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Arthur Schaper: Avedisian-McKay Drama? Wilkinson Speaks

Friday, March 28, 2014

 

Warwick City Councilmember Camille Vella-Wilkinson.

While US Senator Jack Reed has remained mum about Warwick network and telecommunications administrator Raymond T. McKay’s proposed run for US Senate, other reports are still suggesting that a political play behind the scenes has aggravated this controversy.

Avedisian-Reed alliance?

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian was aware of McKay’s intentions to run in November 2013, according to one source, and is doing everything in his power to prevent McKay's prospective campaign against Jack Reed, who has brought a great deal of federal money to the city.

An undisclosed source further suggested that the city’s resistance to McKay’s run is an active attempt to discourage a viable candidate from challenging Reed because since November 2013, the Warwick city council convened eight times, and in that period of time the sitting council could have repealed the ordinance which bars classified employees from running, Section 48-107. Three meetings would have provided enough time for review and yet Mayor Avedisian and the city council did nothing. Even McKay’s Ward representative, Charles Donovan, offered no help.

Another source submitted that the Warwick Statute is so arbitrary, often politically motivated in nature, and has assured McKay that he will testify in court against the statute.

The legal ramifications of this municipal disagreement have now reached federal court, where a judge and the attorneys for McKay and the City of Warwick met to discuss the next step on Monday. So far, the judge has decided to uphold the ordinance, but will grant a full hearing on Tuesday (3-25) to determine whether to support McKay’s petition for a temporary restraining order against the city, which will prevent the personnel director from terminating his employment while McKay runs for office.

Following the Tuesday hearing, the federal court sided with the City of Warwick. McKay and supporters are reviewing their next legal options.

In light of these allegations, I contacted the city councilmembers, along with Avedisian’s Chief of Staff Mark Carruolo, who responded in an email that because the matter has gone to court, he could receive questions, but may not be able to answer anything specifically.

Councilmember Wilkinson’s take

However, one Warwick councilmember, Camille Vella-Wilkinson, responded to questions, presenting a different view on this controversy.

“I was not aware of this ordinance,” Wilkinson shared in a telephone interview.

“He [McKay] had mentioned that there was a problem with the city ordinance. He believed he was being discriminated against.”

Wilkinson affirmed: “He spoke to me, I took it on to research it, as I have with other pieces of legislation.”

The councilwoman then remarked that other legislative matters have been taking up her time, as well, including noise ordinances and regulations relating to the city sewer system.

Still, she had concerns about the statute at the outset:

“When I read it [Ordinance Section 48-107) on its face, I thought it was unfair. I was in the process of looking at it, what would be the impact, what would it be. It’s not because of Raymond McKay, mind you. I look at the broader picture.”

Despite one comment which suggested that three council hearings would have decided this issue and mandated repeal, the Warwick Councilmember countered that such is not the case. Taking her role as councilmember with great regard, Wilkinson outlined that any city ordinance changes have long-range implications, and she sought to take into account all questions which residents might press on her and the city.

When asked about her view on the constitutionality of the ordinance, Wilkinson countered:

“I am not a constitutional scholar. I cannot say for sure one way or the other.”

Questions about the ordinance

Ms. Wilkinson’s account serves a reminder that any city legislation, regardless of its origins or impact, requires a democratic solution, one which honors the best interests of all citizens in a municipality, including Warwick, and including telecommunications administrator Raymond McKay.

Still, residents are wondering about the time and consequences of this obscure rule, trying to figure out why the mayor of Warwick and his fellow councilmembers did nothing in response to legislation which restricts a select group’s freedom of petition, i.e. running for office.

Radio hosts and individual residents have already commented that any law which would prevent someone from seeking office needs to be questioned, if not repealed outright. Because the federal court has intervened to review the case, Wilkinson acknowledged that she was not conducting any further research on the law at this time.

Ulterior motives?

Aside from questions about the ordinance, the councilwoman related that she had no friendship or significant relationship with Mayor Avedisian beyond their working association on the city council:

“I don’t socialize with Avedisian. I consider him to be an associate. If I have an event, he will come as a courtesy. I would not venture to say that we have a special relationship. No ‘friendship’.”

Dispelling any ulterior motives or political machinations in Warwick, Wilkinson highlighted that the difficulties in getting city hall, or one’s statehouse, to change anything requires more than a will and a way. Regardless of one’s reactions to the city ordinance which requires McKay’s resignation should he officially announce a US Senate run, critics of the law should take comfort in knowing that city leaders were investigating the city ordinance.

 

Arthur Christopher Schaper is a teacher-turned-writer on topics both timeless and timely; political, cultural, and eternal. A life-long Southern California resident, Arthur currently lives in Torrance. Follow him on Twitter @ArthurCSchaper, reach him at arthurschaper@hotmail.com, and read more at Schaper's Corner and As He Is, So Are We Ministries.

 

Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s History of Political Corruption

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Buddy Cianci

Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci resigned as Providence Mayor in 1984 after pleading nolo contendere to charges of assaulting a Bristol man with a lit cigarette, ashtray, and fireplace log. Cianci believed the man to be involved in an affair with his wife. 

Cianci did not serve time in prison, but received a 5-year suspended sentence. He was replaced by Joseph R. Paolino, Jr. in a special election. 

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Joseph Bevilacqua

Joseph Bevilacqua was RI Speaker of the House from 1969 to 1975, and was appointed as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court in 1976.  It was alleged that Bevilacqua had connections to organized crime throughout his political career.  

According to a 1989 article that appeared in The New York Times at the time of his death:

The series of events that finally brought Mr. Bevilacqua down began at the end of 1984... stating that reporters and state police officers had observed Mr. Bevilacqua repeatedly visiting the homes of underworld figures.

The state police alleged that Mr. Bevilacqua had also visited a Smithfield motel, owned by men linked to gambling and drugs...

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Thomas Fay

Thomas Fay, the successor to Bevilacqua as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, resigned in 1993, and was later found guilty on three misdemeanor counts of directing arbitration work to a partner in his real estate firm, Lincoln Center Properties.  

Fay was also alleged to use court employees, offices, and other resources for the purposes of the real estate firm.  Fay, along with court administrator and former Speaker of the House, Matthew "Mattie" Smith were alleged to have used court secretaries to conduct business for Lincoln, for which Fay and Smith were business partners. 

Fay was fined $3,000 and placed on one year probation. He could have been sentenced for up to three years in prison. 

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Brian J. Sarault

Former Pawtucket Mayor Brian J. Sarault was sentenced in 1992 to more than 5 years in prison, after pleading guilty to a charge of racketeering.  

Sarault was arrested by state police and FBI agents at Pawtucket City Hall in 1991, who alleged that the mayor had attempted to extort $3,000 from former RI State Rep. Robert Weygand as a kickback from awarding city contracts.

Weygand, after alerting federal authorities to the extortion attempt, wore a concealed recording device to a meeting where he delivered $1,750 to Sarault.

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Edward DiPrete

Edward DiPrete became the first Rhode Island Governor to be serve time in prison after pleading guilty in 1998 to multiple charges of corruption.

He admitted to accepting bribes and extorting money from contractors, and accepted a plea bargain which included a one-year prison sentence.

DiPrete served as Governor from 1985-1991, losing his 1990 re-election campaign to Bruce Sundlun.

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Plunder Dome

Cianci was forced to resign from the Mayor’s office a second time in 2002 after being convicted on one several charges levied against him in the scandal popularly known as “Operation Plunder Dome.” 

The one guilty charge—racketeering conspiracy--led to a five-year sentence in federal prison. Cianci was acquitted on all other charges, which included bribery, extortion, and mail fraud.

While it was alleged that City Hall had been soliciting bribes since Cianci’s 1991 return to office, much of the case revolved around a video showing a Cianci aide, Frank Corrente, accepting a $1,000 bribe from businessman Antonio Freitas. Freitas had also recorded more than 100 conversations with city officials.

Operation Plunder Dome began in 1998, and became public when the FBI executed a search warrant of City Hall in April 1999. 

Cianci Aide Frank Corrente, Tax Board Chairman Joseph Pannone, Tax Board Vice Chairman David C. Ead, Deputy tax assessor Rosemary Glancy were among the nine individuals convicted in the scandal. 

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N. Providence Councilmen

Three North Providence City Councilmen were convicted in 2011 on charges relating to a scheme to extort bribes in exchange for favorable council votes. In all, the councilmen sought more than $100,000 in bribes.

Councilmen Raimond A. Zambarano, Joseph Burchfield, and Raymond L. Douglas III were sentenced to prison terms of 71 months, 64 months, and 78 months, respectively. 

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Charles Moreau

Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau resigned in 2012 before pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. 

Moreau admitted that he had give contractor Michael Bouthillette a no-bid contract to board up vacant homes in exchange for having a boiler installed in his home. 

He was freed from prison in February 2014, less than one year into a 24 month prison term, after his original sentence was vacated in exchange for a guilty plea on a bribery charge.  He was credited with tim served, placed on three years probation, and given 300 hours of community service.

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Gordon Fox

The Rhode Island State Police and FBI raided and sealed off the State House office of Speaker of the House Gordon Fox on March 21--marking the first time an office in the building has ever been raided. 

The details are still emerging, but the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Rhode Island has confirmed the IRS is involved in an ongoing investigation in Rhode Island.

 
 

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