseers. Rather, those provisions require a matter by matter evaluation and determination as to whether substantial conflicts of interest exist with respect to carrying out an official’s duty in the public interest.

In the event that any matter comes before either body which would have a financial impact on the other body or the Petitioner himself, the petitioner should (a) notify the appropriate entity, in writing, of the nature of his interest in the matter at issue, and (b) recuse from any participation or voting in connection with such matter. Notice of recusal should be filed with the School Committee/Board of Overseers and with the Ethics Commission in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6. Further, Section 5(e) of the Code provides, inter alia, that no public official may represent any other person before a state or municipal agency of which he or she is a member. This restriction would apply to the petitioner’s appearance before either the School Committee or the Board of Overseers to represent the interests of the other entity of which he is a member.

In sum, while simultaneous service in either of the two positions is not barred by the Code of Ethics, the relevant statute and regulations require that the petitioner be particularly vigilant as to matters in which he participates. We caution, however, that the petitioner may find that he is faced with numerous potential conflicts which would require his recusal from Board matters on a regular basis, thereby triggering Regulation 36-14-5003’s limitation on recusals. If such a situation develops, the petitioner should seek another advisory opinion as to whether he may simultaneously serve as a member of both the School Committee and the Board of Overseers.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(b)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-5(e)
36-14-6
36-14-5003
36-14-5006

Related Advisory Opinions:

98-116
98-104
98-99
98-87
98-21
97-127
97-41
97-17
96-35
94-48

Keywords:

Dual public roles
Recusal
Revolving door