Friday, April 15, 2011

Common Cause and Operation Clean Government call on Governor Chafee to reconsider Ethics Commission Appointment

On Thursday, April 14th, Common Cause and Operation Clean Government called on Governor Chafee to reconsider his recent appointment of a police chief to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. Both groups feel strongly that an independent ethics watchdog should not have members who are also public officials. Here is our press release:

Common Cause Rhode Island and Operation Clean Government call on Governor Lincoln Chafee to reconsider his appointment of Barrington Police Chief John M. LaCross to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. "We question the legality of Chief LaCross's appointment to the Ethics Commission given the statutory restrictions on who may be placed on this important body," says John Marion, executive director of Common Cause. "Our objection has nothing to do with Chief LaCross," Marion continues, "rather we are concerned with whether his appointment violates the state law barring those who hold public office from sitting on the Commission."

Section 36-14-8 (f)(1) of the Rhode Island General Laws prohibits anyone who sits on the Commission to "Hold or campaign for any other public office." Common Cause believes that statute disqualifies Chief LaCross from sitting on the Commission since Chief LaCross already holds a "public office" as the police chief in Barrington. The obvious intent of the prohibition from serving in another public office while serving on the Ethics Commission is to keep the members of the Ethics Commission as unbiased as possible, consistent with the Constitutional mandate (Article III, Section 8) that members of the Commission be both independent and non-partisan. The proposed appointment of Chief LaCross would contradict both the statutory prohibition and the intent of the framers of the Constitution and would be a significant departure from the goal of an independent Ethics Commission. "Since all elected and appointed state and municipal officials are subject to the ethics code, Operation Clean Government is concerned about appointing any serving public official to the Ethics Commission," says Margaret Kane, president of Operation Clean Government.

The Rhode Island Ethics Commission was created in 1986 by the voters of the state following that year's constitutional convention. Article III, Section 8 of the Constitution calls for an "independent non-partisan ethics commission." Common Cause has fought for more than two decades to ensure the Commission maintains its independence. Under state law only Governor Chafee can reconcile this problem, so Common Cause asks that he do so immediately, before Chief LaCross is sworn in as a member of the Commission.

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