Minutes 3-8-22 MINUTES OF THE OPEN SESSION OF THE RHODE ISLAND ETHICS COMMISSION March 8, 2022 The Rhode Island Ethics Commission held its 3rd meeting of 2022 in Zoom webinar format at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 8, 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 the meeting is being held remotely in webinar format pursuant to Governor McKee’s issuance of Executive Order 22-20 on February 18, 2022. He informed that said Order expires on March 19, 2022, and he will advise as to whether the Commission’s next meeting will be held remotely or in-person. Executive Director Gramitt explained that the meeting hosts will promote participants to panelists when their matters are called on the agenda. Executive Director Gramitt stated that there will be a stenographer present for the adjudication noticed on today’s agenda. 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 brief report out of the matters addressed in Executive Session and to adjourn. Executive Director Gramitt advised that all meeting materials are available on the Commission’s website, and the report out will be posted thereon after the meeting adjourns, or members of the public may call or email the Commission’s office regarding the report out. The next order of business was: Approval of minutes of the Open Session held on February 15, 2022. Upon motion made by Commissioner Bennett and duly seconded by Commissioner Corrente, it was unanimously VOTED: To approve the minutes of the Open Session held on February 15, 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 19, 2022, and he will inform the Commission as to whether its next meeting on March 22, 2022, will held in-person or remotely. He further informed that Governor McKee lifted the mask mandate last Friday for all executive branch offices in the state, but mask-wearing is still an option. b.) Complaints and investigations pending There are two active complaints, one of which will be initially determined at the Commission’s next meeting and the other is a non-filing complaint that is on today’s agenda for an adjudication. 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 were three APRA requests received since the last meeting, all of which were granted within the same business day. Executive Director Gramitt informed that all three related to advisory opinions. Executive Director Gramitt informed that preparations are being made for the central mailing department to mail financial disclosure filing notices to over 4,000 filers next week, and said notices will contain PIN numbers, the financial disclosure forms, and instructions for filing. He also stated that online filing is open now. e.) Administration/Office Updates Executive Director Gramitt informed that the application period for the posted Commission staff vacancies has closed. He stated that the process for reviewing applications and conducting interviews is underway. 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 James A. Seveney, a legislator serving in the Rhode Island Senate, requests an advisory opinion regarding whether he may participate in the Senate’s discussions and decision-making relative to an article in the State’s operating budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2023 submitted by the Governor to the Rhode Island General Assembly that recommends the phase-out of state income taxation on military service pensions, given that the Petitioner is a retired naval officer receiving a military service pension. Staff Attorney Popova Papa presented the Commission Staff recommendation. The Petitioner was present via video link. The Petitioner addressed the Commission and explained that the class number cited in the draft opinion was obtained from the revenue analysis office. Upon motion made by Commissioner Bennett and duly seconded by Commissioner Jones, it was unanimously VOTED: To issue an advisory opinion, attached hereto, to The Honorable James A. Seveney, a legislator serving in the Rhode Island Senate. The final advisory opinion was that of: Timothy J. McCormick, a member of the Scituate Town Council, requests an advisory opinion regarding whether he qualifies for a hardship exception to the Code of Ethics’ prohibition against representing himself before the Scituate Building and Zoning Official, given that the Petitioner is currently building a new home in Scituate in which he intends to reside with his family, and that certain aspects of that project fall within the purview of the Building and Zoning Official. Staff Attorney Radiches presented the Commission Staff recommendation. The Petitioner was present via video link. The Petitioner addressed the Commission and explained a matter that arose last week at the Town Council’s budget meeting. He stated that he began the budget discussion by referring to a hypothetical situation without providing names or specifics. The Petitioner represented that there were no votes taken with respect to the hypothetical matter. He informed that a local resident addressed the Town Council and suggested that the hypothetical involved a conflict of interest for the Petitioner. The Petitioner represented that the local resident had obtained a copy of the Petitioner’s advisory opinion request letter. The Petitioner explained to the Commission that he recused from the Town Council’s vote relating to a separate discussion involving the Building Official at the Council’s meeting the following night, but he participated in the vote regarding the overall budget. The Petitioner represented that he wanted to apprise the Commission of these events. In response to Chair Quinn, Staff Attorney Radiches explained that the advisory opinion was drafted to address the Petitioner’s specific question about appearing before the Building Official relative to the construction of the Petitioner’s new home and that the Petitioner may return in the future for further advice as other issues arise. In further response to Chair Quinn, Staff Attorney Radiches stated that the Commission has interpreted the nepotism provision of the Code of Ethics with respect to voting on budgetary matters involving family members also to apply to business associates. She further stated that, under these facts, the Petitioner and the Building Official are not business associates given that they are both municipal officials. Commissioner Jones cautioned the Petitioner that, although not addressed in the draft opinion, the Petitioner must be aware that a decision by the Building Official could be appealed to the Zoning Board over which the Town Council has appointing authority and the Petitioner should return to the Commission for further advice regarding participation if such an issue arises. Upon motion made by Commissioner Jones and duly seconded by Commissioner Bennett, it was unanimously VOTED: To issue an advisory opinion, attached hereto, to Timothy J. McCormick, a member of the Scituate Town Council. The next order of business was: Adjudication: In re: Aimee M. Gardiner, Complaint No. NF2021-2. The hearing was stenographically recorded and a transcript of the proceeding will be available at the Commission’s Office. Commission Prosecutor Popova Papa represented the People of the State of Rhode Island. The Respondent, Aimee M. Gardiner, was not present. Chair Quinn read the Commission’s Finding of Probable Cause. Legal Counsel DeSimone explained the process for conducting the adjudication in Open Session and deliberations in Executive Session. He also explained that no motions or voting will take place in Executive Session but when the Commission reconvenes in Open Session. In response to Chair Quinn and Legal Counsel DeSimone, Executive Director Gramitt informed that the Respondent was not present and that no attorney had entered an appearance in this matter. Commission Prosecutor Popova Papa waived an opening statement and asked the Commission to open the sealed envelopes that had been provided to them containing Prosecution’s Exhibits, P1 and P2, which had been pre-marked for identification. Commission Prosecutor Popova Papa summarized the evidence contained in the exhibits and then moved to admit Prosecution’s Exhibit P1, the affidavit of Michelle Berg, Ethics Commission Financial Disclosure Officer, along with four attachments as full exhibits. She also moved to admit Prosecution’s Exhibit P2, the affidavit of Gary V. Petrarca, Acting Deputy Chief Commission Investigator, along with seven attachments as full exhibits. Chair Quinn granted the motion and Prosecution’s Exhibits P1 and P2 were admitted into evidence as full exhibits. Commission Prosecutor Popova Papa responded to questions from the Commission. The discussion turned to the imposition of a civil penalty. In response to Commissioner Jones, Commission Prosecutor Popova Papa recommended a civil penalty between $500 and $1,000. Discussion ensued. In response to Chair Quinn, Executive Director Gramitt explained that the Commission would proceed into Executive Session to deliberate in private with only Legal Counsel DeSimone present. He further explained that, following their deliberations, the Commission will reconvene in Open Session to vote. At 9:55 a.m., following the close of the Prosecution’s case, upon motion by Commissioner Susi and duly seconded by Commissioner Corrente, it was unanimously VOTED: To go into Executive Session, to wit: a.) Motion to approve minutes of Executive Session held on February 15, 2022, pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-46-5(a)(2) & (4). b.) Motion to return to Open Session. At 10:08 a.m., the Commission reconvened in Open Session. Report on actions taken in Executive Session. Chair Quinn reported that, in addition to its deliberations, the Commission took the following actions in Executive Session: Unanimously voted (7-0) to approve the minutes of the Executive Session held on February 15, 2022. Unanimously voted (7-0) to return to Open Session. Upon motion made by Commissioner Bennett and duly seconded by Commissioner Jones, it was unanimously VOTED: That the Prosecution established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the Respondent, Aimee M. Gardiner, committed a knowing and willful violation of R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-16 by failing to timely file a 2020 Financial Disclosure Statement with the Ethics Commission. Upon motion made by Commissioner Jones and duly seconded by Commissioner Susi, it was unanimously VOTED: To impose a civil penalty in the amount of $1,500 and to order the Respondent, Aimee M. Gardiner, to file the 2020 Financial Disclosure Statement with the Ethics Commission within 30 days of issuance of the Commission’s written Decision and Order. The next order of business was: Education Update. Education Coordinator Radiches presented an education update to the Commission for the period of July 1, 2021, through February 28, 2022. She referred to the handout prepared and included in the Commission’s binders. With respect to in-person trainings, she explained that the recent availability of online ethics training has not diminished the requests for, nor the attendance at, in-person trainings. Education Coordinator Radiches informed that the total in-person trainings for the current fiscal year to date is 29 with 1,094 attendees, which is an increase of six trainings over last year at this time. Education Coordinator Radiches then addressed online training, explaining that it began in September of 2021 and rolled out in three stages. She informed that the rollout for online training was very controlled as the State is only able to reserve 200 slots at a time for non-state employees. She stated that of the 29 total trainings, 23 were held remotely using the Zoom or Teams format. Education Coordinator Radiches stated that in December of 2021, 42 solicitors and attorneys from all but four municipalities in the state accepted her invitation to participate in ethics trainings on Zoom. She stated that, to date, 182 requests have been received from 26 municipalities and the handout contains lists of municipal boards, commissions, agencies, and departments from which members/employees have requested online training. Education Coordinator Radiches informed that, since September of 2021, 396 employees from approximately 20 state agencies have participated in online ethics training. She noted that 176 employees from DCYF have completed ethics training, a state agency that, to her knowledge, had not previously participated in ethics training. She stated that 515 people have engaged in online ethics training since the end of September of 2021 which when added to the 1,094 attendees of in-person training totals 1,609. Education Coordinator Radiches stated that the Commission has officially surpassed last year’s count with still four months remaining before the close of the current fiscal year. She noted that online training is not meant to replace in-person training, and that each method of instruction has its advantages and participating in one should not preclude eventual participation in the other. In response to Chair Quinn, Education Coordinator Radiches informed that online training does not provide for participants to submit evaluations, but she does follow up and maintain communications with the agencies and participants to inquire about their training experiences and receive constructive feedback where applicable. She represented that the state does conduct evaluations. In response to Commissioner Susi, Education Coordinator Radiches stated that, although the Providence Police Department is not represented in the online training counts, its members are well represented through the in-person totals and that she is working with other police/fire departments to promote ethics training. The next order of business was: New Business proposed for future Commission agendas and general comments from the Commission. Executive Director Gramitt informed that he is working on preparing information relating to the financial disclosure issues raised by the Commission at the last meeting, which will be presented at a future meeting. Chair Quinn expressed appreciation to the Commissioners and Legal Counsel DeSimone for their attendance and support at the meetings. At 10:37 a.m., upon motion made by Commissioner Bennett and duly seconded by Commissioner Palumbo, 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 February 18, 2022, said relief was extended through March 19, 2022.