Providence Councilman Jackson sues to block ‘flawed recall petition’

City Council Majority Leader Kevin Jackson stands in between Mayor Jorge Elorza and Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI)
City Council Majority Leader Kevin Jackson stands in between Mayor Jorge Elorza and Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Embattled Providence City Councilman Kevin Jackson has asked a Rhode Island Superior Court judge to block a group of his constituents from their attempt to remove him from office through a recall.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday, Jackson claims the Providence Board of Canvassers is “unreasonably allowing a flawed recall petition to proceed” after he found several “defects” in a list of 360 signatures the board certified last week.

The suit names the city of Providence, two members of the Board of Canvassers, city clerk Lori Hagen, city treasurer James Lombardi, Patricia Kammerer and Karina Wood as defendants. Kammerer and Wood are among the leaders of the recall effort.

Jackson claims the group seeking to remove him from office turned in signatures of individuals not registered to vote, signed the recall petition more than once, or did not include their address or signature on the petition.

The suit also charges that several signatures include “similar or identical handwriting, particularly among individuals in the same household.” Jackson also claims that some of the declarations were improperly notarized.

In an affidavit, Jackson claims “numerous constituents of mine expressed to me their misimpression that I had been removed from office and can no longer serve them.”

“These sentiments are detrimental to me in my ability to be reelected and to serve the constituents of my ward,” he stated.

Jackson is represented by Artin Coloian, a prominent defense attorney with an office a few blocks from City Hall. Coloian declined to comment Thursday.

Jackson, a 58-year-old Democrat, was arrested by State Police in May and indicted by a statewide grand jury in July. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors allege Jackson embezzled $127,153 from the Providence Cobras youth track-and-field team, an organization that received more than $67,000 in taxpayer-funded city donations between 2005 and 2015.

Investigators claim Jackson used the organization’s money to fund campaign-related expenses, including an advertisement in a local magazine during his 2014 re-election bid. He is also accused of using the Cobras’ money on apparel, car repairs and monthly Netflix charges.

Jackson is also accused of using $12,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses, including apparel, health care, cash withdrawals and paying a fine to the R.I. Board of Elections. Jackson has a long history of failing to file campaign reports.

In September, a declaration of intent to petition for recall was submitted to the clerk’s office by Kammerer, a Warwick elementary school teacher who has lived on the East Side for 21 years. The city’s Home Rule charter requires 300 signatures from qualified electors to begin the recall process.

Jackson filed an appeal with the Board of Canvassers and the clerk’s office, but the board denied a request to stay the next step in the process. The group now has 120 days to collect signatures from 20% of the registered voters in Ward 3 – about 2,000 voters.

If the group manages to secure the necessary signatures, a question asking whether the councilman shall be removed from office would be placed on a ballot for a vote that must occur between 30 and 60 days after the signatures are certified. If the majority of voters support the recall, Jackson would be removed from office. Then a special election would be held.

In a statement, Kammerer accused Jackson of using “obvious delaying tactics” to stall the recall.

“The purpose of this petition is simply to put to a vote whether or not Councilman Jackson should remain in office while under indictment for multiple felonies,” she said. “Why does Councilman Jackson want to deny his constituents the opportunity to express their views as to whether he should remain in office?”

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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