The Providence City Council Finance Committee held a public hearing on a new measure that would remove councilors from leadership roles following any criminal indictments.
Only one person spoke in favor of the ordinance, meant to keep clouds of corruption from floating again over Providence City Hall. That proponent, City Councilman Sam Zurier was also the ordinance sponsor.
The ordinance places punitive measures upon any councilors that do not file ethics and campaign finance reports in a timely manner. Councilors would have five days to amend any such filings late by more than 60 days, or be removed from leadership positions and committee assignments.
In his testimony supporting the ordinance, Zurier pointed to the early weeks of May, when former Council President Luis Aponte was indicted on felony charges and then refused to step down. At the time, Aponte said vacating his post would amount to an admission of guilt.
After days of back and forth, the majority of council members eventually voted no-confidence in Aponte, then skipped a council meeting en masse. Zurier called the episode one of “chaos and turmoil” for the council.
Zurier says the new tool would deal with any similar problem directly. The East Side councilor introduced the ordinance earlier in the year, but it never moved forward. (Zurier has noted that if the ordinance passed at the time, the council would have avoided the squabble with Aponte.) The public hearing was scheduled only after Zurier managed to gather enough petitions to demand one.
The only other person to speak was opponent Cherie Cruz, representing the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island. Cruz said the ordinance would unfairly punish people not yet convicted of a crime, by stripping them of duties. She added that could disenfranchise the voters who elected the councilor.
That issue played out during the recall vote of former Councilman Kevin Jackson, who was indicted on felony charges. Supporters of a community policing ordinance called the recall an effort to oust a supporter of the controversial policy.
Zurier said he was unworried by the very low turnout at the public hearing, saying that after the recall of Jackson, and the pressure that led to Aponte’s eventual resignation, the public has an appetite for such a measure.
The proposal nearly mirrors a similar provision which allows for the suspension without pay of city employees following criminal indictments.