Elorza names ethics panel, 9 years after its creation

City Council president says commission won't be a 'toothless tiger'

WPRI/Dan McGowan

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Following through on a campaign pledge, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza on Wednesday announced his appointees to the city’s Ethics Commission, a panel that was created in 2006 but has never met.

The volunteer commission will include Elsa Dure, the chief of policy and expansion for Rhode Island Mayoral Academies; Ethan Gyles, an environmental engineer who ran for state representative last year; and Zack Mezera, the executive director of the Providence Student Union, a youth activist group.

Three other members were appointed by City Council President Luis Aponte. They are: Jose Batista, president of the R.I. Latino PAC; Vanessa Crum, an attorney and administrator with the R.I. Department of Transportation; and Kas DeCarvalho, an attorney with Panone Lopes Deveraux and West.

“Ethics, integrity and transparency are essential components of an effective government,” Elorza said in a prepared statement. “Making City Hall as open and transparent as possible was a central theme of my campaign, and it is of vital importance to my administration.”

Elorza also nominated assistant city solicitor Kathryn Sabatini as Providence’s municipal integrity officer. In addition to her responsibilities in the solicitor’s office, Sabatini will be tasked with ensuring city employees comply with the code of ethics. The Ethics Commission will have the ability to ask her to investigate employees accused of wrongdoing.

Sabatini’s appointment must first be approved by the City Council.

It’s still unclear why the Providence Ethics Commission never had members or held meetings during the final years of former Mayor David Cicilline’s administration. Former Common Cause executive director Phil West said in October that the panel wasn’t activated between 2011 and 2014, when Angel Taveras was mayor, because the city’s “fiscal crisis was so severe that Myrth York and others” didn’t make it a priority. York was a co-chair of the Taveras transition team.

While the commission will be tasked with providing guidance on the city’s ethics code, issuing advisory opinions and creating a hotline for anonymous tips about potential violations, it remains unclear whether it has the power to issue monetary fines. It is likely the panel will refer personnel matters to the city’s human resources department and criminal matters to the police department.

Asked for a recent example of an issue the ethics commission might consider, Elorza said he believes the panel will focus on “better communications to all employees.” He said the commission will be asked to create a “plain language” pamphlet that lays outs expectations for everyone on the city payroll.

Unlike the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, which is barred from policing state lawmakers’ official acts, the city panel will have some jurisdiction over Providence’s legislative body, Aponte said. The council president said giving the commission oversight over the council sends a “strong message” that it is not a “toothless tiger.”

“The role of the commission is all-encompassing,” Aponte said.

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

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