Advisory Opinion No. 99-151

Re: Hannibal F. Costa

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, the Tiverton Town Clerk, a municipal appointed position, requests an advisory opinion as to whether, subsequent to pending amendments to the Town Charter, 1) the current Treasurer/Tax Collector may be appointed to the new position of Tax Collector; and 2) a member of the current Board of Tax Assessors may be appointed to the new position of Tax Assessor.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that no violation of the Code of Ethics would arise if the current Treasurer/Tax Collector were to be appointed to the new position of Tax Collector, given that an amendment to the Town Charter divided the responsibilities of the incumbent’s position into two new positions. In addition, while the appointment of a sitting member of the Board of Tax Assessors to the new position of Tax Assessor does not, in and of itself, constitute a conflict of interest, R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-5(e) would prohibit said individual from appearing before his or her former Board, reconstituted as the Board of Appeals, for a period of one-year following his or her official severance from that municipal body.

The petitioner advises that on November 2, 1999 the Town of Tiverton held a special election and adopted two amendments to the Home Rule Charter to take effect on July 1, 2000. He represents that responsibilities of the Treasurer/Tax Collector’s position, presently an elected position, were divided into two separate positions of an elected Treasurer and an appointed Tax Collector. He indicates that an elected Board of Tax Assessors currently manages the Tax Assessor function. The second amendment reconstitutes the sitting Board of Tax Assessors as a Board of Appeals and establishes a new appointive position of Tax Assessor effective July 1, 2000. He further advises that the Town Administrator will appoint the Tax Assessor, who will appear before the Board of Appeals.

Under the Code of Ethics, a public official or employee may not have an interest or engage in any employment or professional activity that is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest. See R.I. Gen. Law §§ 36-14-5(a) and 7(a). It further provides that, for a period of one year after a person has officially terminated his or her position with any state or municipal agency, that person shall not appear before the state or municipal agency on which the person had served. R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(e)(1) and 5(e)(4). Pursuant to Commission Regulation 5006, no elected or appointed official may accept any appointment by the body of which he or she is a member, to any position which carries with it any financial benefit or remuneration while a member of the body and for a period of one year after termination of membership on said body, unless the Ethics Commission shall give its approval of such appointment. Regulation 5006 further provides that the Commission shall not grant such approval unless it “is satisfied that denial of such employment or position would create a substantial hardship for the body, board, or municipality.”

The Commission concludes that the elected Treasurer/Tax Collector may be appointed to the new position of Tax Collector given that a recent amendment to the Town Charter, approved by the electorate, divided the responsibilities of her current position into two new positions. No violation of the Code of Ethics would occur if the Town Administrator appoints the Treasurer/Tax Collector to the new position effective July 1, 2000. Further, the petitioner advises that a current member of the Board of Tax Assessors wishes to seek appointment to the new position of Tax Assessor. Such an appointment, in and of itself, would not run afoul of Regulation 5006 since the Town Administrator, and not the Board of Tax Assessors reconstituted as a Board of Appeals, is the appointing authority for that position.

However, Section 5(e) of the Code prohibits a member of the Board of Tax Assessors from appearing before his or her former Board for a period of one-year following his or her official severance from his position on the Board. Given that the Board of Appeals would be the individual’s former Board, reconstituted in name and function alone, his or her appearance before same would violate R.I. Gen. Laws §§ 36-14-5(e)(1) and 5(e)(4). Accordingly, a member of the current Board of Tax Assessors may not be appointed to the new position of Tax Assessor.

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-5(e)
36-14-7(a)
36-14-5006

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-104
99-101
99-94
99-76
99-60
98-153
98-98
98-83
97-138
97-125
97-117
97-26
97-27
97-17
96-85
96-79
94-37

Keywords:

Appointing authority
Revolving door