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Gordon Fox Denies Conflict of Interest in Zoning Board Request

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Gordon Fox believes his role as an attorney and his role as Speaker of the House aren't in conflict in his representation of Kartabar Restaurant.

As Speaker of the House of Representatives, Gordon Fox is one of the most powerful and influential political figures in Rhode Island.

In his day job as an attorney in Providence, however, Fox sometimes has to represent clients who need him to deal directly with those in power on city boards and offices.

It’s the type of association that could lead some to wonder if there is a conflict of interest between Fox’s dual roles as a State Representative and as an attorney but, at least in the case of an entertainment license renewal for a Thayer Street based- restaurant, the Providence Democrat says there’s no need for concern.

In a motion to the Providence Board of Licenses issued at the end of December of last year, Fox asked for an extension of a special use permit issued to Kartabar Restaurant & Lounge, located at 284 Thayer Street.

The motion was meant for the restaurant to continue providing entertainment at its establishment while the Zoning Board scheduled a review to decide whether or not to permanently allow the venue to have an entertainment license after initially granting it on a one-year probationary basis.

It was a typical motion that wouldn’t raise an eyebrow if filed by most attorneys but anytime the Speaker of the House makes an official legal request, it carries a special significance, even if said Speaker would prefer to keep his work life and life as an elected official separate.

Further, Fox said, there are specific rules of conduct in place which allow him to perform his duties as an attorney without running afoul of his responsibilities as a member of the General Assembly.

“Attorneys are governed by the RI Professional Conduct Rules, State Officials are governed by State Code of Ethics,” Fox said Monday. “These are very specific rules and neither of these prohibits me from representing clients in front of this body. The state code of ethics that governs employees and officials does not prohibit me from representing private clients in front of municipal boards.”

Fox says he believes that when it comes time for his client’s hearing, those on the Zoning Board will not view him as Gordon Fox, Speaker of the House but simply as they would view any attorney representing any client.

The Case At Hand

At issue is the granting of a permanent entertainment license for Kartabar but the bigger topic at hand may be the evolution of Thayer Street.

Once a hotspot for college kids from Brown, RISD and Johnson and Wales, Thayer Street has changed in recent years to a different type of social scene and the addition of live music and entertainment at the establishment that bills itself as a “Mediterranean Bistro” was introduced on a trial basis to see what, if any, impact it would have on neighbors and surrounding businesses.

The worry was that it might lead to a “club” type atmosphere but, so far, neighbors say they haven’t seen much of an impact or change since the license was issued in December of 2011.

“We haven’t had an issue with Kartabar having their entertainment license,” said College Hill Neighborhood Association (CHNA) President Allison Spooner. “We really haven’t noticed a change, there really hasn’t been an impact that we’ve noticed since they’ve gotten their entertainment license per se. I think they’ve been extremely responsible as far as the level of noise and their traffic, kind of how it interacts with the rest of the businesses so honestly we haven’t had any issue with it.”

No Complaints So Far

Spooner says that, so far, the CHNA hasn’t received any complaints about Kartabar though her organization hasn’t formally adopted a position as to whether or not they would endorse the restaurant receiving its license on a permanent basis.

“We realize that there were restrictions put in place to make sure there was a balance between their business as well as just the quality of life on Thayer Street as far as residents go. We’re still kind of looking into it as a board,” she said. “We haven’t sent a letter in support or opposition at this point. That’s something that’s still being reviewed.”

Spooner says that she has “heard nothing outside of positive comments about Kartabar” personally and that “nothing’s been brought to the attention of the board,” but the fate of the establishment’s license will remain in the air until next week’s Zoning Board meeting.

Fox Says He Won’t Be Treated Different

It seems unlikely the restaurant’s request will be denied as a Zoning Board representative reported Monday that they had yet to receive any complaints about the establishment but, in the meantime, Fox says he’s focused on doing his duties as an attorney representing his clients.

And he doesn’t believe he’ll receive any special treatment just because of his position as Speaker of the House.

“I expect that the members of the board would act in a professional manner with full allegiance to their duties to the city and the citizens of Providence,” he said. “I would expect that they are viewing me as attorney Gordon Fox only, as well they should be.”

Fox wouldn’t comment as to why he filed the motion for Kartabar or why he feels there had been no formal scheduling date for the hearing from Zoning.

He also would not answer when asked if there were other instances of clients he represents that could be potential conflicts of interest between his dual roles but says he has an obligation to ensure such conflicts don’t arise.

“It would be inappropriate to discuss [specific clients], as it is covered by attorney client privilege but as any attorney and any other government official it my duty to avoid any conflict of interest,” he said.


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WHAT'S GOlOCAL'S problem w/Fox? constant criticism..sounds personal..not the reporter but the owner...give it a break fenton

Comment #1 by frank bentley on 2013 01 29

You have to be kidding, Fox is a walking conflict of interest. The BS on code of ethics for lawyers and politicians stops these guys from conflict is just wrong.
Just because he says he won't do anything wrong does not make it right. One can't plead on both sides of the argument as unbiased. And Fox doesn't want to be treated different, then get out of the GA.

Comment #2 by Gary Arnold on 2013 01 29

Gordon Fox is one big conflict of interest,. You have to be very naive or very stupid to think his Speaker of the House position won’t affect how people see him...Of course it does...People know Fox is the most powerful man in the state and he himself is very foolish to say he wants to be treated the same as everyone else. That won't happen. That's like saying Barack Obama will be treated the same after he is no longer president than before he became president. NOT SO! Human nature is such that we see people as they are ---with their power--how it can help us---And this is what this greedy self serving politician used to help himself…the same sex marriage issue never should have been the first agenda item in the 2013 session. That is a conflict of interest for him to vote on an issue with direct benefit when he should have had the first order of business a bill on joblessness or unemployment or on eliminating taxes that will hurt small business people and consumers like the pet grooming tax that would have done nothing significant in the budget and never should have been passed. This same sex marriage topic is not crucial –getting unemployment below double digits-(10.2 now) is crucial. Helping the people in Tiverton not pay the toll on the Sakonnet Bridge is crucial. Dealing with high property taxes that RI people are saddled with, is crucial…
Gordon Fox will deny any conflict of interest just like he will deny involvement in the 38 studios debacle, the International Institute for Sport where it was he who gave out the grant money and he will deny the past fundraising incident at his pal, Michael Corso’s place when he said he forgot to report it…the same Michael Corso who led people to believe he had the right to sell tax credits in the 38 Studios fiasco that this devious lawyer tried to pull the stunt saying he had them and could sell them….
Fox’s first agenda item for 2013 should have been telling the people of RI that he will fight for them not to pay the $100 million debt left to them when Curt Schilling’s company went bankrupt. And he should have admitted that he was part of that deal like his pals, Keith Stokes, Michael Curso, other GA members and Carcieri to name a few….

Comment #3 by dis gusted on 2013 01 29

never said it wasn't conflict, am not kidding,certainly not stupid, not naive... I get it but this site repeatedly goes after FOX..best part he won despite sniper Fenton..with that being said..why doesn't GoLo do an article on Rep John Desimone & his representation of the night clubs where people get shot, killed, then goes to state house & votes on various legislation? or Mattiello, or countless others...or Arthur Corvese an eye doctoe who votes on matters related to medical reimbursement, or Charlene Lima who votes on teacher related matters while employed by Prov school dept, or Anastasia Williams who votes on Prov leg as an employee of city...and btw its Mike Corso..speaking of stupid.Ms dis-gusted

Comment #4 by frank bentley on 2013 01 29

i deny that fox even has the capacity to understand a conflict of interest. i also deny that he is human, fox is just 1 of many problems with this worthless joke of a state

Comment #5 by steven richard on 2013 01 29

How is shedding light on misconduct "GOING AFTER FOX?"

Comment #6 by Ned Rivers on 2013 01 29

Maybe you never heard it. Bentley, but the way the GA goes is based on the Speaker and his ways...or you as bent as you seem to be with your comments.
The person at the TOP is Fox. He is the person in charge ..everything and I mean everything, goes through him...
I am not saying to stop investigating the others...there should be transparency for all who serve the public in the GA but all media has the right to go after the guy in top...
You are certainly naive to complain this site goes after Fox...It goes after any politician or person in leadership who has the power to sway opinion and if you don't think that is true of Fox then you have no idea of what goes on in the state house.
And by the way, I made a computer keyboard mistake with a "u" instead of the "o" in Michael Corso's name but you don't have to be so arrogant and call me a name.
That shows you are of low class and that does nothing for your credibility. Instead of going after another commentator, you should be going after the self serving politicians in there making their own deals like Fox. He is and always will be a target. When he ran for office and became Speaker, this gave the media the right to go after him. That's how it goes. Fox will always get special treatment for the power he holds in this state. And until RI puts in "term limits" for politicians, they will be held accountable at least on sites like golocalprov for people to be aware of

Comment #7 by dis gusted on 2013 01 29

That's what politicians do best when the finbger is pointed at them...deny, deny, deny. Go figure

Comment #8 by Mark St. Pierre on 2013 01 29

didnt fox do closings for the providence loan fund?

is that a conflict?

Comment #9 by jon paycheck on 2013 01 29

I think whoever wrote this story needs to get their facts straight. Based upon the gist of the story, it appears Fox petitioned the ZONING BOARD for an extension of the special use permit, not the Board of Licenses! Because if it were the License Board there would be a direct conflict of interest in that Mr. Fox was a long time member of that board. Either way, it appears GoLocal needs to do some fact checking or better editing.
Regarding the merits of many of the comments about Mr. Fox's potential conflict of interest, let's just say he's probably the most ethically challenged elected official we've seen in a long time. Wouldn't acknowledge the most apparent of all conflicts if it bit him in his you know where. Just one more arrogant politician.

Comment #10 by Harold Stassen on 2013 01 29

The entire construct of the Providence City Council is based on conflict. Few (if any) of the councillors seem to even pretend to represent the interests of the citizen/taxpayers. Many are directly employed by unions who transact business with the city; others are engaged in personal injury law or other positions often adversarial to the resident's interests. Property axes are 50% higher than the lowest extreme of reason, the schools are a travesty, cars are taxed at 7% of value per year (a car loan is 4%) and these people think they are doing a good job.

If General Assembly person(s) went to jail for denying citizens their "honest services", then perhaps a large transport bus might take the entire Providence City Council down to the ACI en masse.

Comment #11 by Passthe Rock on 2013 01 29

low class? wow..u r sicker than I heard

Comment #12 by frank bentley on 2013 01 30

yes you are low class..if you saw the first comment, the name Corso was not misspelled in a multiutude of usages -only once but you took it upon yuoureself to call someone "stupid" and that's low class...
The purpose of the blog is not to criticize writers but to show your viewpoint on the issue..
Apparently you are the sick one for again calling an opinion writer an insulting name....

Comment #13 by dis gusted on 2013 01 30

What are the specific rules that Fox alludes to in the article? He says this:

Fox said, there are specific rules of conduct in place which allow him to perform his duties as an attorney without running afoul of his responsibilities as a member of the General Assembly.
Notice he doesn't mention his title as Speaker of the House...That is so much more in meaning than simply saying he's a member of the GA..and boy does he know it! lol

He may know them but I bet the people he does business with, see him as their ticket to a good deal!

Comment #14 by ella mentry on 2013 01 30

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