Gov. Chafee's higher ed dept. fumble

Jul 15, 2013

It seems curious that Gov. Lincoln’s Chafee’s Administration waited until today to announce that it intends to ask the State Ethics Commission for a waiver from the revolving-door ethics law so that lawyer Eva Marie Mancuso can legally become interim commissioner of higher education.

It looks like the governor’s aides either failed to research the law before naming Mancuso or failed to get this message out when her appointment was announced last Friday. Since Friday, conservative blogger (and sometime RIPR political roundtable panelist) Justin Katz pointed out that the state revolving door law enacted after the banking scandals of the 1990s bars public board members from taking paying state positions within the agencies they oversee without a one-year waiting period.

Mancuso has been chairman of the state Board of Education, an appointed position.

The higher ed commissioner position pays about $200,000 annually. Common Cause of Rhode Island director John Marion has requested that Chafee withdraw the Mancuso appointment, citing the ethics revolving door law.

``We believe this to be a clear-cut case of the Chafee Administration due diligence on this appointment,’’ said Marion.

It is difficult to argue with Marion. If the administration always intended to ask for a waiver, as gubernatorial spokeswoman Chris Hunsinger said today, why wasn’t that part of Friday’s news release on Mancuso’s appointment?

Stay tuned for Ethics Commission action. The commission is empowered to issue a waiver if it finds that failing to hire Mancuso would create a ``substantial hardship’’ for the higher ed dept.