Advisory Opinion No. 99-85

Re: Abigail Brooks

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Little Compton Town Councilor, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she may participate in voting on a tax abatement request brought by the Sakonnet Preservation Association given that her spouse is a member of the board of directors of that Association.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, that the petitioner, Little Compton Town Council, a municipal elected position, may participate in voting on a tax abatement request brought by the Sakonnet Preservation Association ("Association") notwithstanding the fact that her spouse is a member of the board of directors of that Association.

Under the Code of Ethics, the petitioner may not participate in any matter in which she has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of her duties in the public interest. A substantial conflict of interest occurs if the petitioner has reason to believe or expect that she or any family member or business associate, or any business by which she is employed, will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by reason of her official activity. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 7(a). She is prohibited from using her public position or confidential information received through her position to obtain financial gain, other than that provided by law, for herself, a business associate or a family member. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d). Section 5(f) of the Code requires the petitioner to recuse herself from voting or otherwise participating in the consideration and/or disposition of a matter involving a business associate. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(f). Under R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2(3), a “business associate” is defined as any individual or entity joined with a public official “to achieve a common financial objective”.

Previously, the Commission has concluded that public officials are “business associates” of entities for which they serve either as members of the board of directors or in other leadership positions that permit them to affect the financial objectives of the organization. If an official has such a leadership position, the Commission has required the official to recuse him or herself if the interests of the organization would be affected by an action to be taken by his or her public agency. Here, however, the Association and its principals are the spouse's "business associates" rather than those of the petitioner. Any relationship the petitioner may have with that Association through her spouse is too remote to implicate the prohibitions set forth under the Code. As such, recusal is not required when the Association's tax abatement issue comes before her as a member of the Town Council.

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-24
97-36

Keywords:

Business Associate
Non-profit Boards