Warren seeks ethics ruling on canvassers' vote

Council's 4-1 move comes following lottery for school committee candidate name placement on ballot; also, council seeks replacement for former chair

By Ted Hayes
Posted 9/16/20

The Town of Warren is seeking an advisory from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission on the recusal requirements for Board of Canvassers members, after questions arose about a recent lottery the board …

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Warren seeks ethics ruling on canvassers' vote

Council's 4-1 move comes following lottery for school committee candidate name placement on ballot; also, council seeks replacement for former chair

Posted

The Town of Warren is seeking an advisory from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission on the recusal requirements for Board of Canvassers members, after questions arose about a recent lottery the board held to determine the placement of Bristol Warren Regional School Committee candidates on the November ballot.

The Warren Town Council voted 4-1 last week, with John Hanley opposed, to direct town clerk Julie Coelho to seek the opinion. Specifically, the request pertains to recusal requirements for board members who have relatives running for public office. Current board vice-chairman Byron Kee is the father of school committee candidate Tara Thibaudeau.

The ethics question came up following two canvassers' meetings this summer. At the first, held July 15, board members used a "blind" method to pick candidates' names, Warren Town Solicitor Anthony DeSisto said — the first picked would be the first on the ballot, the last pick placed last, and vice versa.

However, the order from that meeting was thrown out after town officials realized after the meeting that it had been improperly advertised. An advertisement announcing the meeting ran in the Warren Times was incorrect as it stated the meeting would be held to pick the order of names for the primary election. As there was no primary in Warren this year and the school committee is non-partisan, Mr. DeSisto said. After the error was noticed, the board scheduled and held a second meeting on August xx.
At that meeting, canvassers again used a lottery system to choose the order of candidates' names on the ballot.

Following the meeting, Warren Town Council president Keri Cronin said, "there was much reaction (from the public) regarding whether it was appropriate or whether there (should have been) a recusal by a board member."

"The solicitor has advised us that it would be in the best interest ... that we get an advisory on how (matters like this) should be handled. That way we won't have any problems going forward."

Several councilors noted that they have no questions or concerns regarding Mr. Kee's ethics, including vice president John Hanley, who suggested that just asking for an opinion gives the appearance that his actions were being questioned by the town.

"I don't need an answer to a question I already know," council vice president John Hanley responded. "I've never questioned (Mr. Kee's) integrity. That almost sounds like what we're doing by reaching out."
But Mr. DeSisto said the town should seek an opinion. Since it was unknown at the time of the meeting whether Mr. Kee had recused himself from the lottery issueit is in the town's best interest to seek the ethics opinion, he said:

"If there was a recusal form filled out, I haven't seen it and it hasn't been disclosed to me," Mr. DeSisto told the council. "The problem here is ... you're dealing with an election (and) what you do with an election. That's how serious this is. There's going to be a lot of questions about this election coming up. This isn't one you need."

Mr. DePasquale, who ultimately voted to support the ethics opinion, said he had been told informally that Mr. Kee had indeed recused himself from the lottery pick.

"You seem to imply that the process was not being followed," he said.

Picking new chairperson

The council also agreed last week to solicit applicants to sit on the board, after former chairman Vincent Calenda earlier this month resigned following public backlash following his posting of a racially insensitive comment about former First Lady Michelle Obama on Facebook.
Councilors directed Ms. Coelho to contact the heads of the town's Republican and Democratic town committees, requesting a list of fie candidates from each party. When the candidates are submitted, Ms. Cronin will make a nomination from the list. If that motion fails, follow-ups will be made until a successful candidate is identified. That vote is expected to happen early next month.

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