Advisory Opinion No. 99-71

Re: Terence Fleming

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Narragansett Planning Board member, a municipal appointed position, who is privately employed by Park Row Associates, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may personally provide consultant services to the Narragansett School Department in the event that the School Department contracts with his employer for such services.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Narragansett Planning Board member, a municipal appointed position, who is privately employed by Park Row Associates, may provide consultant services to the Narragansett School Department in the event that the School Department contracts with his employer for such services.

The petitioner advises that the Narragansett School Department has contacted his private employer, Park Row Associates, with regard to providing consultant services to the School Department. He further indicates that he has been contacted directly regarding such services. He represents that he does not have an ownership in Park Row Associates. He further advises that, as a Planning Board member, he has no involvement with or authority over the School Department and/or School Committee.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official 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. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a). Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d), a public official 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 or a family member. Additionally, Section 5(h) of the Code provides that public officials and employees, as well as their relatives and business associates, may not enter into contracts with any state or municipal agency “unless the contract has been awarded through an open and public process, including prior public notice and subsequent public disclosure or all proposals considered and contracts awarded.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(h).

The Commission concludes that, in the event the School Department contracts with the petitioner’s employer for consultant services, he may participate in the provision of such services as an employee of the firm. The petitioner is not a principal of Park Row Associates and does not have an ownership interest in the firm. Therefore, Section 5(h) of the Code is inapplicable to the award of a contract between Part Row Associates and the School Department as it relates to the petitioner. Further, as a Planning Board member, he has no ability to extend any improper influence or control over the School Department and/or School Committee. Although not specifically addressed in this opinion, the School Department nonetheless may be required to adhere to an open and public bidding process pursuant to municipal policy or regulation. In the absence of any improper intersection between the petitioner’s public responsibilities and his private employment interests, nothing prohibits his employer from bidding on and, if successful, contracting with the School Department for consultant services.

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

98-86
97-136
97-72
97-50
96-41
95-60
95-41
95-24
94-5
91-60
91-58

Keywords:

Contracts
Private Employment