Letter: Conflict of interest? Most assuredly!
To the editor:
The Barrington Town Council has now before it, a most serious case regarding a conflict of interest, based on the R.I. General Laws and the Barrington Town Charter.
This unfortunately occurred at the financial town meeting where, the husband of an elected member of the school committee, gained a seat on the committee on appropriations. Only one with a strictly partisan lens or perhaps an absence of any integrity in forming a judgment around facts could dispute this.
The R.I.G.L Code of Ethics § 36-14-1 Declaration of policy states in part, “It is the policy of the state of Rhode Island that public officials and employees must adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct, respect the public trust and the rights of all persons, be open, accountable, responsive, avoid the appearance of impropriety”….
And the Barrington Town Charter regarding the committee on appropriations states in part, “The Committee on Appropriations shall review the detailed budgets of the Council and School Committee and shall meet with those bodies and/or with the town manager and the school superintendent as often as is necessary to develop a recommended consolidated tentative town budget”…
A few questions emerge for the town council around this new “husband and wife arrangement”? How could residents view this as anything other than the “appearance of impropriety?” How are the “highest standards of ethical conduct to occur?” And how can a committee on appropriations member meet with the committee his wife is on and offer advice and form a consolidated budget with other committee on appropriations members in an unbiased fashion?
One cannot “square this circle.”
I call on the town council, to seek from both the town solicitor and the state’s ethics commission a formal ruling. I believe the only “fair-minded” solution to this dilemma is the resignation of either one or the other parties and the town council appointing the next-highest vote getter from the financial town meeting.
If you’ve lived in Rhode Island for any length of time, you know its sordid history on ethics in the political realm. Nothing less than the integrity of our town finances and taxpayer dollars are at stake.