Cournoyer cleared of ‘tax lien’ ethics complaint

Cournoyer cleared of ‘tax lien’ ethics complaint

WOONSOCKET – A city councilor who was the subject of an ethics investigation after a city resident filed a complaint last summer has been cleared of the accusations after the state Ethics Commission found there was no “knowing and willful” violation of state law.

Councilor James Cournoyer was the subject of a complaint submitted to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission last July alleging he had violated state law by failing to include tax liens owned by his wife, Shaun Cournoyer, on his financial disclosure statements when he ran for office in 2016 and again as a city councilor in 2017. The complaint alleged that the tax liens, which give the owner control of the tax debt on a property but not the property itself, represented a financial interest and therefore should have been included on the disclosure statements. The complaint was submitted by Kelly Wilson, a city resident who made an unsuccessful bid for a seat on the elected School Committee this past fall.

According to Jason Gramitt, executive director of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, the commission considered the complaint during a meeting on March 26 and elected to dismiss it on the grounds that the omission did not constitute a knowing and willful violation of state law.

“Eventually, there will be a written decision and order that will explain why the commission dismissed it and that’s being drafted now,” he said.

Despite the dismissal, Gramitt noted that a tax lien can be considered a form of interest in a property and the commission generally expects candidates to include it on their financial disclosure forms.

“The commission decided that it was reasonable for him to have thought that he didn’t need to include it on his forms for those years, but we do expect him to include it on his next filing,” he said about Cournoyer’s case.

Cournoyer, responding to The Valley Breeze by email last week, repeated assertions that the complaint was nothing more than a politically motivated maneuver stemming from a previous dispute. Wilson, he pointed out, is married to Matthew Wilson, a city resident whose appointment to the Personnel Board in 2017 sparked a dispute between Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and the City Council. Several councilors at the time, including Cournoyer, objected to Wilson’s appointment on the basis that a large number of city residents serving in appointed positions lived in the vicinity of the mayor’s home on Prospect Street.

“I believe it was clear to all that Mr. Wilson’s complaint was nothing more than the product of a disgruntled, misinformed individual who had a political ax to grind,” Cournoyer said in a statement. “That said, I can assure Mr. Wilson that, although we may have differences of opinions, I always conduct myself in an ethical manner and I always put the city’s interest well ahead of my own. Any assertion to the contrary is simply misguided and wholly unsupported by facts and reality.”