RI Board of Elections dismisses Councilman Jackson’s challenge against recall

City Councilman Kevin Jackson

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The group seeking to recall embattled Providence City Councilman Kevin Jackson has withstood another challenge from the councilman’s attorneys.

The R.I. Board of Elections voted 5-0 Tuesday to reject several of Jackson’s arguments related to the recall process, including claims that the group seeking to remove him from office missed a petition filing deadline and that the city clerk failed to submit a petition to the Providence Board of Canvassers in a timely fashion.

The unanimous decision appears to clear the way for a May 2 special election that would ask the residents of Ward 3 to vote up or down on Jackson’s political future. If the councilman is recalled, a separate election will be scheduled to vote on a new councilman.

Jackson’s attorneys – Artin Coloian, Daniel Calabro and Sean Doherty – can still file an appeal with the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The Board of Canvassers was represented by William Dolan and Nicholas Nybo. The recall group’s lawyer, Armando Batastini, also attended the meeting.

The most hotly contested argument of the night stemmed from Jackson’s lawyers’ contention that the city clerk was required to immediately submit more than 300 pages of signatures from the recall group she received Feb. 3 to the Board of Canvassers. Instead, the signatures were submitted Feb. 21 after the rest of the group’s signatures were given to the clerk.

Jackson’s attorney suggested all of the signatures should be invalidated because of the delay. The commissioners for the Board of Elections disagreed.

“We’re giving them the power to follow whatever statute they want to file,” Calabro said, referring to the Board of Canvassers.

Stephen P. Erickson, the most probing member of the board, called it “unreasonable” to force the recall process to start over because the clerk didn’t immediately turn in signatures to the Board of Canvassers.

“It is not democracy to argue that the clerk has the power to give the death penalty,” Erickson said.

Jackson, 58, has represented Ward 3 since 1995. He was arrested by Rhode Island State Police last May and indicted by a statewide grand jury last July. He has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors allege he 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. He is also accused of using $12,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses.

Following the arrest, Jackson resigned as majority leader of the City Council, but did not step down from the council altogether. He has regularly appeared at council meetings and committee meetings in the nine months since he was charged.

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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