Roger Williams University Paid Elorza to Teach a Cancelled Class

Monday, November 02, 2015


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Right in the thick of the highly contentious mayoral campaign in 2014, then Roger Williams University Law School Professor, and candidate for Mayor Jorge Elorza was scheduled to teach one class at the University during the fall semester.

It would have been an interesting dynamic given the fact that he found himself in smack in the middle of competitive Democratic mayoral primary against (at first) Brett Smiley and Michael Solomon and then an equally scrappy general election against former Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci.

According to Rhode Island ethics filings, the non-profit Roger Williams University paid Elorza for teach a class that did not take place. Roger Williams University is in the midst of a major expansion in Providence, moving its law school to the city and moving to the former 38 Studios building. 

Of the private colleges, universities, and hospitals in the City of Providence, Roger Williams is the only college not making a payment. Brown University pays about $4 million a year, of which $2.5 million is voluntary and about $1.5 million is in real estate and other taxes.  According to Evan England, Elorza's spokesperson, the City of Providence's Law Department claims there are no issues in which the city and Roger Williams interact -- thus no conflict.


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Elorza Tells One Story and Roger Williams Tells Another

England told GoLocal that Roger Williams cancelled the class shortly before the the students were to begin their coursework and classes. The school had already begun paying Elorza for the work, prior to its decision to cancel the class, and therefore simply continued to pay him for the work anyhow.

While he was paid for the work, the school and Elorza basically had an agreement that he would later make it up to the school.

"While Mayor Elorza remains on an unpaid leave of absence from Roger Williams, he will teach a single class during the 2016-2017 academic year with no additional compensation," said England.

England said he wasn't sure why the class was cancelled. England declined to say how much Elorza was paid by the University in advance for his class being cancelled.

However, the school's Director of Public Affairs, Brian Clark, tells the story differently. Clark said that it was Elorza who requested he be placed on leave, and that request was granted.

"Per policy at Roger Williams University School of Law, faculty members can request a leave of absence for personal or professional reasons," Clark wrote in an email to Golocal.

"Tenured RWU Law faculty member Jorge Elorza requested and was granted a leave of absence for the Fall 2014 semester in accordance with that policy. He did not teach during that semester. Roger Williams University and the School of Law consider more detailed personnel matters to be confidential."

In any event, Elorza will be teaching a class one semester, while he's still the sitting Mayor of the city. It is expected to take place sometime during the 2016-2017 school year at Roger Williams Law School. England said that the Mayor will not be paid by the school since he's already been compensated for the work during the 2014 year.

"You can imagine there are going to be somewhere between 30-40 law students who are excited to have the opportunity to take a class taught by a sitting mayor," England said during a phone interview on Friday evening.


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Roger Williams' Expansion

All of this takes place against the backdrop of the University planning a massive expansion into the capital city next spring. To much fanfare and with much ceremony, Roger Williams University announced the expansion of its law school into Providence last December. 

"When the new space opens in May 2016, following a complete renovation, it will replace the University’s existing Metro Center at 150 Washington Street, enabling RWU Law to further enhance its outstanding experiential learning opportunities in the very hub of the state’s legal culture," the school said in its release back in December of last year. 

"With its close proximity to the court houses, government offices, community service organizations and private law firms, the site will help the law school fulfill its explicit guarantee that every qualified student is afforded a substantial clinical experience, gaining the practical, skill-building opportunities needed to graduate job-ready and prepared to thrive in their early careers."

The announcement took place at the location of the school's new building, which is located at One Empire Plaza, where the school plans to lease 76,566 square feet of space, from owner Berkely Investments Inc. Elorza, who by then was the Mayor-elect, attended the announcement.

England said that the Mayor's relationship with the University would have no bearing on the decisions that the administration would make on behalf of the city if and when the University had any business come before the city. England said that the administration didn't foresee any situations arising "in the near future" that could would raise questions of any conflicts of interest. 

And if a situation did arise where the school had business before the city?

"Of course the administration will not provide preferential treatment," England said.


Related Slideshow: Inauguration 2015: Ten Issues Elorza Can’t Hide From

Inauguration activities are underway for the new Mayor of Providence, Jorge Elorza.  

While the pomp, circumstance, and celebration take place of the next several days, here are the issues the new Mayor will have no choice but to soon have to deal with.  

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Staffing Costs

Elorza has announced a slew of hires to date -- including the position of Chief Operating Officer in addition to Chief of Staff, as well as two Deputy Chiefs of Staff.  Outgoing Mayor Taveras' former Director of Administration was the highest paid city official at $196,086 in total compensation before departing (but retaining a private contract with the city).  To date, Elorza has not responded to requests for salary information for his administration.  Once the budget is submitted he won't be able do hide.  

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One Time Fixes

The current Administration loaded up this current year's budget with one-time stop gap measures.  So while next year's budget gap is projected to be anywhere between $17 million and $24 million, Elorza's also got to factor in where the city will get the money -- roughly $7 million -- from the one time fixes in FY15 that won't be on the table in FY16.  

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Council Relations

When Elorza was elected, and announced his transition team, he didn't give likely council-President Luis Aponte heads up or prior notice. The council has two new faces in the way of Mary Kay Harris and Jo-Ann Ryan, but the remaining 13 seats are returning.  Will Elorza work in tandem with the council -- or will it be a more hands-off approach from the Mayor's office?  

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Body Camera Funding

Since Elorza was elected, the fallout from grand jury decisions Ferguson and New York has brought a new reality to cities -- both in protests and policing.  While law enforcement members said they would support the use of body cameras -- and some community members sided with them, while others did not -- the question of where the funding of both the technology, and manpower to oversee it would come from, given the current constraints of a force that is looking to get up to full complement. 

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195 Vision

Developments since election day have included the purchase and sales agreement for a dorm on 195 land -- and reaction from those who are opposed to tax breaks for such a project.  Will Elorza work in tandem with the 195 commission to articulate a vision for the future use of the land, or will it largely be dictated by outside interests?  And with minority contractors looking to be sure to be part of the process, there are more questions than answers at this point.  

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East Side Crime

East Side Crime:  In December, residents, and a City Councilman, flagged crime issues on the east side as and issue, and Elorza did not respond to request for comment.  Whether it was a seasonal aberration, or indicative of a long-term trend, the uptick of crime has residents concerned about the safety of the community.  

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Superman Building

Whether it be Citizens Bank or another bidder, the looming behemoth at 111 Westminster continues to need to be addressed.  High Rock Development failed in its attempts over the past two years to gain traction for apartments coupled with retails space.  Will Elorza play a driving role in determining the fate of the downtown anchor?  With the reconfiguring of Kennedy Plaza, whether or not the Superman building can find a tenant is an issue Elorza cannot hide from. 

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Blackstone Boulevard

The initial proposal for a sub-division of the Granofff property on Rochambeau and Blackstone Boulevard -- which faced vocal opposition from neighbors -- did not pass the City Planning Council.  But could the team of Granoff, Moses, and DeRentis, husband of Chief Operating Officer Brett Smiley, come back to the table for a new lot subdivision based on new lot allotments? If so, Elorza will have a major issue on his hand that he's been able to stay out of until now.  

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Labor Issues

Following an election that saw most of labor's support got to Cianci, labor issues -- including at teachers' contract -- is at the top of the list of things to deal with. "Right now one of my top priorities is to get a tentative agreement and subsequently a collective bargaining agreement that respects Providence teachers and the amazing work they do everyday," said Providence Teachers Union head Maribeth Calabro.  However, even labor leader Paul MacDonald said he sees bigger issues -- the council. "Can he get the support of the city council will be a bigger challenge for him than labor.  The big question for the Mayor is he willing to work with the Teachers, firefighters, hotel/bartenders and the big one the Laborers union 1033," said MacDonald in December. 

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Affordable Housing

During the campaign, Elorza's announcement that he would create a bonded $5 million revolving loan program to redevelop foreclosed and abandoned properties in Providence was met with questions from affordable housing advocates as to its impact both on the market, and neighborhood redevelopment.  

"There are lots of questions here.  I'm not sure it's been completely vetted for a long term strategy.  You can't just fix a house and sell it, and cross your fingers and hope it works," said SWAP's Carla DeStefano.  "What this program needs to do is work within the greater context of neighborhood revitalization, and incorporate best practices from other states, and our knowledge."  How Elorza will work with the affordable housing community to articulate his vision -- and succeed -- will be a major test. 


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