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State ethics panel allows Schmitt to vote on issues with Partington clients

October 9, 2013

PROVIDENCE — Citing changed circumstances, the state Ethics Commission says Cumberland Town Councilman Scott Schmitt may participate and vote after all in matters where attorney Scott Partington, a former council president, represents clients.

Last February, the commission issued the opposite opinion, saying Schmitt must recuse himself in matters involving Partington because Partington’s law office rents space in a building that was owned at the time by ARS Holdings, a company owned by Schmitt and his wife.

That meant, the commission said, that there was a “business relationship” between Schmitt and Partington.

Since that time, however, and after being forced to recuse from at least four council votes, Schmitt said he transferred full ownership of the business to his wife.

That, the commission staff said in an opinion that was upheld on a 5-1 vote, was enough distance between Schmitt and Partington to allow the councilman to vote on issues Partington brings to the council.

“While the business associate relationship between (Schmitt’s wife) and Mr. Partington remains intact, by virtue of their landlord/tenant relationship,” says the opinion written by senior staff attorney Katherine
D’Arezzo, “the Code of Ethics does not prohibit (Schmitt) from taking an
official action that impacts his spouse’s business associates, unless that
action is likely to have a corresponding financial impact upon the
spouse.”

Dr. Robert Salk, the lone no vote on the commission, argued that it would.
Revenue accrued by Schmitt’s wife’s real estate firm goes to benefit the
family income, Salk asserted.

Other commission members felt there was enough separation between the two,
particularly considering there was a lease agreement between ASA and
Partington’s law firm, that any vote Schmitt takes would not affect the
landlord/tenant relationship.

Schmitt told the commission that on one of the key votes from which he
recused himself, a zoning change for a Blackstone Valley Prep school in
Valley Falls, he would have voted against the side Partington represented.

 

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