Advisory Opinion No. 99-54

Re: Manuel Enos

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Tiverton School Committee member, a municipal elected official, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may participate in the negotiations and vote with the RI Council 94, AFSME, the labor organization representing 44 support employees in the School Department, given that his son-in-law is a member of that bargaining unit and that he is a retired member of that local.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Tiverton School Committee member, a municipal elected position, shall not participate in negotiations, votes or other matters affecting the labor contract with the R.I. Council 94, AFSME, a labor organization representing 44 support employees of the School Department, given that his son-in-law is a support employee represented by that local and given that he is a retired member of that local, whose benefits could be affected by this contract. The petitioner's participation in the negotiations or votes on the contract would trigger the prohibitions set forth in R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a) and 5(d). Here, the exception set forth in R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(b) does not apply since the negotiations affect a subset of teachers/employees in the School Department and one of the provisions of the contract could include a cost-of-living increase to retirees, from which the petitioner would directly benefit.

We have concluded that the exception set forth in R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-7(b) does not apply in situations where the petitioner's family member, although an employee of the school system, is among a small group of employees or a subset of employees to be affected by the negotiations or any matter under consideration. See A.O. 97-65, A.O. 98-32, and A.O. 97-75. In Advisory Opinion 97-65, we advised a member of the Scituate School Committee, who requested guidance as to whether he could participate in the votes or negotiations regarding labor contracts with three non-certified employee groups, that he could not participate in negotiations, votes or other matters affecting the labor contract with the teacher's aides since his wife was one of 45 teachers' aides in the School Department. In that opinion, we specifically concluded that "an employee group of 45 members in a single school system does not constitute such a significant and definable class of person so as to trigger the 7(b) exception." Similarly, in Advisory Opinion 98-32, the Commission concluded that a School Committee member should not participate in negotiations, votes or other matters affecting the labor contract with the labor organization representing 152 unclassified employees of the School Department, given that his wife and mother-in-law are unclassified employees and his mother-in-law is one of 45 unclassified employees that would be affected by a clause under negotiations regarding family Blue Cross benefits for retired employees. See also A.O. 97-75 (advising the Chief of Human Resources for the Department of Environmental Management that she could not participate in negotiations for a settlement agreement with a bargaining unit for employees of the Division of Parks & Recreation since her brother was one of the potential recipients of back pay, which was the focus of the ongoing settlement and since an employee group of approximately 85 members within a single division did not constitute such a significant and definable class of persons so as to trigger the 7(b) exception.)

After considering the relevant provisions of the Code of Ethics and past advisory opinions, we conclude that the Petitioner may not participate in the negotiations or votes concerning the contract with RI Council 94, AFSME representing support personnel given the interest of both himself and his family member, namely his son-in-law, in this contract. Here, the negotiations concern a subset of the employees of the School Department, the support personnel, which includes the petitioner's son-in-law and could potentially affect himself and, accordingly, is distinguishable from the past opinions where we have permitted participation under the § 7(b) exception. Therefore, since the negotiations concern a subset of employees of the School Department, the Code of Ethics, namely R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a) and 5(d), would prohibit the petitioner from participating in the negotiations or votes concerning this contract.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-5005
36-14-6
36-14-7(a)
36-14-7(b)

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-36
99-4
98-172
98-162
98-130
98-32
97-118
97-65
97-52
96-96
96-60
95-54
95-63
95-64
96-69
95-70
95-75
95-23
94-44
94-29
94-27
92-53

Keywords:

Class exception
Contracts
Family member: public employment
Negotiations
Unions/bargaining unit