Advisory Opinion No. 99-46

Re: Jamie Ullrich

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Hopkinton police officer, a municipal employee position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may receive overtime pay for appearing before the Hopkinton Juvenile Hearing Board, given that he wrote and administers the grant which funds the Board, and said grant provides overtime pay for the officer who presents cases to the Board.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics prohibits the petitioner, a Hopkinton police officer, a municipal employee position, from receiving overtime pay for appearing before the Hopkinton Juvenile Hearing Board since, by drafting the grant which funds the Board, he has provided for his own compensation.

The petitioner advises that his responsibilities as a Hopkinton police officer include writing grants for the Police Department. In June of 1997, the Governor’s Justice Commission approved a Department grant which established the Hopkinton Juvenile Hearing Board. The petitioner represents that he wrote the grant proposal and serves as its administrator. He indicates that he applied for $5,000.00 of grant funds, which included $3,000.00 in overtime expenses for an officer to present cases to the Board. He further advises that he presents all cases referred to the Board on a monthly basis. He indicates that he receives a total of four hours monthly overtime pay for appearing before the Board. Board appearances occur beyond the scheduled workday and he is required by contract to receive overtime. All overtime payments are taken from a grant account established by the Town Treasurer.

Under the Code of Ethics, the petitioner may not participate in any matter in which he has an interest, financial or otherwise, in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a). He also is prohibited from using his public position or confidential information received through his position to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for himself. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d).

Previously, the Commission advised public officials with statutory responsibility for developing and administering continuing education programs that they could not teach courses in those programs based upon the inherent conflict of interest presented by both regulating and teaching such programs. See A.O. 96-47 (concluding a member of the Board of Examiners of Electricians could not teach continuing education classes mandated for electricians and journeymen since his Board was responsible for establishing and maintaining the continuing education program); A.O. 92-49 (finding that members of the Building Code Standards Committee should not teach courses in the continuing education program since such dual activity created an inherent conflict of interest). The petitioner’s conduct presents a similar conflict of interest in that he would receive a financial benefit for presenting cases to the Board where, as the grant’s author, he expressly provided for such compensation as part of his public duties.

In another analogous context, the Commission has concluded that public officials and employees may not bid on contracts where they have participated in the bid development process. Under the Code, participation in the bid specification process places the public employee in a privileged and/or advantageous position with respect to other bidders. See A.O. 98-65 (finding that Town employees who provided substantive input into a decision to put property to tax sale, or as to requirements of the bids, may not bid on the property). Here, as a result of the petitioner’s involvement with the grant proposal, he would reap the financial benefits of his public duties.

Based upon past advisory opinions, the Commission concludes that the petitioner may not receive overtime pay for appearing before the Juvenile Hearing Board. As the grant’s author, he had significant involvement in providing compensation for the officer presenting cases to the Board. By establishing this compensation and subsequently presenting cases to the Board, he places himself in a position to benefit financially from his public actions. Finally, the petitioner is reminded that this opinion does not address past conduct.

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

98-65
98-31
97-48
96-47
95-105
95-60
92-49

Keywords:

Compensation
Financial interest
Grants