Minutes 3-22-22 MINUTES OF THE OPEN SESSION OF THE RHODE ISLAND ETHICS COMMISSION March 22, 2022 The Rhode Island Ethics Commission held its 4th meeting of 2022 in Zoom webinar format at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 22, 2022, pursuant to the notice published at the Commission offices, the State House Library, and electronically with the Rhode Island Secretary of State. The following Commissioners were present: Marisa A. Quinn, Chair Lauren E. Jones Arianne Corrente, Vice Chair Matthew D. Strauss Kyle P. Palumbo, Secretary Holly J. Susi J. Douglas Bennett Also present were Herbert F. DeSimone, Jr., Commission Legal Counsel; Jason Gramitt, Commission Executive Director; Katherine D’Arezzo, Senior Staff Attorney; Lynne Radiches, Staff Attorney/Education Coordinator; Staff Attorneys Teresa Giusti and Teodora Popova Papa; and Commission Investigators Peter J. Mancini and Gary V. Petrarca. At 9:00 a.m., the Chair opened the meeting. The first order of business was: Discussion of Remote Meeting Format; Identifying and Troubleshooting any Remote Meeting Issues. Executive Director Gramitt advised that this meeting is being held remotely in webinar format pursuant to Governor McKee’s issuance of Executive Order 22-22 on March 11, 2022. He explained that the meeting hosts will promote participants to panelists when their matters are called on the agenda. Executive Director Gramitt informed that if anyone in attendance experiences technical issues, he/she may call the Commission’s office at 401-222-3790 for assistance. He also informed that the meeting will be recorded. He explained that following Open Session, everyone will leave, Open Session will be temporarily closed, and the Commission will convene in Executive Session. At the conclusion of Executive Session, the Commission will reconvene in the same Open Session for a report out of the matters addressed in Executive Session and to adjourn. Executive Director Gramitt advised that the agenda and all meeting materials are available on the Commission’s website, and the report out will be posted thereon after the meeting adjourns. The next order of business was: Approval of minutes of the Open Session held on March 8, 2022. Upon motion made by Commissioner Palumbo and duly seconded by Commissioner Corrente, it was unanimously VOTED: To approve the minutes of the Open Session held on March 8, 2022. The next order of business was: Director’s Report: Status report and updates. a.) Discussion of impact of COVID-19 crisis on Ethics Commission operations and staffing Executive Director Gramitt advised that the current executive order in effect for remote meetings will expire on March 31, 2022, which coincides with the expiration of the General Assembly’s extension of Governor McKee’s emergency authority related to the pandemic. Executive Director Gramitt noted that he does not anticipate any further extensions. He stated that it is likely that the Commission’s next meeting on April 5, 2022, will be held in person. b.) Complaints and investigations pending There are two active complaints, one of which is the Aimee Gardiner matter in which the Commission’s Decision and Order will issue today, and the other is a new complaint which will be initially determined today during Executive Session. c.) Advisory opinions pending There are five advisory opinions pending, with two noticed for today’s meeting. d.) Access to Public Records Act requests since last meeting There was one APRA request received since the last meeting which related to financial disclosure and was granted within one business day. Executive Director Gramitt informed that financial disclosure filing notices have been mailed and that approximately 150-350 completed and filed forms are being processed every day. He further informed that the staff is inundated with phone calls from filers who need assistance. Executive Director Gramitt stated that all staff members assist with these calls and that doing so gives everyone a chance to speak to public officials in our state. He reminded that the filing deadline is April 29, 2022. He informed that because this is an election year, candidates for public office also will have to file and approximately 500 will do so this summer. Executive Director Gramitt stated that he will be preparing a financial disclosure reform proposal with the goal of presenting it to the Commission sometime this spring or summer in order that any proposed changes may be implemented before next year’s filing season. Executive Director Gramitt informed that he was recently contacted by Vermont officials asking him to testify before the Vermont Senate Committee on Government Operations regarding the Rhode Island Code of Ethics. He explained that Vermont is one of only a handful of states that does not have a statutory code of ethics and is currently working to establish one. Officials reached out to Executive Director Gramitt requesting that he testify and, after consulting with Chair Quinn, Executive Director Gramitt agreed to speak as a guest before the Committee and answer questions about the Rhode Island Code of Ethics. He stated that the Vermont Senate Committee voted to pass a bill establishing a state code of ethics and the bill is now before the Vermont House Committee on Government Operations before which Executive Director Gramitt will testify tomorrow. Executive Director Gramitt informed that the Rhode Island Code of Ethics is held in high esteem nationally as evidenced by Vermont officials reaching out to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission for guidance and assistance. In response to Chair Quinn, Executive Director Gramitt informed that, with respect to the incoming calls regarding financial disclosure statements, the staff tracks recurring issues and questions. He stated that he will bring those recurring issues before the Commission as part of his financial disclosure reform proposal. In further response to Chair Quinn, Executive Director Gramitt agreed that a special ethics training session for candidates would be helpful and will discuss this idea with Education Coordinator Radiches. The next order of business was: Advisory Opinions. The advisory opinions were based on draft advisory opinions prepared by Commission Staff for review by the Commission and were scheduled as items on the Open Session Agenda for this date. The first advisory opinion was that of: The Honorable Dawn Euer, a legislator serving in the Rhode Island Senate, requests an advisory opinion regarding whether the Code of Ethics prohibits her from continuing to co-sponsor legislation that would repeal a current law that allows deferred deposit transaction loans, and/or from participating in Senate discussions and decision-making relative to such legislation, given that in her private capacity the Petitioner is employed as general counsel for a nonprofit entity that provides financial lending services. Staff Attorney Popova Papa presented the Commission Staff recommendation. The Petitioner was present via video link. The Petitioner addressed the Commission and expressed gratitude for the speed with which her request was considered. Upon motion made by Commissioner Corrente and duly seconded by Commissioner Jones, it was unanimously VOTED: To issue an advisory opinion, attached hereto, to The Honorable Dawn Euer, a legislator serving in the Rhode Island Senate. The final advisory opinion was that of: Madalyn Rose Ciampi, a member of the Providence Human Relations Commission, requests an advisory opinion regarding whether and to what extent the Code of Ethics prohibits her from participating in that agency’s launch and operation of a Scholars Program, given that in her private capacity the Petitioner is employed as the Executive Director of Providence Promise, one of three private nonprofit organizations with which the Providence Human Relations Commission intends to partner in the launch and operation of the Scholars Program. Staff Attorney Radiches presented the Commission Staff recommendation. The Petitioner was present via video link. The Petitioner addressed the Commission and explained that the purpose and goals of the two entities are aligned to provide and channel opportunities and services to students. In response to Chair Quinn, the Petitioner stated that, as a new member of the Human Relations Commission (“HRC”), it will be challenging to navigate these issues and has considered stepping down from her position. Staff Attorney Radiches advised the Petitioner that if she steps down from her public position, she will have to wait one year before she can appear before the HRC. In response to Chair Quinn, the Petitioner stated that there is someone else from Providence Promise that will be able to serve as a signatory for that organization and that there are 13-14 members of the HRC. Chair Quinn commented that given the number of members, the Petitioner’s recusal would not put the HRC in a situation where it could not take action in a given matter. Upon motion made by Commissioner Jones and duly seconded by Commissioner Susi, it was unanimously VOTED: To issue an advisory opinion, attached hereto, to Madalyn Rose Ciampi, a member of the Providence Human Relations Commission. The next order of business was: New Business proposed for future Commission agendas and general comments from the Commission. There was none. At 9:35 a.m., upon motion by Commissioner Corrente and duly seconded by Commissioner Bennett, it was unanimously* VOTED: To go into Executive Session, to wit: a.) Motion to approve minutes of Executive Session held on March 8, 2022, pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-5(a)(2) & (4). b.) In re: Stephen P. Mattscheck, Complaint No. 2022-1, pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-5(a)(2) & (4). c.) Motion to return to Open Session. *Commissioner Jones was not present for Executive Session but reconvened with the Commission for Open Session. At 9:49 a.m., the Commission reconvened in Open Session. The next order of business was: Motion to seal minutes of Executive Session held on March 22, 2022. Upon motion made by Commissioner Corrente and duly seconded by Commissioner Palumbo, it was VOTED: To seal the minutes of the Executive Session held on March 22, 2022. AYES: Marisa A. Quinn; J. Douglas Bennett; Arianne Corrente; Kyle P. Palumbo; Matthew D. Strauss; and Holly J. Susi. RECUSAL: Lauren E. Jones. The next order of business was: Report on actions taken in Executive Session. Chair Quinn reported that the Commission took the following actions in Executive Session: Unanimously voted (6-0) to approve the minutes of the Executive Session held on March 8, 2022. Unanimously voted (6-0) in the matter of In re: Stephen P. Mattscheck, Complaint No. 2022-1, to initially determine that the Complaint states facts that, if true, are sufficient to constitute a violation of the financial disclosure mandate and authorized an investigation. An Initial Determination is a preliminary vote that should not be construed as an opinion regarding the truth of the facts alleged in the complaint but is merely a vote to conduct an investigation into the allegations raised. [Reporter’s Note: The vote was as follows: AYES: Marisa A. Quinn; J. Douglas Bennett; Arianne Corrente; Kyle P. Palumbo; Matthew D. Strauss; and Holly J. Susi. RECUSAL: Lauren E. Jones. Commissioner Jones recused from this matter and was not present for Executive Session.] Unanimously voted (6-0) to return to Open Session. At 9:51 a.m., upon motion made by Commissioner Bennett and duly seconded by Commissioner Corrente, it was unanimously VOTED: To adjourn the meeting. Respectfully submitted, _____________________________ Kyle P. Palumbo Secretary  On January 6, 2022, Governor Daniel McKee issued Executive Order 22-01 that, due to the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis, relieved public bodies from the prohibitions regarding the use of telephonic or electronic communication to conduct meetings set forth under the Rhode Island Open Meetings Act. Pursuant to the issuance of Executive Order 22-20 by Governor Daniel McKee, on March 11, 2022, said relief was extended through March 31, 2022.