Providence asks court to dismiss lawmaker’s suit in conflict of interest case

State Rep. Anastasia Williams

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The city of Providence has asked a Superior Court judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a longtime state representative after the city refused to award her a $78,000 grant to purchase a two-family home on Division Street in 2012.

In a motion filed earlier this month, lawyers for the city argued that the suit, filed by state Rep. Anastasia Williams, fails to state the amount she is seeking from the city. The lawyers also argued that the majority of the defendants, which include current Mayor Jorge Elorza and former Mayor Angel Taveras as well several current former city employees, should never have been named in the suit.

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for the first week of May.

The suit, filed in December, claims the city cited a “conflict of interest” as the reason it denied Williams’ application for the taxpayer-funded grant, even though she had received a memo from another city employee stating she had no conflict.

Williams’ suit does not directly state what the alleged conflict may have been, but her lawyer, former state Rep. Tim Williamson, and a spokesman for the city both previously told it was related to her employment in the city’s planning department.

Williams and Williamson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

City tax records show Williams purchased 17-19 Division Street on Oct. 11, 2012, for $146,500. (The property is now assessed at $252,600.) Around the same time, she applied for a $78,624 grant through the Providence Redevelopment Agency Neighborhood Stabilization Program, according to the suit.

The Neighborhood Stabilization Program was established in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to help revitalize communities devastated by a spike in foreclosures and property abandonment. Rhode Island received about $19.6 million through the program; Providence was assigned about $3.3 million of the state’s total award, according to an audit released by HUD earlier this year.

Williams claims she refinanced her primary residence, located around the corner at 32 Hammond St., in order to obtain $78,000 needed to qualify for the grant. Williams received a letter from the city on Dec. 17, 2012, informing her that the application would not be approved.

A week after the denial, Williams claims she received a letter stating she was approved for the grant. (She never actually received any funds.)

Elected in 1992 to represent the city’s West End, Williams, a Democrat, was the first Hispanic member of the Rhode Island legislature. She has served as co-chairperson of the General Assembly’s Providence delegation and currently chairs the Rhode Island Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.

She is also among nine current members of the General Assembly who also draw a salary from the city of Providence. City payroll records show she was hired on Nov. 2, 1994, just before she won her second term. She now earns $57,000 a year as a senior compliance officer in the planning department, monitoring the city’s first source program.

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

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