Advisory opinions are interpretations of the Rhode Island Code of Ethics. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-11 and Commission Regulation 1024, public officials and employees may request specific guidance from the Commission about a particular circumstance through the advisory opinion process. Any advisory opinion rendered by the Commission, until amended or revoked by a majority of the Commission, shall be binding on the Commission in any subsequent proceeding concerning the person or entity who requested the opinion and who acted in reliance on it in good faith, unless material facts were omitted or misstated in the request for the opinion. Additionally, advisory opinions are based upon the representations made by, or on behalf of, the person or entity requesting the opinion, and are not the result of adversarial or investigative proceedings.
How to Request an Advisory Opinion
If you are an elected or appointed public official of state or local government, or if you are a public employee of state or local government, you may request advice from the Ethics Commission. If you believe you may face a real or potential conflict of interest, the time to request an advisory opinion is before you take any official action.
A person or entity subject to the Code of Ethics must write a letter to the Commission requesting an advisory opinion. The letter should contain a complete statement of the facts. You may write a paragraph or several pages depending on your particular circumstances. You should include:
Your name and official position.
Briefly, the name, jurisdiction and powers of your agency, commission, or office.
The nature of the potential conflict.
A summary of relevant facts.
Any time constraints.
The Commission will send you a letter confirming receipt of your request. All hearings involving advisory opinions are open public hearings. Sometime prior to the hearing in which your request will be heard, you will receive a draft recommendation prepared by a staff attorney. Persons requesting advisory opinions are encouraged to attend the public hearing on their request as factual questions may arise that require the requestor’s presence. At the hearing, the Commission will consider both the draft recommendation and comments or concerns submitted by the requesting party. The Commissioners may also ask questions to clarify any relevant facts.
The Commission will adopt an advisory opinion by a vote of at least 5 of the 9 members. You will receive a written copy. This opinion and your written request are public records.
All advisory opinions are "binding" on the Commission. That means that if you abide by the opinion in good faith, and if you did not misstate or omit material facts in your request for the opinion, you cannot be held in violation of the Code of Ethics in any subsequent proceeding concerning your actions.
For more information see R.I. Gen. Laws 36-14-11 and Rhode Island Ethics Commission Regulation 1024, or call the Commission at 222-3790 (V/TT).