Proposal to force indicted Providence councilors to resign leadership posts gets hearing Tuesday

(Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – If this policy were already in place, former Providence City Council President Luis Aponte would have been forced to resign his leadership position immediately following his May 10 indictment.

That’s the pitch from Councilman Sam Zurier, who’s put forward a proposal to amend the city’s code of ethics to require any councilor indicated on a felony “directly related to his or her employment’ to step down from leadership positions and subcommittees. It will get a public hearing Tuesday evening at 5:30 in City Hall.

Zurier, a Democrat who represents Ward 2 on the East Side, introduced the proposal last year following the arrest of then-Majority Leader Kevin Jackson, but it has languished in the Council Finance Committee ever since. Now Zurier has secured the necessary signatures from 50 Providence voters to force the committee to hold the public hearing.

“Had this ordinance been enacted when it was introduced, Councilman Aponte would have been suspended from his president position without the drama and chaos he generated,” Zurier wrote in his weekly newsletter.

Aponte, a 53-year-old Democrat who has represented Ward 10 since 1999, was indicted May 10 on one count of unlawful appropriation, one count of embezzlement – both felonies – and two misdemeanor counts of misuse of campaign funds, all stemming from a state police investigation that started last year. He has pleaded not guilty, but resigned as president May 19.

The Providence Home Rule Charter already requires any elected official who is convicted of a felony to resign from office, but Zurier’s proposed change to the code of ethics would force indicted councilors to resign leadership positions and committee assignments until felony charges are withdrawn or dismissed.

That’s not the only change Zurier is seeking to make.

Also included in his proposal is a provision that would suspend City Council members from their leadership positions and committee assignments if they fall at least 60 days behind on their quarterly campaign-finance reports to the R.I. Board of Elections or on their annual financial disclosures to the R.I. Ethics Commission.

As of Monday, only Ward 12 Councilman Terry Hassett is more than 60 days past due on quarterly campaign finance reports. (Hassett wrote a post on Facebook saying he would file his reports this week.) No councilors are behind on their financial disclosures.

The Finance Committee is not scheduled to vote on the proposal Tuesday.

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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