Providence City Council votes to audit 10 years of legislative grants

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — After gaining steam from the arrest of a Providence City Council member on embezzlement charges, a pair of resolutions calling for an audit of taxpayer-funded legislative grants were approved unanimously by the council Thursday night.

The resolutions will allow the city’s internal auditor to go 10 years back and audit grants from contingency funds that are controlled by the mayor, the council president, and council Finance Committee chairman.

“The focus right now is looking backward and finding out what we’ve done, who got the money, how the money was spent,” said resolution co-sponsor Sam Zurier. “Whether there were any improper connections between the beneficiary organizations and council member sponsoring it.”

Zurier, Ward 2, and David Salvatore, Ward 14, introduced the resolutions last week, only days after councilman Kevin Jackson was arrested outside city hall for allegedly embezzling more than $127,000 from a track club he founded that was funded with thousands of dollars in city legislative grants.

Jackson, 57, is also charged with misusing $12,000 in campaign contributions. He resigned his position as council majority leader but said he does not intend to resign from the council.

Jackson, who did not attend Thursday’s council meeting, founded the Providence Cobras track team in 1978. From 2006 to 2013, the organization received at least $23,000 in city legislative grants, more than all other city youth programs combined during that same time period.

Zurier said the resolutions were already in the planning stages before Jackson’s arrest, with the motivation coming from the resignation of Bristol State Representative Ray Gallison.

Gallison stepped down about a week before Jackson was arrested, as news broke that he was the focus of a law enforcement investigation.

Gallison’s resignation provoked questions about the non-profit he ran, Alternative Educational Programming, which has received at least $1.7 million in taxpayer grants authorized by the legislature over the last decade. After the resignation, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he now thought it was not appropriate for a state legislator to be earning a salary from an organization dependent on legislative grants.

The House speaker and Senate president control about $2.2 million in legislative grants and millions more in community service grants. In both the state and Providence versions of the grants, votes are not required to allocate the taxpayer money.

Zurier said the council expects to receive at least a preliminary report on the audit by September and the resolution will allow council to spend up to $20,000 to hire an independent firm to examine the city’s internal audit.

In 2013, the City Council froze two city contingency accounts after a Target 12 investigation revealed they were used to award hundreds of thousands of dollars to nonprofits with little oversight and no application process. The council leadership at the time said it planned to craft formal guidelines for the grants, but the policy has never been finalized.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau

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