Advisory Opinion No. 99-133

Re: Frances Guevremont

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a social caseworker in the Department of Children, Youth and Families, a state employee position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether she may serve on the human resources subcommittee of a mental health care provider.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a social caseworker in the Department of Children, Youth and Families, a state employee position, may serve on the Human Resources Committee of the Northern Rhode Island Mental Health Center (Center) even though, as part of her public duties, she may have occasion to refer clients to the Center.

The Code of Ethics provides that public officials and employees shall not have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, or engage in any employment or transaction which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of their duties in the public interest. A substantial conflict of interest occurs if an official or employee has reason to believe or expect that he or she or any family member or business associate, or any business by which he or she is employed will derive a direct monetary gain or suffer a direct monetary loss by reason of his or her official activity. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 7(a). Finally, an official or employee shall not use their public office or confidential information received through that public office to obtain financial gain, for themselves, a business associate, or an employer. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d).

The Commission also has addressed whether members of an organization are "business associates" as defined by the Code at R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-2(3). For instance, the Commission has concluded that so long as a member of the YMCA is not in a position at the YMCA to affect the financial objectives of the YMCA through voting or other means, such membership is not enough to rise to the level of a "business associate" under the Code of Ethics. See A.O. 96-54; See Also A.O. 98-89. However, a current member of a Board of Directors has been considered to be a "business associate" of the organization requiring recusal. See A.O. 99-35, A.O. 96-58, A.O. 89-103, A.O. 92-67, A.O. 92-31, A.O. 91-07, A.O. 95-92, A.O. 91-86, A.O. 95-59. Also, employees of a non-profit organization have been advised that they may not participate in public matters affecting their private employer. See A.O. 95-80, A.O. 97- 45, A.O. 97-93, A.O. 98-10. Here, the petitioner is on a subcommittee of the Center and cannot affect the financial objectives of the entity. Therefore, we conclude that the nature or her relationship with the Center is not that of a business associate. As such, the provisions of the Code of Ethics would not apply to her actions as a caseworker relative to the Center since it does not fall within the five groups of persons/entities that would give rise to a substantial conflict of interest. Accordingly, the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the petitioner from serving on the Human Resources Committee of the Northern Rhode Island Mental Health Center nor does it prevent her from referring clients to that entity in her role as a caseworker for the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-35
98-89
98-10
97-93
97-45
96-58
96-54
95-92
95-59
92-67
92-31
91-86
91-7
89-103

Keywords:

Non-profit Boards