Advisory Opinion No. 99-127

Re: Geraldine Citrone

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Town of Narragansett Zoning and Plating Board of Review member, a municipal appointed position, inquires as to whether she may appear before that Board, personally or through counsel, to seek approval for certain variances relating to property she has owned individually since 1976, predating her appointment to the Board.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Petitioner, a Town of Narragansett Zoning and Plating Board of Review (Zoning Board) member, a municipal appointed position, may appear before the Zoning Board regarding property she owned prior to serving on the Board, whether personally or through counsel, based on a finding that her situation constitutes a hardship exception to relevant revolving door prohibitions.

Section 36-14-5(e) of the Code of Ethics prohibits a public official or employee from “representing him or herself” before an agency of which he or she is a member and for one year following his or her official severance from the agency. In cases of hardship the Ethics Commission may allow exceptions to this blanket prohibition. The Commission has granted such hardship exceptions in the past when a matter involved the “vested property rights” of an official or employee. As interpreted by the Commission, vested property rights have included pre-existing ownership interests in real property that were the official’s or employee’s principal residence, the official’s or employee’s place of business, or similar circumstances. See, e.g.,A.O. 99-84, A.O. 89-71; A.O. 94-38; A.O. 98-97; GCA 11.

Here, the property at issue has been owned by the petitioner for 29 years. Since her mother died in 1976, she has been the sole owner. The petitioner advises that she would like to build a single family dwelling on the property for her and her spouse. It would be their principal place of residence. In order to receive a building permit, she must appear before the Zoning Board to obtain relief including variances and a special exception. The petitioner was appointed to the Zoning Board in 1996.

Based on these factors, the Commission finds that the circumstances involving this property fall within the vested property exception to Section 5(e) described above. The Commission therefore concludes that the petitioner may bring the request for a zoning variance and special exception before the Zoning Board pursuant to R.I. Gen Laws § 36-14-5(e). The petitioner must recuse from participation and vote in the Board’s consideration of their request. Additionally, she is required to file notice of recusal with both the Zoning Board and the Ethics Commission under Section 6.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-5(e)
36-14-5(e)(1)

Related Case Law:

Thomas DiLuglio v. RIEC, 726 A.2d 1149 (R.I. 1999)

Related Advisory Opinions:

GCA 11
98-105
98-97
98-94
97-146
94-38
94-19
92-68
89-71

Keywords:

Hardship Exception
Property Interest