New Questions Surface in Solomon Ethics Filings

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


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Revelations stemming from GoLocal's investigation into Providence City Council President and mayoral candidate Michael Solomon's ethics filings have raised new questions about the reporting, and whether the state's Ethics Commission has adequate oversight capabilities - and amongst political circles, whether the pattern of non-disclosure by Solomon will have an impact on the 2014 election.

"[The story on Tuesday] left me scratching my head about how Michael Solomon could have failed--year after year--to report overdue loans with a balance of $454,000 to a city agency. He clearly acknowledged the obligation to Jim Hummel, but I don't see New City Conrad LLC listed under Solomon's business ownership interests in any of the years he was required to disclose," said H. Philip West Jr., former Executive Director of Common Cause Rhode Island, who is a declared supporter of Democratic opponent Jorge Eloza.

West, who stated he was not speaking on behalf of Common Cause or Elorza, continued, "Clearly the Providence Economic Development Partnership (PEDP) is part of the City of Providence. Year after year, Michael Solomon saw the same question on his financial disclosure form: Did he hold an interest (greater than 10% or $5,000) in any business? If so, did that business do more than $250 worth of business with any agency where he exercised legislative control? If so, he was obligated to name his business and the municipal agency. For whatever reasons, it looks like he decided not to disclose either New Conrad City LLC or its loan from PEDP."

"If he was in doubt about his obligation to disclose, he could have asked for an advisory opinion. As I search the Ethics Commission's website, I see no indication that he ever asked for an advisory," said West.  "Financial disclosure can be a powerful deterrent to conflicts of interest, but only if members of the public know the financial obligations of public officials. Whether of not Michael Solomon is making a good faith effort to pay off the PEDP loan, I think he had a legal obligation to report. I don't see New City Conrad LLC listed on any of his ethics forms. "

Ethics Questions Resurface

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Michael Solomon

Former Providence resident and whistleblower Judith Reilly told GoLocal that she had broached the issue of incomplete information contained in Solomon's reports back in 2010 with the Ethics Commission.  In emails provided to GoLocal, Reilly's communications were as follows, following the discovery that Solomon had omitted information.

"It seems to me that logical follow-up would be for your office to contact Mr. Solomon immediately and direct him to rectify the situation by supplying a list of his real estate holdings (with addresses or legal descriptions) within a few business days. Please advise what steps you determine are appropriate and when you will be taking them," wrote Reilly to the Commission in December 2011.

"Another logical follow-up would be to revise your procedures to check to make sure addresses or legal descriptions are provided in answer to question #7. Performing such a check would add about 1 second to your process of verifying that "all 16 questions are answered and that the form is signed and notarized." If you find that in consequence you are spending time following up with public officials who have omitted the addresses, perhaps you could revise your form and/or instructions to stress the importance of supplying that information," Reilly continued.

Solomon ultimately provided an amended ethics report in 2012,  for years 2009 through 2011.

Now, regarding the recent revelation that several years in Solomon's ethics filings contained incorrect -- and unamended -- information for the Conrad Building holdings, the Ethics Commission responded with the following statement.

"The Commission considers financial disclosure amendments on a case by case basis, trying to further the twin goals of encouraging complete and accurate initial filings, while not discouraging filers from voluntarily correcting any inadvertent errors that may have been made in past filings," said Jason Gramitt, Staff Attorney for the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. "Although we encourage amendments, we reserve the right to investigate and penalize any filer who has intentionally omitted required information."

Reilly, however, said she had little faith in the Commision's authority

"Quite frankly, I think the Ethic's Commission's pretty useless," said Reilly.  "The only time when they issue a rule or fine usually comes on the heels of criminal investigation."

Role in Campaign

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As for the new information unveiled about Solomon, both pundits -- and opponents -- weighed in as to its potential impact on the face.  

"Voters always claim to have concerns about ethics violations, but there is little in Rhode politics that suggests that many changes in votes are driver by ethics violations alone," said veteran political pollster Victor Profughi.  "However, in primaries, where only a small slice of the electorate actually takes part it certainly is possible that ethics violations could help tip some votes, especially on the East Side of Providence.  I think that a continuation of multiple accusations will probably eventually begin to impact even primary voters who normally probably don't pay a lot of attention to this type of thing."

Rhode Island College Professor of Communications Val Endress spoke to the issues in play in the campaigns.

"Without a doubt, different elections call for different leadership traits.  For the 2014 mayoral race, citizens of Providence most likely will be looking for leader who can balance the budget and lead the city toward economic recovery.  It will take someone who can exercise discipline, restraint, sacrifice while in office, and  do so with transparency," said Endress.  "Whether intentional or unintentional, providing misinformation in an ethics report does little to gain voter's trust and such transgressions are likely to provide ample negative campaign fodder for Soloman's opponents."

Endress continued, "Solomon's opponents will surely capitalize on his transgressions, much in the same way that Buddy Cianci's record will receive additional scrutiny and attack.  These charges don't easily lend themselves to sound bites, so we're likely to see opponents attack Soloman's record in candidate forums and debates rather than in political ads."

Moving Forward

"I don't think it is so much an ethics issue (everybody knows he runs Cozy Caterers)  as a competency issue. He wants to run the state's largest city, but can't do the proper paperwork to run a small business," said Republican candidate Dr. Daniel Harrop.  "Now I could take pity on him and blame instead incompetant government officials who make running any small business a paperwork nightmare (and what is my medical practice, after all, but a small business) but then, as President of the City Council he has to take some responsibility for a system that requires multiple layers of redundant paperwork.

Democratic opponent Jorge Elorza hit out at Solomon as well.  

"Michael Solomon's business practices and dealings with the City have long raised questions about his ethics, transparency, and ability to administrate City Hall," said Elorza.  "From his outstanding PEDP loan to the building permit that was held back and then suddenly released to the numerous health code violations his businesses have received to these ethics filings – it seems like there's always another question to ask. Bottom line, I don't see how he could justify collecting a paycheck from our taxpayers as Mayor when he owes them both money and answers."

"There are consequences to a race that is becoming increasingly defined by negative campaigning:  In an atmosphere in which an ethics charge has become a commonplace political weapon, it's easy for voters to become increasingly cynical," said RIC's Endress. "Instead of looking to the candidate with the most compelling vision for Providence, they may need to choose the last candidate standing in this rough and tumble battle dominated by negative campaigning."


Related Slideshow: Questions Michael Solomon Needs to Answer to be Providence’s Next Mayor

To be the next Mayor of the City of Providence - Michael Solomon is going to need to answer some important questions about his record, his experience and his vision for Providence.

Solomon need to win a three-way primary against Brett Smiley and Jorge Elorza. If successful in the Democratic primary, then he will face GOP candidate Dan Harrop, independent Lorne Adrain, and the 800-pound gorilla -- Buddy Cianci.

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Staff Turnover

Since Solomon has announced his candidacy for Mayor, he has had three campaign managers and a plethora of political consultants have walked away.

Solomon received kudos when he tapped former Taveras consultant/staffer and former GoLocalProv MINDSETTER™ Matt Jerzyk, but Jerzyk left the campaign as a paid consultant. Rumors continue to swirl as to whether he still supports Solomon. 

It will be hard to convince voters that he can build a strong management team which all the chaos on the campaign.

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PEDP Questions

Big Questions About Solomon's Role with PEDP

Michael Solomon has loaned his campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars to run for Mayor while he owes the federally investigated Providence Economic Development Partnershipww (PEDP) in excess of $400,000 on a loan for the Conrad building that has received numerous extensions and was given in 1988.  

As GoLocal first reported in 2011, 

"Twenty-five percent of the small business loans given by Providence’s economic development program are at least 90 days past-due, leaving the city on the hook for more than $3.3 million, GoLocalProv has learned.

The Providence Economic Development Partnership (PEDP), an initiative that includes 16 small business owners or politicians and is chaired by Mayor Angel Taveras, is currently stuck with a tab of $3,358,637.67 in delinquent loans, according to Joshua Teverow, the lawyer who represents the PEDP."

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Cianci Factor

Can Solomon Stand Up to Cianci?

Since Cianci announced for Mayor two things have happened: 1) Solomon has been invisible 2) Brett Smiley has proverbially punched Cianci in the nose.

Most bizarre is that while Smiley has had surrogates like former Projo political columnists Charlie Bakst attack Cianci, Solomon, who trumpets having scored massive public endorsements, has seen none of those endorsements raise the question if it is a good idea that a two time felon be re-elected Mayor of Providence.

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Pothole Factor

Solomon Owns Every Pothole in Providence

Solomon claims to be the architect of the City of Providence's economic recovery. He claims he partnered with Angel Taveras to clean up the economic mess left by former Mayor David Cicilline. 

Like Taveras, Solomon will also have to explain the performance of the Providence Schools, crime, graffiti, and the horrific condition of Providence Streets.

It Solomon couldn't create a strategy for filling potholes, should he get a promotion to Mayor?

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Biz Experience

Solomon Claims Business Experience

One of Solomon's claims is that he is a successful businessperson.  His official bio says, "he is a local business owner—he is the proprietor of the popular and successful Wes’ Rib House in Olneyville, as well as Cozy Catering. He is a member of the Olneyville Business Association as well as the Knights of Columbus, the Lions Club, and the Chamber of Commerce."

The business may be built in glass. His Cozy Catering has been hit with more than a dozen health code violations - one being rodent droppings (see violations HERE).

This coupled with his failure to pay repay his PEDP loan undermine his claim to be a competent business leader.

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Old School

Background - Political Family

Solomon comes from an old school Democratic machine family. His father, Anthony Solomon served as General Treasurer and in the legislature of Rhode Island for more than two decades. Solomon's political career ended when he ran for Governor and won a venom dripping primary against then Warwick Mayor and now Projo lobbyist Joe Walsh. The senior Solomon then was beaten in the General Election by then Cranston Mayor Ed DiPrete.

Each week for the next six weeks - GoLocal will look at the key questions each Mayoral candidates need to answer to win the Capitol City's top spot.


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