Ethics Commission finds probable cause to investigate Warwick councilwoman

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

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Ethics Commission decided there is probable cause to investigate a pair of complaints against Warwick councilwoman Donna Travis, who is president of a nonprofit that leases a city building.

One complaint states Travis did not disclose that she is president of Jonah, Inc. on question 9 of her Ethics Commission Financial Statement.

The Oakland Beach nonprofit is described as “a diverse community outreach and education organization” on its Facebook page.

In her response to that complaint, Travis said she “misconstrued question 9 as being directed at disclosing any financial interest.”

“The information omitted is of my involvement in nonprofit corporations from which I derive no benefit,” Travis stated.

The words “financial” and “benefit” are not used in the verbiage of question 9.

The second complaint involves Travis sponsoring and voting on a resolution to extend the Jonah, Inc. $1 a year, 10-year lease with the city. As president of the organization, Travis signed the lease as well.

Warwick leases this building to Travis' Jonah Inc.
Warwick leases this building to Travis’ Jonah Inc.

The Ethics Commission decides on probable cause in executive session.

Travis, who did not attend the hearing, has not responded to request for comment about Tuesday’s decision.

Travis’ attorney Robert Flaherty had said he would be surprised if the complaint advanced past the initial stage.

Probable cause is not an indication of guilt, but involves the threshold of evidence needed for the commission to conduct a full investigation.

If the two sides do not settle the issue as the adjudication process moves forward, the commission would be the judge and jury to decide whether there is a violation, and what the punishment should be.

There is no time frame for how long the process will take.

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