Advisory Opinion No. 99-111

 

Re: Town of Johnston - The Honorable William R. Macera

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Mayor of the Town of Johnston, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether the Town may accept the donation of a rescue vehicle from a municipal vendor given that the vendor is involved in litigation with the Town and has a matter pending before the Town Council.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the Town of Johnston from accepting the donation of a rescue vehicle from a municipal vendor, notwithstanding the fact that the vendor presently is involved in litigation with the Town and has a matter pending before the Town Council.

The petitioner advises that Louis L. Vinagro, Jr., who has a three-year rubbish removal contract with the Town of Johnston, has offered to donate a rescue vehicle to the Town. He indicates that the Town is involved in litigation with Mr. Vinagro’s company on numerous matters and that the company has not posted a bond to protect the Town in case of its default. Further, he represents that Mr. Vinagro has a request for a zoning change pending before the Town Council.

Under the provisions of Commission Regulation 5009, a public official may not accept a gift from an “interested person”, defined as any individual or business entity “that has a direct financial interest in a decision that the person subject to the Code of Ethics is authorized to make, or participate in the making of, as part of his or her official duties.” In an analogous advisory opinion, the Commission recently concluded that the Code did not prohibit the Rhode Island Building Officials Association from accepting the donation of space at a home show from the Rhode Island Builders Association. See A.O. 99-17. There, although the members of the Building Officials Association were municipal employees who had decision-making authority with regard to members of the Builders Association, the donation of space was provided to the Building Officials Association, rather than to individual officials.

Similarly, the Code does not prohibit the Town of Johnston from accepting the donation of a rescue vehicle from Mr. Vinagro, a municipal vendor. The Mayor and other Town officials may make decisions with regard to Mr. Vinagro’s company. As such, Mr. Vinagro is an “interested person” as to the various Town officials and those individual officials may not accept gifts or donations offered to them personally by Mr. Vinagro. Here, however, the donation of a rescue vehicle is being provided to the Town itself, rather than to individual Town officials. Additionally, the donation does not confer a financial benefit on any individual official. Rather, it will be used to assist in the provision of municipal rescue services. Therefore, the donation/gift is not prohibited by the gift regulation, Commission Regulation 5009. Finally, there is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Vinagro’s gift/donation is intended to impermissibly influence any other decisions of the Town. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(g) and 5(i).

Code Citations:

36-14-5(g)
36-14-5(i)
36-14-5009

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-17
98-136

Keywords:

Donations
Gifts