Docs suggest Providence councilwoman conducted city business on RI Housing time

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island Housing has released more than 1,600 pages of emails and other documents that appear to back up the agency’s claim that it terminated a Providence city councilwoman from her job last year for conducting city and political business on company time.

Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, a Democrat who has represented the Mount Pleasant and Elmhurst neighborhoods in Ward 5 since 2015, is currently suing the quasi-public agency, claiming she is protected by the Rhode Island Whistleblowers’ Protection Act and alleging she was let go without due process.

But 1,634 pages of Rhode Island Housing documents obtained by Target 12 through a public records request show numerous examples of city-related emails and documents that passed through Ryan’s agency account or work-issued computer between 2014 and 2016.

Included among the trove of documents:

  • A 2014 email Ryan sent two days after winning the Democratic primary for City Council responding to an individual’s request to raise her campaign money by writing, “I would appreciate your help fund raising.”
  • Numerous emails Ryan sent in early 2015 related to the planning of a St. Patrick’s Day event.
  • An October 2015 email from Ryan’s Rhode Island Housing account sending someone a City Council job posting.
  • Various proposed City Council ordinances and resolutions as well as policy reports prepared for the council.

It is unclear how much time Rhode Island Housing claims Ryan spent conducting city or political business while she was supposed to be working for the agency, but Emily Martineau, a spokesperson for the agency, has repeatedly cited the work as the reason Ryan was terminated in October 2016.

“Councilperson Ryan was terminated following the discovery of numerous documents on her work-issued computer demonstrating that she had used agency resources during agency work hours to conduct city and political business,” Martineau said. “This is prohibited by long-standing agency policy, a policy which she had acknowledged and agreed to observe.”

In her lawsuit, Ryan claims she worked for Rhode Island Housing for nearly 20 years before she was fired last year. She claims she repeatedly expressed concerns to her superiors about how the agency was operating its Hardest Hit Fund, a program established by the U.S. Treasury in 2010 to assist areas affected by the subprime mortgage crisis.

Ryan is represented by Marc Gursky, a prominent labor attorney. She is seeking to return to a job at the agency and to receive all earnings and benefits she would have received if she was not terminated.

Asked about the documents Rhode Island Housing provided to Target 12, Ryan said there “is nothing here that shows any substantive work.” She noted that many of the pages are “downloads of public documents and reports to my laptop, one-pagers, and a few quick emails, most of which were to colleagues on volunteer boards and community organizations for which I served prior to my election as a city councilwoman.”

“This is an obvious attempt by Rhode Island Housing to deflect its clear mismanagement of the Hardest Hit Fund (HHF) Program,” Ryan said. “As program compliance officer, I brought the agency’s malfeasance to executive management’s attention; I was ignored, isolated, criticized, and ultimately fired without any notice after almost 20 years of service.”

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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