Elorza wants to empower city Ethics Commission that has never met

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Democratic mayoral candidate Jorge Elorza pledged Thursday to jumpstart Providence’s dormant Ethics Commission, a panel that has no members and has never met since it was created by city officials in late 2006.

Elorza’s proposal was part of a four-point plan for strengthening ethics in city government that also includes a refusal to accept campaign contributions from city employees, mandatory ethics training for all department heads and the development of a resident dashboard to monitor city affairs.

“Corruption held our city back for far too long,” Elorza said during an afternoon press conference in front of Providence City Hall. “It has cast a shadow over our efforts to assure the private sector and our residents that Providence is a good place for business and to start a life with a level playing field for all involved.”

Elorza is running in the general election for mayor against Republican Daniel Harrop and independent Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr., who served as mayor for parts of four decades between 1975 and 2002 but was twice forced to resign following felony convictions. On the campaign trail, both Elorza and Harrop regularly attack Cianci’s past.

“We have a storied history of corruption here in our city and those incidents of corruption are very well-documented in Mr. Cianci’s administration,” Elorza said. “I believe we need honest leadership for a new direction here in the city.”

Elorza pledged to appoint unpaid members of the city Ethics Commission within his first 30 days in office, eight years after the City Council and then-Mayor David Cicilline established a municipal ethics code. The law also called for the city to hire a municipal integrity officer, but that position has never been filled.

Former Common Cause executive director Phil West, who introduced Elorza at the press conference, said the commission never took shape under current Mayor Angel Taveras because the city’s “fiscal crisis was so severe that Myrth York and others” didn’t make it a priority. York was co-chairperson of Taveras’ transition team in 2010. She is also supporting Elorza for mayor.

Asked whether the city panel would have similar powers to the already-existing state Ethics Commission, Elorza said the goal would be to “provide oversight for every part of city administration,” but stopped short of explaining whether the panel would have the ability to issue penalties if a city employee is found in violation of the ethics code.

Elorza and Cianci clashed this week after Cianci acknowledged that he misspoke when he pledged to not accept campaign contributions during a candidate forum last month. Cianci, who has received around $18,000 in donations from city workers, said he will not accept those contributions only if he is elected mayor.

The election is Nov. 4.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Twitter: @danmcgowan

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