McGarry can vote in Dodge decisionVote set for Wed., Aug. 28
Town Councilor Sean McGarry does not have a conflict of interest if he participates in a council vote on Town Manager Nancy Dodge’s job contract, according to a Rhode Island Ethics Commission advisory opinion issued on Tuesday, Aug. 20.
The Town Council has been debating Dodge’s job performance since June 27, and it tabled a vote to renew her contract until McGarry sought an opinion from the Ethics Commission about a potential conflict because a firm he co-owns has contracts with the town of New Shoreham.
Now that the ethics issue has been resolved, the council can take a vote and McGarry can participate. The council scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday, Aug. 28 to take this vote.
McGarry questioned whether he could vote because he is co-owner of the town’s transfer station, which contracts with the town for its services. Dodge oversees the performance of contracts between the town and the transfer station. However, the ethics commission determined that this is not a conflict because Dodge and McGarry are not “business associates.”
“It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the Code of Ethics does not prohibit the Petitioner [McGarry], a member of the New Shoreham Town Council, a municipal elected position, from participation in the discussion and vote relative to the Town Manager’s employment contract, notwithstanding that the Town Manager oversees the performance of contracts between the Town and the Petitioner in his private capacity,” the Aug. 20 Ethics Commission advisory opinion said.
In order to explain why the Town and McGarry are not “business associates,” the advisory opinion referenced four previous advisory opinions of the Ethics Commission. In each of these opinions — from 1997, 2002, 2005 and 2008 — the commission found that towns or town councils are not considered “businesses” or “business associates.”
The advisory opinion said: “Therefore, assuming that there is no understanding or expectation that the Petitioner’s participation in the discussion and vote relative to the Town Manager’s contract is related or in any way tied to the oversight of BIRM’s services to the Town, the Petitioner’s participation in the discussion and vote relative to the Town Manager’s contract would not result in any financial impact to him, his business associate or any business by which he is employee.”
The advisory opinion, which was written by Ethics Commission Chair Ross Cheit, also said that McGarry, “must continue to recuse from participation in any Town Council discussion and voting relative to BIRM’s contracts with the Town and any other matters relating to the services that BIRM provides to the Town. However, the Petitioner is not required to recuse from Town Council matters that impact the Town Manager because neither the Town Manager nor the Town itself are ‘business associates’ of the Petitioner [McGarry].”
McGarry queried the Ethics Commission in a letter dated July 31, and an informal advisory opinion was issued to him on Aug. 15. On Aug. 20, the commission held a public meeting in Providence, R.I., and issued its formal advisory opinion that day. McGarry confirmed that he attended the Aug. 20 Ethics Commission meeting.