Aponte: Councilwoman Matos should seek ethics opinion on proposed change to council rules

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With acting City Council President Sabina Matos seeking a change to the council rules that would make her the permanent president for the rest of the term, the former head of the council on Monday called on her to seek an ethics opinion before the proposal moves forward.

During the first meeting of the City Council Rules Committee since at least 2011, Councilman Luis Aponte said Matos should ask both the R.I. Ethics Commission and the Providence Ethics Commission for an advisory opinion because she “stands to benefit directly from this rule change.”

Matos, whose colleagues elected her council president pro tempore in 2015, was elevated to president when Aponte resigned last month after pleading not guilty to four charges related to his alleged misuse of his campaign account. Matos has proposed a change to the council’s rules that would make the president pro tempore the permanent president when the president resigns.

The president of the City Council and its majority leader each earn $20,850 a year, while the other 13 members – one position is currently vacant – are paid $18,765 annually. Aponte argued that Matos is sponsoring a proposal that would benefit her financially because she would receive a $2,085 pay increase if she becomes the permanent president.

During the meeting, Matos said she never thought of the presidency having a “monetary incentive” attached to it. She said it “makes sense” to ask both the state and city ethics commissions for an opinion.

“I think it’s fair to do that and I will seek both,” Matos said.

Aponte is currently facing his own probe before the R.I. Ethics Commission, which voted in January to find probable cause that he violated the state code of ethics when he voted in favor of a zoning change for a property owned by his then-landlord. Aponte has filed suit against the commission in an attempt to block the investigation from moving forward, arguing that he has “absolute legislative immunity” from the commission.

The committee took no action on Matos’ proposal. Some members raised concerns that it does not address how the president pro tempore position will be filled if the pro tempore is permanent elevated to the presidency.

The committee also elected Councilman Terry Hassett its chairman and Councilman John Igliozzi its vice chairman. After Hassett was elected chairman, he made a motion to name Matos vice chairman. But another member of the committee, Councilwoman Carmen Castillo, nominated Igliozzi for vice chair. Hassett then withdrew his nomination of Matos.

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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