Advisory Opinion No. 99-105

Re: Catherine A. Gregory

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Town of Jamestown Animal Control Officer, a municipal employee position, requests an advisory opinion about potential conflicts of interest given that she owns a pet care business.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the petitioner, a Town of Jamestown Animal Control Officer, a municipal employee position, from simultaneously owning a pet care business. However, the petitioner should recuse on matters involving the lessee of her business who, under the Code of Ethics, is a business associate of hers. Notice of recusal on any of these matters should be filed with both the Town and the Ethics Commission pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

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. Substantial conflict is defined as a "direct monetary gain or a direct monetary loss" that accrues, by virtue of the public official's activity, to that individual, a family member, a business associate, an employer, or any business which the public official represents. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a). The petitioner also may not accept employment that would impair her judgment. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b). Additionally, the Code provides that a public official or employee may not use her office to obtain financial gain other than as provided by law. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d).

These provisions do not serve as an absolute bar to the petitioner holding a business interest in an animal care business. However, she may not be able to participate in certain matters as an animal control officer given that interest. The petitioner represents that since accepting the position of Animal Control Officer for the Town of Jamestown she has leased her business to another person and does not have any contact with her former clients. She also represents that among her official duties include things such as complaint matters regarding stray animals or vicious animals. Given that the petitioner has leased her business, she would be required to recuse in any matter that came before her concerning the lessee of her business. See A.O. 98-16; A.O. 99-7. Additionally, if and when the petitioner engages in private work it should be done while she is off duty and she should not use any municipal equipment to aid in such business. We caution the petitioner that she should not solicit business for herself or for the lessee of her business while acting in her official capacity, nor may she improperly use her office to benefit herself or her business under the Code of Ethics.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(b)
36-14-5(d)

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-5
99-7
99-8
99-26
98-16
96-101
96-27
96-31
96-43
95-50
94-4
93-22
92-17

Keywords:

Business Interest