Advisory Opinion No. 99-8

Re: T. Brian Handrigan

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Narragansett Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may serve as a member of an ad hoc advisory committee, the Galilee Lease Committee, which reviews lease proposals for the Port of Galilee and makes recommendations regarding the proposals to the Director of the Department of Environmental Management, given that he and his wife jointly own shares of stock in two Narragansett restaurants in the Port of Galilee.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Narragansett Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, may not serve as a member of the Galilee Lease Committee, an ad hoc advisory committee that reviews lease proposals for the Port of Galilee and makes recommendations regarding the proposals to the Director of the Department of Environmental Management (DEM). The petitioner and his wife have financial interests in two restaurants in the Port of Galilee. Leasing decisions regarding businesses that would locate in the Port of Galilee necessarily would affect existing businesses in Galilee. The facts that the ad hoc committee passes on recommendations to the Director of the DEM, who has the responsibility for leasing decisions, and that any leases then would be reviewed by the State Properties Committee do not diminish the substantive role that would be played in the process by the petitioner as a member of a committee making recommendations.

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).

Clearly, leasing decisions involving potential businesses to be located in the Port of Galilee would affect any existing businesses in the area. Few things are more important to the economic well being of a business than its location, including whether competitors or complimentary businesses are located nearby. The Galilee Lease Committee would consider proposals and make recommendations that would directly determine what businesses would have the opportunity to locate in the Port of Galilee. The fact that the Committee would not have the ultimate decision making role regarding lease proposals does not mean that it is a purely advisory body. Presumably the reason for the Committee’s existence is to play a substantive role in the process, underscored by its ability to make recommendations about proposals. Because the petitioner and his wife have an economic stake in businesses located in the Port of Galilee the Code of Ethics prohibits the petitioner from participating as a public official in that substantive process.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-6

Related Advisory Opinions:

98-151
98-131
98-123
98-111
96-70
96-24
94-42
94-24
92-65
92-20
92-19
91-41
90-57

Keywords:

Business interest
Competitor(s)
Advisory body