Ethics Commission keeps Montalbano charges

When former Senate president Bill Irons and Joseph Montalbano tried to dislodge ethics charges from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission, it represented a continuation of war by other means.

As I wrote when describing difficult times at the commission in the years leading up to 2002:

In a state where residents have no small amount of ambivalence about public corruption, it's safe to assume that most people have been left with, at most, a vague sense of the ethics issue as another prototypical Rhode Island political quagmire. Ultimately, though, the conflict reflects competing visions when it comes to the policing ethical conduct by public officials.

As Darrell West, a political science professor at Brown University, puts it, "There's plenty of blame to go around on all sides, and I think the problem reflects the different perceptions of what an Ethics Commission should be doing. I think the people in the political establishment have a stripped-down model in mind, where the commission simply enforces existing statutes, and the reformers have a much more comprehensive model, where the Ethics Commission fights for good and justice, which involves issuing new regulations, aggressively enforcing the law, and really pushing the boundaries of ethics enforcement."

The debate "really cuts across every type of issue that comes before government," West adds, "and I don't think people should be surprised, because we have a part-time legislature. There are always going to be conflicts when people have to earn a living on the side," raising the prospect of lawyer-legislators such as Harwood representing private clients before state agencies.

Kent Willever has proved as good as his word when it comes to strengthening the commission. Governor Carcieri also deserves credit for supporting this effort with some excellent appointments to the panel.

All this is a long way of saying that the commission has declined to drop the charges against Montalbano. 

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