Advisory Opinion No. 99-49

Re: Christopher P. Morra

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the East Providence Zoning Board of Review (the Board) Chairperson, a municipal appointed position, may appear before that Board, personally or through counsel, to request to appeal a zoning officer’s decision.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, the East Providence Zoning Board of Review (the Board) Chairperson, a municipal appointed position, may not appear before the Board, personally or through counsel, regarding a request to appeal a zoning officer’s decision, given that he specifically declines to request a finding of hardship by the Commission. Section 36-14-5(e) of the Code of Ethics prohibits a public official or employee from “representing him or herself” before an agency of which he or she is a member. In cases of hardship the Ethics Commission may allow exceptions to this blanket prohibition. The Commission has granted such hardship exceptions in the past when a matter involved the “vested property rights” of an official or employee. As interpreted by the Commission, vested property rights have included pre-existing ownership interests in real property that were a) the official’s or employee’s principal residence, or b) the official’s or employee’s place of business.

Many of the factors underlying previous findings of hardship by this Commission are present in this instance. In addition, the petitioner previously has requested and been granted a hardship exception in similar circumstances. See A.O. 98-12. Here, however, the petitioner specifically represents that he is willing and able to proceed to Superior Court, rather than before his own board, even though he recognizes that such a course will be more costly. That representation precludes any consideration by the Commission as to whether a hardship exception would apply in this instance.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(e)
36-14-5(e)(1)

Related Advisory Opinions:

98-12
94-38
92-68
89-71
GCA 11

Keywords:

Hardship Exception
Property Interest