Advisory Opinion No. 99-146

Re: J. Nathan Godfrey

QUESTION PRESENTED

The Narragansett Town Solicitor requests an advisory opinion on behalf of the petitioner, a Narragansett Planning Board member, a municipal appointed position, as to whether his firm may respond to the Town’s Request for Proposals (RFP) for the provision of services to the Tax Assessor’s Office and whether he would be able to perform any of the work associated with the contract.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the firm in which the petitioner, a Narragansett Planning Board member, a municipal appointed position, is a principal may respond to the Town of Narragansett’s Request for Proposals (RFP) relating to the provision of services to the Tax Assessor’s Office, provided that all contracts are awarded through an open and public bidding process. R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(h). In the event that the firm is awarded a contract pursuant to an open and public process, the Code of Ethics does not prohibit him from performing work under the contract given that he exercises no supervisory authority and/or control over the Tax Assessor’s Office.

The petitioner advises that he is a principal in the Newport Appraisal Group, L.L.C., a real estate consultant and appraisal firm, which recently received a copy of a Request for Proposals (RFP) prepared by the Town of Narragansett. The RFP requests proposals for the provision of services to the Tax Assessor’s Office. He represents that the services would be rendered directly to the Tax Assessor’s Office. He further advises that, as a Planning Board member, he has no authority over or involvement with the Tax Assessor’s Office.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official may not participate in any matter in which he has an interest, financial or otherwise, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(a), 36-14-7(a). He may not accept outside employment that would impair his independence of judgment as to his official duties or employment. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(b). He also may not use his public employment or confidential information received through his public employment to obtain financial gain for himself or for a business which he represents. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(d). Additionally, Section 5(h) of the Code provides that public officials and employees, as well as their relatives and business associates, may not enter into contracts withany state or municipal agency “unless the contract has been awarded through an open and public process, including prior public notice and subsequent public disclosure or all proposals considered and contracts awarded.” R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(h).

The Commission concludes that the petitioner’s firm, the Newport Appraisal Group, L.L.C., may bid on the Town of Narragansett’s RFP relating to the provision of services to the Tax Assessor’s Office provided, however, that all contracts are awarded through an open and public bidding process. See R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(h). Here, the petitioner indicates that those conditions will be met. Otherwise, the contract for which the petitioner’s firm intends to submit a bid does not involve or impact upon his own public body and he has no ability to extend any improper influence or control over the Tax Assessor’s Office. Further, there is no indication that he will have access to any confidential information relating to the services that are being put out to bid. In the absence of any improper intersection between the petitioner’s public responsibilities and his private employment interests, nothing prohibits his firm from bidding on and, if successful, contracting for those services. Finally, no violation of the Code would occur if the petitioner performs work under a contract awarded pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(h).

Code Citations:

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

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-83
99-71
99-7
98-112
98-50
97-148
97-136
97-84
97-72
97-66
97-50
97-48
96-41
95-90
95-24

Keywords:

Contracts
Private employment