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Cicilline, Simmons + the RI Foundation

UPDATE: As I've subsequently posted, Cicilline spokeswoman Karen Southern says the city pays 100 percent of the salary for Simmons's work for the city.

. . . .

Speaking of Yorke, the WPRO talk-show host has long been critical of the Cicilline administration's use of a fund at the Rhode Island Foundation to help pay for the services of director of administration John Simmons.

Here's how I described the situation in a profile of Yorke earlier this year:

The talk-show host, who calls Cicilline “the most thin-skinned politician I’ve ever encountered,” seems most irked by the mayor’s unwillingness in recent years to appear on his show. As Jim Taricani related in a recent profile of Yorke in Rhode Island Monthly, the talk-show host — whose mantra is that he won’t say anything about people that he won’t say to their face — tends to save his most fiery tirades for news figures that spurn his interest in an interview.

In Cicilline’s case, Yorke points to how a private fund managed by the Rhode Island Foundation pays a fraction of the nearly $200,000 salary earned by John Simmons, the mayor’s director of administration. While the mayor has said that Simmons’ private-sector experience has yielded millions in savings for the city, through enhanced bond ratings, Yorke calls the arrangement’s partial anonymity at odds with open government and Cicilline’s self-description as a reformer.

This week, Buddy Cianci jumped on the same issue, raising his profile as a possible thorn as Cicilline continues to gear up for a gubernatorial run.

I didn't hear it, but it apparently began when Cianci had departing Rhode Island Foundation chieftain Ron Gallo on his show yesterday. Just a few moments ago, Cianci pointed to how conflicts could arise from the foundation's funding arrangement for Simmon's salary.

In particular, Cianci asserted that GTECH may be contributing to the related fund at the foundation, and he noted how Donald R. Sweitzer, a senior VP at GTECH, is a Democratic fundraiser. (Btw, as I first reported, Mike Mello, Cicilline's former chief of staff, took a job overseen by Sweitzer.)

I need to declare a mea culpa here. Steve Aveson asked me about the Simmons-RI Foundation issue during the roundtable portion of today's taping of Newsmakers. In noting the tension between Cicilline and Yorke, and how Simmons is professionally well-regarded, I concluded that this isn't a huge deal. After thinking about it a bit more, I've changed my mind.

The element of anonymity in funding Simmons's salary is at odds with the good government/transparency philosophy espoused by Cicilline, and it does create at least the potential for conflicts.

Marc has a good post about this issue at Anchor:

According to the latest City of Providence compensation numbers (PDF, line A18, p. 15), Simmons should be making in the mid-$60K range. Yet the fact that the public doesn't know for sure who exactly funnels money to pay $140K worth of Simmons' salary doesn't bother the Mayor. In a post by Brown Prof. Darrell West in 2004, West reported that Mayor Cicilline defends this setup.

According to Cicilline, the concept is "new to Providence, but not new to cities" around the country. Responding to complaints about possible conflicts of interest between outside donors and the city, the mayor defended the practice and said "we never would have gotten half the things done without this."

So the ends justify the means, right? Didn't someone else get in trouble using that logic?

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