The State Board of Education put off a vote Monday night on Governor Lincoln Chafee’s recommendation of attorney Eva-Marie Mancuso for State Commissioner of Higher Education. The delay followed warnings from Common Cause Rhode Island that the appointment would constitute an ethics violation.
Common Cause says state ethics rules prohibit sitting public board members from taking paid positions in the agencies they oversee. Under the rules, a member of a state board would be required to step down and wait a year before taking any paid post. The government watchdog group has called for Chafee to withdraw Mancuso’s name from consideration, accusing him of rushing the appointment.
“This seems to be happening rather quickly which may be the reason why the due diligence wasn’t done and it wasn’t discovered that this is a conflict,” said Common Cause Executive Director John Marion.
Chafee defended his choice on Monday, saying Mancuso is familiar with the education landscape, and he does not believe there is a better person for the job.
“I Like continuity and Eva Mancuso has been leading our efforts since January,” Chafee said. “I don’t want to be zig-zagging.”
Chafee Spokeswoman Christine Huntsinger claims the governor had always assumed the Board of Education would seek an opinion from the State Ethics Commission. The Office of Higher Education says Mancuso will file a request for an opinion by Wednesday.
The delay means current Interim Commissioner of Higher Education Ray DiPasquale will continue to hold the position while also serving as president of the Community College of Rhode Island. He had inked a new contract that would have allowed him to go back to being just the president of CCRI while keeping his $265,000 salary.
The next meeting of the State Board of Education is scheduled for September.