It’s all in our backyard: theft, graft, collusion

I am an unabashed fan of the work done by The Rhode Island Foundation. This appreciation also extends to its most recent effort to develop a positive image toward Rhode Island’s economic strength through the “It’s All In Our Backyard” campaign. The problem is that stories constantly pop-up to convey another “It’s all In Our Backyard” stench that undermines the message. Here are just a few examples of incidences in close proximity to the launch of this attempt to paint the state positively that would give businesses or other potential residents second thoughts about relocating here.

Maria Vallee. She’s the North Providence Town Controller improperly received a loan through a federal program geared for families of low and moderate income through a program she managed for the town. She deliberately ignored the financial eligibility requirements that would have disqualified her. Her income was nearly twice what the program allowed. She paid an ethics fine and restitution back to the program when she was found out. She also admitted that when she was the town’s acting finance director she issued checks to a contractor for improvements he made on her home through the program. She should be saying a novena for the slap on the wrist she got by dodging federal prosecution. Despite her mishandling of funds, she remains in her job of overseeing North Providence’s finances as controller. Her behavior is reminiscent of the RIHMFC (Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation) program nearly thirty years ago which was supposed to provide loans to low and moderate income people to purchase homes. Instead, judges, lawyers, politicians, parents of bank executives and others who were ineligible for the program were allowed to skate  since they “didn’t understand” the terms of those loans. Nothing changes because the same insipid response to wrongdoing continues unabated.

Mayor Charles Lombardi. When confronted with the decision to fire Ms. Vallee, his response was “I think she’s suffered enough”.  You’ve got to be kidding me, Mayor! You are an enabler! When people steal from these programs it isn’t a one-time decision. There are multiple steps where they decide to proceed, and then do so.

Chief Frank Sylvester. Here’s another guy who got to skate. He registered and parked cars at the fire station so he wouldn’t have to register them and pay taxes in cash-strapped Pawtucket. Apparently, he is smart enough to become chief but stupid enough not to know what he did was wrong. The fact that he was able to dodge an ethics bullet is solely attributable to the lackluster performance of the Ethics Commission and the blasé attitude toward these “lapses” by those charged with oversight.

Nonprofits. A coterie of non-profits hired lobbyists, one of whom “enjoys the friendship “of the Senate President away from the state house to the tune of $30,000 to make sure that their state money wasn’t clipped. Federal money can’t be used so state taxpayer money was apparently planned as the source to make sure that these agencies don’t have to tighten their belts. When caught, the non-profits incurred the bills first but now talk about “voluntary donations”. The CEO of one group makes $266,000 a year. This outrageous salary with perks will continue unabated. Are these agencies really about improving lives for the “underprivileged and unrepresented”?  It sure looks like their pocketbooks come first. All of these groups should have a review of salaries and perks.

Yes, it really is “all in our backyard.”

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