Warwick councilwoman will pay fine for what she admits was ‘substantial conflict of interest’

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

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Longtime Warwick City Councilwoman Donna Travis agreed to pay a $1,200 fine for voting on city grants and a lease for a nonprofit that she runs, and for not disclosing her ties to that and other organizations on an ethics commission financial statement.

Travis signed the settlement document that called her votes on the lease and taxpayer funded grants “a substantial conflict of interest” that violated state law.

Travis has not returned requests for comment but her attorney Robert Flaherty, who initially said he would be surprised if the case made it past the initial stage, now acknowledges that his client violated the law.

“She’s admitting technical violations,” Flaherty said. “We made a mistake, but she’s an absolute wonderful public servant. She volunteers her time. It’s all about people with marginal finances who need a warm meal, some help.”

The ethics commission’s investigation cleared Travis of facilitating the use of city resources to maintain the city-owned building that’s been home to Join Our Neighborhood and Help, known as JONAH. The nonprofit, described as “a diverse community outreach and education organization” on its Facebook page, has held a dollar-a-year lease with the city since 1980.

Warwick leases this building to Travis’ Jonah Inc.

The commission and Travis did agree that “by participating in the City Council’s discussions” related to the grants and the lease, she violated the law. Travis voted on the most recent lease renewal and also signed the lease as president of JONAH, Inc.

Flaherty emphasized that Travis “did not derive any financial gain from her nonprofit positions.”

Despite her involvement with the organization, in her 2015 financial statement, Travis wrote “none” on question nine, which asks if she or family members “held a management position or were a director, officer, partner of trustee” with any profit of nonprofit organization.

In a February written response to the complaint, Travis said she “misconstrued [the question] 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 nine.

Travis’s 2016 financial statement that was filed in November, lists 11 nonprofits that she is affiliated with and two others that involve her husband.

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