STORY OF THE WEEK: The floodgates opened last week on the problematic visit by two high-level state Department of Administration officials to Philadelphia in March. Attorney General Peter Neronha sided with media organizations, ruling that an email outlining Scout Ltd.’s view of what happened was a matter of public interest. After staunchly opposing the release of the email, Gov. Dan McKee’s team abruptly shifted, providing the document to reporters. Everett Abitbol, Scout’s director of development, wrote that the Rhode Islanders’ visit left him wondering “how to work with people who are so blatantly racist, sexist and unprofessional.” David Patten, head of the state property management division, is accused of making sexually suggestive remarks to a top Scout official. According to Abitbol, Patten and Jim Thorsen, director of the state DOA at the time, were offensive and imperious, allegedly making various demands as necessary to win $55 million in state funding for the renovation of the Cranston Street Armory. Thorsen, who left in April for a job with the U.S. Treasury Department, declined comment on the email, citing an ongoing investigation. Patten was placed on paid leave after returning from Philadelphia, with his lawyer saying his client was suffering from acute stress. For now, Scout – which did not get funding in the state budget to remake the Cranston Street Armory – remains interested in pursuing the project. Gov. McKee has said little publicly about the trip to Philadelphia by Patten and Thorsen, which, according to Abitbol, “reflects incredibly poorly on the state of Rhode Island and their leadership.”
REACTION: Here’s how some elected officials responded to revelations about the Philadelphia story, via statements.
State Sen. Sam Bell (D-Providence): “No public official should extort items such as alcohol, vegan cheese, hand-blown glass, a pair of sneakers, and a private meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant that had to be opened specially for the occasion …. We must also consider the appearance of impropriety. It sends the wrong message if funding for a project suddenly does not appear when a vendor chooses to report extortion by an administration official through the appropriate channels. It is critical that potential state contractors know they will be treated fairly. State contractors need to know that they are not breaking any unwritten rules if they report extortion, and they will not receive any retaliation if they speak up about impropriety.”
State Rep. Enrique Sanchez (D-Providence): “I constantly hear it from our neighborhood small businesses in Providence. Many businesses run and staffed by people of color experience racially insensitive comments, and they don’t like it. Many women who work in businesses across our state report receiving comments from men that are not appropriate in a workplace context. Some businesses feel like they have to give free favors to powerful state officials, and they don’t like it. The allegations about how the McKee administration treated Scout, the state vendor for the Cranston Street Armory project, are exactly what is wrong with the broken culture of business and politics in our state.”
State Sen. Ana Quezada (D-Providence): “The way these officials behaved in Philadelphia is disgusting and once again calls into question Gov. McKee's judgment in selecting the top people in his administration. I'm calling on Director Patten to resign and the McKee administration to release any and all communications with State staff and officials about their decision to cover up this situation. Rhode Islanders deserve to know what went on behind closed doors that enabled this to be withheld from the public for so long. It's disturbing that in 2023, cronyism and corruption are still the image that Rhode Island is showing to the rest of the country. It hurts our reputation, our economy, and our faith in government. Rhode Islanders deserve leaders who are transparent, honest, and actually use their office to serve the public good.”
State Rep. David Morales (D-Providence), via Twitter: “David Patten should resign. He should NOT be receiving an annual salary of $175,000 made up of tax-payer dollars along with benefits. Now just imagine if a worker earning minimum wage behaved like this, they’d be fired immediately.
Gov. McKee: “While we cannot provide specific comments as the HR and RISP investigations are ongoing, the allegations regarding Mr. Patten’s behavior, if true, are disturbing, unacceptable and unfitting of anyone, especially an employee representing the state and who expects to be employed by the state. This behavior prompted our Administration to initiate and request the investigations, and we will have more to say once the process comes to a close.”
KICKER: Paula Bontempi, dean of URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography, was among members of NASA’s Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena Independent Study team who gathered for the group’s public discussion, on May 31. A full report is due this summer. After 18 years at NASA, Bontempi said the space agency is well suited to lead an inquiry into what some people call UFOs. “NASA is primarily a science-driven agency,” she said in a release from URI.” It’s committed to exploring air and space, and this includes the unknown, whether that’s the farthest reaches of the universe or here on our home planet. In that light, NASA has over 60 years of experience measuring phenomena in air and space …. NASA also has a long-standing public trust. This is essential to communicate those findings to the public, and very important in efforts to destigmatize the reporting and raise awareness of cultural and social barriers to doing so.”
Ian Donnis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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