Advisory Opinion No. 99-94

Re: Timothy M. Rowe

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Town of Coventry School Committee member, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether he may apply for and receive compensation for the position of Head Wrestling Coach at Coventry Middle School. In the alternative, he inquires whether he may receive a hardship exception to appear before the School Committee for purposes of submitting an application to serve in a volunteer capacity.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics prohibits the petitioner, a Town of Coventry School Committee member, a municipal elected position, from accepting appointment to the position of Head Wrestling Coach at Coventry Middle School, or any other position within the School Department which carries with it any financial benefit or remuneration, while a member of the School Committee and for a period of one year following his official severance from that position. However, provided he agrees to waive the receipt of compensation and benefits, the Commission finds that he may appear before the School Committee for purposes of submitting an application to serve as Head Wrestling Coach in a volunteer capacity. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(e).

The petitioner advises that he wishes to apply for the position of Head Wrestling Coach at Coventry Middle School. He represents that, prior to his election to the School Committee, he served in that position for eleven years. He indicates that he would be willing to serve as an unpaid volunteer, provided that he receives a hardship exception allowing him to appear before the School Committee for purposes of submitting an application.

The Code of Ethics provides that, while a member or employee for a period of one year after a person has officially terminated his or her position with any state or municipal agency, that person shall not appear before the state or municipal agency on which the person had served or was employed. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(e)(1) and 5(e)(4). Pursuant to Commission Regulation 5006, no elected or appointed official may accept any appointment by the body of which he or she is a member, to any position which carries with it any financial benefit or remuneration while a member of the body and for a period of one year after termination of membership on said body, unless the Ethics Commission shall give its approval of such appointment. Regulation 5006 further provides that the Commission shall not grant such approval unless it “is satisfied that denial of such employment or position would create a substantial hardship for the body, board, or municipality.”

The Commission has concluded that a public official may not accept employment from the body which he or she serves, for a period of one year following termination of the official’s membership on said body. See A.O. 97-26; A.O. 97-17; and A.O. 96-85. However, the Commission has permitted an official to accept such an appointment within that period, provided that the appointment was to a volunteer position or the official agreed to waive the receipt of compensation and benefits and serve in a volunteer capacity. See A.O. 97-138 (finding that a Pawtucket City Councilor could accept appointment from the City Council to a board within that municipality within one year of his official severance from his position as Councilor provided that he serves in such position as an unpaid volunteer); and A.O. 96-35 (advising a North Kingstown School Committee member that he could accept appointment as a volunteer baseball coach for the School Department since he would serve without compensation).

Without a showing of hardship to the School Committee, the petitioner may not accept appointment from his own Board to a position which carries with it remuneration of any kind nor may he appear before the Board during that time as provided in R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(e) and Commission Regulation 5006. However, provided the petitioner agrees to waive the receipt of any financial benefit and/or remuneration, the Commission concludes that he may apply for the position of Head Wrestling Coach in a volunteer capacity. While Section 5(e) of the Code prohibits the petitioner from appearing before the School Committee to apply and/or interview for the position of Head Coach, based upon his specific representation that he would serve in a volunteer capacity, the Commission finds that it would be a hardship to deny him the opportunity to appear before the Committee to volunteer his services. Accordingly, the petitioner may appear before the School Committee for the limited purpose of applying for the Head Coach position on a volunteer basis.

Finally, the petitioner may not participate and/or vote in the School Committee’s consideration of matters concerning the Head Wrestling Coach position. Notice of recusal should be filed with both the Ethics Commission and the School Committee in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(e)
36-14-6
36-14-7(a)
36-14-5006

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-76
99-60
99-2
98-153
98-104
98-83
97-138
97-125
97-117
97-27
97-26
97-17
96-85
96-35

Keywords:

Hardship Exception
Prospective Employment
Revolving Door