Advisory Opinion No. 99-40

Re: Lucien N. Pratt

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Woonsocket Personnel Board member, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to potential conflicts of interest given when Personnel Board hears cases involving the Police Department given that he previously was Chief of that Department’s Reserve Force and that he has an existing social relationship with a Captain in the Department.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Woonsocket Personnel Board member, a municipal appointed position, may participate in matters involving the Woonsocket Police Department notwithstanding that he previously served as Chief of that Department’s Reserve Force and that he has an existing social relationship with someone in the Department.

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. A substantial conflict of interest occurs if the petitioner has reason to believe or expect that he or any family member or business associate, or any business by which he is employed, will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by reason of his official activity. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 7(a).

In this matter, the petitioner represents that matters involving the Woonsocket Police Department will come before the Personnel Board. The petitioner formerly served as the Chief of that Department’s Reserve Force. He also represents that he has an existing social relationship with a Captain in the Department. Neither of these relationships implicates the provisions of the Code of Ethics. The Police Department is his former employer and any actions that the petitioner may take as Personnel Board member regarding the Police Department would not affect his personal interests. Also, social relationships are not covered by the Code of Ethics. When enacting the Code of Ethics, the General Assembly included as one of its legislative purposes the elimination of appearances of impropriety. The legislature did not, however, make the appearance of impropriety a violation of the law. Therefore, if, in a particular situation the petitioner believes his participating would create an appearance of impropriety, he may, although he is not required to do so, recuse.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-7(a)

Related Advisory Opinions:

98-157
98-45
96-62
95-55
92-72

Keywords:

Code jurisdiction