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Sunday, March 15, 2015

CCA Party Town Councilor fined for ethics violation

Council member Denise Rhodes failed to file financial disclosure
Denise Rhodes
Fined $500 for ethics violation
By Will Collette

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission held a formal hearing on March 15 on my complaint against CCA Party-endorsed Charlestown Town Council member Denise Rhodes for failing to file the required financial disclosure report.

The Commission determined that Ms. Rhodes did not file the required report and issued a fine of $500 for violating §36-14-16(c) of the Rhode Island General Laws.

I was surprised at the size of the fine. 

In November 2013, the Ethics Commission ruled against Tina Jackson (Donna Walsh’s unsuccessful 2012 Republican opponent) in an almost identical complaint, but only fined Jackson $100.

I worked with Ms. Rhodes for a time in the fight against the Copar Quarry and found out that she was experienced in dealing with financial forms from years working in the banking business. Most recently, she worked for Sovereign Bank as a "senior community banking officer" according to her CCA Party campaign bio. 

I was surprised that, given her experience not to mention being in a fight to make Copar follow the law, she would fail to follow the law herself.

Ms. Rhodes pledged her fealty to the CCA Party's platform which includes this often-ignored platitude: "CCA-endorsed candidates are committed to town governance that is open, honest and responsible."

The Ethics Commission has not yet wrapped up two other complaints pending against CCA Party candidates, Council member Bonny Van Slyke and Planning Commissioner Barbara Heavers, though in both cases, it's a matter of deciding what their penalties will be.

I filed both of those complaints alleging that both CCA Party officials had failed to disclose the contents of their trust funds (i.e. the stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.) and additional properties they owned in addition to their primary residence.

Both Van Slyke and Heavers admitted that they did not list the contents of their trust funds and their additional properties and filed amended financial disclosure reports.

Heavers claimed her error was unintentional. Van Slyke, through her lawyer, claimed that she had made a “good faith” effort to comply with the law. Heavers asked that no fine be levied against her. Van Slyke asked that the complaint be dismissed.

The Ethics Commission gave me the opportunity to comment on their responses. I told the Ethics Commission that I accepted Ms. Heavers’ explanation and would have no objection to the Commission waiving the fine.

In Van Slyke’s case, I objected to her lawyer’s request for no fine and indeed a dismissal, noting that it is not a good faith effort when you only comply after you’ve been caught.

In my letters to the Commission, I noted that both women seemed to have sufficient experience to know what disclosures are required by law. I noted that the materials both will have to read and understand in their town positions are far more complex than the Ethics Commission’s forms and instructions.

I also noted that both could have, and indeed should have, gotten counsel from the more experienced members of the CCA Party ticket. Several of them, such as Council Boss Tom Gentz and Planning Commissar Ruth Platner, have been dealing with these forms for years.

It just seemed pretty callous to me for the CCA Party to just let novice candidates flub their way through the details of running for office.

At this point, it’s just a matter of waiting for the Ethics Commission to take up these two additional cases and decide the appropriate penalty since the basic fact that both of the “respondents” did not fully disclose their investment is not in dispute.

The Charlestown Citizens Alliance has always been big on pontificating about morality and ethics in government, charging others with breaches while acting as if no one is supposed to notice their own.

Since Ron Areglado became the CCA Party’s informal ethical guru, they’ve cranked their ethical umbrage up to maximum volume. This, despite clear-cut evidence that Areglado himself has a few ethical problems such as blatant resume-padding. Click here to see the evidence.

Lots of old sayings, like the one about people in glass houses or the one about practicing what you preach, that apply here. But suffice to say that the CCA Party’s claim to be the moral and ethical paragons of Charlestown is as phony as, for example, Ron Areglado’s resume.