Providence City Council hires former AG to review licensing board

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence City Council has hired former Rhode Island Attorney General Jeffrey Pine to conduct an independent review of the city’s Board of Licenses.

It’s unclear exactly what prompted the council to hire Pine, who served as the state’s top prosecutor from 1993 until 1999 and now has a private practice with former Attorney General Patrick Lynch, but the Committee on Municipal Operations and Oversight has discussing the rules and regulations of the licensing board in recent months.

“The city must provide a predictable framework for businesses to operate in Providence,” Council President Luis Aponte said in a statement. “We want to ensure that fair policies and procedures are in place and make the process more effective, enforceable, and consistent.”

Aponte said he hopes Pine will be able to present a report outlining how the board can improve its adjudication process and procedures within 45 days. He said the review will cost up to $10,000.

“I look forward to this project, and I will do my best to examine the issues in an effective, productive manner,” Pine said in a statement.

Commissioners for the Board of Licenses are paid $19,713 a year – the chairman makes $26,850 – and generally meet about three times each week. The panel processes more than 8,000 licenses each year and handles disciplinary matters, such as underage drinking or fighting in bars.

Current board members include Chairman Juan Pichardo, a Democratic state senator; Delia Rodriguez-Masjoan; Charles Newton; Luis Peralta; Johanna Harris. Harris is currently suing the city for legal fees she accrued while she successfully defended herself against a Rhode Island Ethics Commission investigation.

In a statement, Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, Committee on Municipal Operations and Oversight, said she is concerned with the board’s current policies and procedures.

“Our priorities focus on safety in our neighborhoods and the robust, citywide opportunities we can create for our economy,” Ryan, who represents Mount Pleasant and Elmhurst, said in a statement. “The Board of Licenses is the economic engine for the city of Providence and it needs to function effectively.”

The board came under scrutiny last year after former House Speaker Gordon Fox admitted he accepted $52,500 in bribes in order to help a Thayer Street restaurant obtain a liquor license when he was vice-chair of the board in 2008. (No member of the current licensing board served with Fox.)

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

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