Councilwoman in conflict of interest case sponsors change to conflict of interest ordinance

Warwick City Councilwoman Donna Travis, on the left, will pay a fine for ethics law violations.

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — A Warwick councilwoman facing a conflict of interest complaint that’s before the Rhode Island Ethics Commission is proposing an amendment to the city’s conflict of interest ordinance.

Donna Travis sponsored “an ordinance amending Chapter 16” on behalf of Mayor Scott Avedisian, according to the agenda for Monday’s City Council meeting.

Travis did not respond to a request for comment.

Mayor Avedisian said Travis has always proposed legislation on his behalf and that his request had nothing to do with the ethics complaints filed against Travis.

“It is my feeling that this [ethics] complaint has nothing to do with this newly proposed legislation,” Avedisian said.

Avedisian added the timing of the proposed amendment was connected to him “reviewing” Exeter’s Conflict of Interest ordinance, which he said “is a model that would be good for Warwick.”

The ground covered by Warwick’s Chapter 16 includes restricting council members and their families from doing business with the city.

The ordinance also states the Department of Public Works cannot do any work for entities that are “not part of the city government.”

The morning after the council meeting, the Ethics Commission will discuss two complaints filed against Travis, including one that states she sponsored and voted on an extension for a lease for a city-owned building that is home to Jonah Inc. Travis has been an officer with the Oakland Beach nonprofit for several years and is currently the president.

The other complaint involves Travis’s 2015 Ethics Commission financial statement.

Travis wrote “none” on question 9, which asked if she or family members “held a management position or were a director, officer, partner of trustee” with any profit or nonprofit organization.

Jonah, described as “a diverse community outreach and education organization” on its Facebook page, has a 10-year lease for $1 a year with the city for 830 Oakland Beach Ave.

Travis is the President of Jonah Inc which has a lease with the city.
Travis is the President of Jonah Inc. which has a lease with the city.

In her answer to that complaint, Travis said she “misconstrued question 9 as being directed at disclosing any financial interest.” Travis wrote that she does derive a benefit from her work with Jonah Inc. or any nonprofits.

The question makes no mention of financial connections.

The ethics case is on Tuesday’s commission agenda for what is called an Initial Determination, involving commission members meeting in executive session to determine if there is probable cause to conduct a full investigation.

Travis’s attorney, Robert Flaherty, said he would be surprised if the complaints move any further than the initial stage.

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