One of the things that I was most impressed with when I was elected to the Westerly Town Council three years ago was the fact that Rhode Island had an extremely strong Ethics Commission, some say the strongest in the country. One of the most disturbing things that I learned was that it did not apply to the Rhode Island legislature. That is the reason why we have had so many scandals that have take place in Providence.
Ethics laws are viewed by some politicians and by some members of the public as a nuisance, because they prohibit politicians from participating in important decisions. I look at it from a completely different perspective. While I get frustrated when I am forced to sit out on an important matter, I know that when you have a conflict, as well meaning as you might be, it can skew your judgment.
In my business, I have a lot of conflicts, simply because I have a lot of clients. Clients can get frustrated when I recuse on a matter that they are involved in because they are looking for my help. But that is the very reason why it is so important to recuse. It is critical that unbiased eyes are always looking at matters that are important to the public.
I would hope that local politicians will use me as a guide to how to do things right. While I am far from perfect, I do try to be. If I have a conflict, I will recuse. If I spot a potential conflict, I do not hestitate to pick up the phone and call the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission staff is excellent to work with. They make every effort to return all calls the same day and are very interested in helping politicians make the right decisions. This is one of the best taxpayer-funded services that the state provides and is critical to providing good, unbiased goverance. Personally, I will always strive for ethics excellence.
The writer is a member of the Westerly Town Council.