City councilor to pay $750 to settle ethics complaint

City councilor to pay $750 to settle ethics complaint

WOONSOCKET - City Council President Albert Brien will pay $750 to settle a ethics complaint filed over his part in the city's hiring of City Clerk Christina Harmon-Duarte, a longtime employee at his private real estate firm.

The complaint, filed in December by the last man to hold Brien's position, former City Council President John Ward, states that Brien should not have taken part in the resolution or vote to appoint Harmon-Duarte to fill the position, previously held by Andrea Bicki.

"Ms. Harmon-Duarte has been working in a part-time secretarial capacity for Mr. Brien in his private real estate practice for many years," wrote Ward. "I believe this working relationship constitutes a 'business relationship' and that Ms. Harmon-Duarte has obtained 'financial gain' as a result of the action of Mr. Brien."

The Rhode Island Code of Ethics prohibits elected officials from using public office to obtain financial gain for themselves or "any business associate."

"In my opinion, Brien had an obligation to recuse himself from this process," Ward wrote.

The resolution to appoint Harmon-Duarte was sponsored by Brien, and the council president later participated in the vote that confirmed her for the position.

An informal resolution delivered by the Ethics Commission on Tuesday, April 29, finds that Brien and Harmon-Duarte have been acquainted for 27 years, since she worked as an assessing aide for the city of Woonsocket while he was serving as the director of finance and administration.

"Beginning in approximately 1987, Ms. Harmon-Duarte has provided periodic secretarial work for the respondent's private real estate practice," the resolution states.

The last time Harmon-Duarte was compensated by Brien's firm, it states, was in November 2013, just prior to her hiring for the position at City Hall.

The settlement, signed by Commission Prosecutor Katherine D'Arezzo, concludes that by sponsoring the resolution and participating in the vote, Brien violated R.I. General Laws 36-14-5 (d). Brien, who was represented in the matter by attorney Richard Kirby, was ordered to pay a civil penalty of $750.