RI State Report: Fox Investigated, Gag Orders + More

Saturday, September 28, 2013


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This week’s State Report centers on the Rhode Island Ethics Commission’s decision to authorize an investigation into a complaint filed against House Speaker Gordon Fox that he violated ethics rules. Additionally, we’ll look at a gag order that Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine has placed on the Department of Education. Also on the docket: an update on the East Bay Bridge toll and the prospect that Ken Block may switch political parties. Lastly, we look at a new poll that Treasurer Gina Raimondo has launched to test her favorability against expected gubernatorial opponent Mayor Angel Taveras.

Ethics Commission Votes to Investigate House Speaker Fox; Lawyer Grammit Expects Decision in 90 Days

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission voted on Tuesday to authorize an investigation into an allegation made against House Speaker Gordon Fox that he violated ethics rules by not reporting income that he earned from legal work for the Providence Economic Development Partnership (PEDP) from 2005 to 2009.

Today’s vote was cast solely to determine whether the matter should be pursued and does not reflect the commission's determination of the merits of the complaint, Jason Grammit, attorney for the commission told GoLocal.

Grammit went on to say that although a typical ethics investigation can take up to 180 days, he expects the Fox investigation to be finished much sooner. Due to the nature of the complaint, the investigation should take roughly 90 days, Grammit told GoLocal.

According to Fox’s answer to the complaint submitted at this morning’s hearing, the Speaker did list PEDP earnings as a source of income during his years of contract work.

“PEDP contracted with Mr. Fox in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Mr. Fox listed PEDP as a source of income on his 2010, 2011 and 2012 Yearly Financial Statements filed with the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. Following the end of 2012 Mr. Fox has performed no work for PEDP,” the answer to the complaint stated.

As for the years addressed in the complaint, Fox arguesd that he did not list PEDP earnings because he was hired by the PEDP's private attorney and not by the agency itself. "He did not list PEDP because he believed that he did not need to list a state or municipal agency on the Yearly Financial Statements unless he received income from the agency," Fox's answer explained.

If the complaint is deemed valid, Fox may be forced to amend his annual financial statements between 2005 and 2009 to reflect his PEDP earnings—a point which Fox agreed to in his respondent's answer.

Former Providence resident Judith Reilly filed the complaint.

Mayor Fontaine Issues Gag Order on School Department

On Friday, GoLocal has confirmed that Woonsocket Mayor Leo Fontaine and the City’s Budget Commission have issued a gag order on the Department of Education mandating that they do not speak about the school department’s financial situation during the budget process.

"The school department is working in tandem with the city,” Woonsocket School Superintendent Giovanna Donoyan told GoLocal. “The fiscal health of the city is to everyone's benefit. The school department, and the city want, from the city to the state to the federal level, to make sure the numbers are credible."

Mayor Leo Fontaine told GoLocal that the order is only in place because the budget commission and auditors must first check the school department’s finances to assure that there are no discrepancies.

“Because the budget commission has final say over all financial matters, I believe they just wanted to review anything before it goes out to ensure its accuracy and to avoid any misinformation being circulated. If you research the history over the last few years, there were instances where the former school Superintendent and business manager issued budgetary estimates indicating that they had budget surpluses only to have the auditors find significant deficits. The current effort is only ensure that any numbers released are accurate so as not to create a similar situation,” Fontaine told GoLocal.

Despite Fontaine’s assertion, his mayoral opponent and current State Representative Lisa Baldelli-Hunt has a different take on the gag order.

“The Mayor and City Council President John Ward have been laying the city’s problems solely on the school department when in reality the school department has been fiscally responsible and has run a tight ship,” added Baldelli-Hunt.

As for why Fontaine doesn’t want constituents to know that the school department has balanced it budget, Baldelli-Hunt argues that the Mayor’s municipal deficit is the primary reason.

“He looks foolish,” Baldelli-Hunt told GoLocal. “The mayor is falsely blaming the school department and doesn’t want them to disclose their finances because they have a balanced budget.”

Additionally, Baldelli-Hunt told GoLocal that Fontaine might be trying to use the education surplus to balance his municipal deficit.

Stay tuned for more information as this story continues to develop.

East Bay Bridge Commission Holds First Meeting

The special legislative task panel tasked with reviewing the East Bay bridge toll held its first meeting on Thursday to discuss review the bridge toll and to examine the state’s aging infrastructure.

“This initial meeting was intended to frame the scope and structure of the commission’s mission,” Rep. Helio Melo (D-Dist. 64, East Providence), co-chair of the commission, told GoLocal. “We received a comprehensive presentation from our fiscal staff that was designed to give members and the public an overview of the transportation funding issue in terms of the current resources and needs so they have that foundation of information as they consider future options. This included a recap of the many efforts to study the issue in the past several years and recent initiatives undertaken as well as comments and questions from the members."

Since yesterday’s meeting was intended for organizational purposes, the commission’s next meeting will examine more specific details.

“After yesterday’s overview of the transportation issues in general, one of the next meetings will likely more specifically address the East Bay bridge issue,” Melo told GoLocal. “We look forward to hearing from the Turnpike and Bridge Authority, the Department of Transportation, affected interest groups and taking public testimony. We are also planning to have an expert on this issue bring us the national perspective with a more detailed discussion on what other states are doing.”

The commission’s next meeting should take place sometime in October, according to Melo.

Block Still Considering Running as a Republican

On Tuesday, GoLocal confirmed that gubernatorial candidate and founder of Rhode Island’s Moderate Party Ken Block is still contemplating whether to run as a Republican in 2014.

“Yes, Ken is considering running as a Republican,” Matthew Schweich, Policy Director for Block, told GoLocal.

When pressed about whether Block’s possible Republican run would spell the end of the Moderate Party, Schweich told GoLocal that the campaign did not have any additional comments at this time.

Block, a Barrington businessman, founded the Moderate Party of Rhode Island in 2009. He previously ran as the Moderate Party’s candidate in 2010.

Block, who declared his candidacy in May, is currently the only official candidate in the state’s gubernatorial race. Other expected candidates include Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who launched an exploratory committee for Governor earlier this month, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras.

Raimondo Launches a Gubernatorial Poll of Her Own

GoLocal learned on Wednesday that Rhode Island General Treasurer Gina Raimondo has launched a new poll to gauge public opinion surrounding her expected run for governor in 2014.

The poll asks participants questions about Raimondo and her likely opponent Providence Mayor Angel Taveras—primarily focusing on individuals’ responses to questions about the candidates’ perceived strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, it features numerous cross-tabulations of data and takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.

Interestingly, Raimondo’s newly commissioned poll comes one week after Taveras commissioned and released a poll showing that he possesses a dramatic 19 point lead over Raimondo in a hypothetical gubernatorial primary.

The poll, which was conducted by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, also found that Taveras leads Raimondo in key categories such as name recognition and likeability. Additionally, the poll shows that Taveras holds double-digit leads among men and women.

Look for Raimondo’s camp to release the poll results—which will likely provide a stark contrast to Taveras’ survey—in the upcoming days.


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