ARLENE VIOLET - The best - and worst - of government

ARLENE VIOLET - The best - and worst - of government

I know that I should not do so, but the fact is that I hold women in politics to a higher standard. It's not exactly that we have a surfeit of them, so that's probably why I want the ones who are in public office to be role models for young women. Two women recently represented, in my view, the best and worst in politics.

The Worst:

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt (Democrat, Woonsocket) - I had a lot of hope that Mayor Baldelli-Hunt would be an excellent mayor. Her career in the legislature was largely pro-people, although a couple of votes did have me blink. I was extremely disappointed when she began recently to look like she was smoking cigars in the proverbial smoke-filled back room with the boys. The mayor and a sitting legislator, who is currently City Solicitor, jettisoned a former representative from the position of assistant city prosecutor. She then hired the brother of another sitting legislator to replace the prosecutor after following the advice of House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello. Nowhere in the discussion of who would serve as the public's prosecutor was the public interest even gauged. In the words of candidate Sharon Gamba, who is running in North Kingstown for state representative, the selection was all about what Smith Hill wanted and political paybacks and rewards.

The Best:

Candidate Sharon Gamba (Republican, North Kingstown) - Ms. Gamba has called for an end to the practice of elected state legislators being employed as town solicitors and municipal judges. She rightly cites the reality that this long-standing practice is rife with political manipulation. Granted, she is running against a Democratic incumbent, Robert Craven, who currently holds down positions as assistant town solicitor in North Kingstown, probate judge, prosecutor, and solicitor for the Charlestown Zoning Board, and assistant town solicitor for East Providence. A look at the roster of legislators who are in these positions elsewhere in the state is a sad commentary that proves her view that this practice is another seedy example of how the system is designed to feed insiders at the expense of taxpayers.

During the summer, the public was nauseated by the so-called "beach gate" of insider dealing. (What, by the way, is the outcome of the investigation?) GoLocalProv, an Internet news source, recently listed a bevy of legislators who are "selected" to represent clients before such bodies as the Department of Labor and Training, with the taxpayers picking up the tab for the services. To date, nobody has done a study to examine what the accretions of these jobs do or don't do to public pensions and health care benefits. One thing, however, is certain: Being in public office as a lawyer appears to be the gift that keeps on giving.

District 32 candidate Sharon Gamba has pledged to submit legislation if she is elected to eliminate the practice of these municipal appointments. She anticipates a fierce legislative battle to end the favor factory, and undoubtedly, she is correct.

Parenthetically, it is laughable to see the insiders who gave us these self-serving deals mobilize against a Constitutional Convention, which would be the last hope to curb these appointments. If the reader believes any of the prophecies of doom by the naysayers, then a few heads ought to be examined. A Constitutional Convention is needed now, as this most recent example of a debacle proves.

- Correction: Last week's column should have referenced Tom Donilon. The first name was wrong.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.

Comments

As a political observer for a long time I would say that Mayor Baldelli Hunt has chosen the most qualified individuals to get her mission accomplished. As a member of a distinguished class of state representatives she has reached out to people who she can trust and work with. I have known the Mayor for a long time and have always known her to be a passionate cheerleader for the City of Woonsocket just like her uncle did. In my opinion she is the best with the tools given to her by the STATE operated Budget Commission.

I find the second point in this article to be pretty naive. Consider who makes up a town or city council. I will use Woonsocket since it is the poster child. Two of the council members are totally green, having no past legislative or administrative experience. The council president is actually an active attorney. The rest of the members are shop owners and the like, each with questionable credentials in running a municipality. Most of these members were elected to be honest people with common sense. I doubt any of them are well versed in legislative procedure.

This is where the solicitor comes in. He needs to be the buffer between ingenuity and the law. You don't just sit on a panel and throw out ideas and hope the majority agrees with you. In the climate that we have built, with open meeting transparency and procedural compliance, it's a wonder that anything gets done. How many times has the council president needed to defer to the city solicitor for advice on how to clear a motion?

So, no, you can't just throw any lawyer into those positions. So having an attorney with experience in government process is not wrong...it's necessary.

I also had high hopes for the Mayor as well, but she has been a major disappointment. She seems to be running city hall like it were the dysfunctional state house. No regard for fiscal accountability. She has created multiple new positions and made significant purchases that we just cant afford. She's appointed political hacks who are not qualified for their jobs and has had to hire other additional people to actually do the work. She has completely ignored the needs or wishes of the people who elected her and has sought revenge on those who dare disagree with her. She has belittled people including veterans who appeared at city council meetings with questions and has ignored real needs such as the Senior Center, all in the name of politics. Most recently she has got caught in the recent nepotism scandal creating unauthorized and unadvertised jobs for her son and his friends. When caught she says she believes she's done nothing wrong and then later lies and says it wasn't her that hired them but her (unqualified) public works director. Through all of this, she has kept the City Council and the entire city in the dark by not answering any questions or being even remotely transparent. When people have asked for information, she charges them a fee to get the answers. It would seem that she is intent on spending the city into bankruptcy. Regardless, these are all telltale signs of a corrupt administration that is in way over their heads. This is not what she promised during the campaign, and I for one am extremely disappointed and regret my support for her. So you are correct Arlene, she is the worst.

Just an FYI..Mr. Craven is NOT an assistant solicitor in North Kingstown, nor has he EVER been. Furthermore, he held the positions in Charlestown and East Providence as assistant solicitor years PRIOR to running for office in 2012.Rhode Island General Law § 17-1-5.1 was adopted by the General Assembly in 1978 indicates that a municipal employee "may hold a state elected office". I agree with "Your Neighbor".
Quite frankly, Ms. Violet I'm disappointed that you seem unaware of the law considering you were the Attorney General at one time as well as Mr. Craven's employer at the Dept. of Attorney General. Tsk tsk...