School Talk

Got Ethics? Nope, Not in Rhode Island

While most of the media universe is all-in on the impeachment hysteria, there is something amiss in the Ocean State that should have us wondering if the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz has infiltrated our so-called Ethics Commission. Remember Scarecrow’s catchy song, ‘If I Only Had a Brain”? Well, that literal straw man looks like the president of MENSA compared to what our ethics commission members have shown themselves to be this week.

Democratic Senator Valarie Lawson is a paid vice president of the National Education Association of Rhode Island or NEARI—aka, the teachers’ union. When she voted on the evergreen contract legislation back in May, many believed it to be an ethics violation because the legislation would lock in the financial terms of expired teacher and municipal employee contracts until a new contract agreement could be reached.

This is obviously a problem and while the state Republican Party officially lodged the complaint, many of us who are not affiliated with any political party agreed that Lawson should have recused herself from the vote. It is a glaring conflict of interest.

Welp, the RI Ethics Commission disagrees. In fact, they were so sure of themselves, they decided that the complaint was not even worthy of an investigation—they voted 5 to 1 to dismiss it. According to them, Lawson’s employer—the NEA who aggressively sought and lobbied for the legislation—wasn’t impacted by the legislation. Who on earth believes that? If they weren’t impacted by the legislation, why would they lobby so hard for it?

That’s easy. They wouldn’t. And everybody knows that.

The NEA literally sent a public thank you note to Governor Raimondo the morning after she signed the bill. The NEA promised to endorse her in the primary if she promised to sign this horrible bill that she used to oppose— and she took the deal. But sure—keep telling us that the NEA, as an entity, wasn’t impacted by the bill. Because that makes sense.

Taxpayers will, per usual, be on the hook for the expense that comes along with the evergreen contract legislation. Mayors from all over the state were united in pleas for the Governor not to sign the bill because they knew how much leverage it would give the unions and the potential damage it could do to municipal budgets. The staggering increases in health care costs alone could bankrupt the cities that are already on the brink of fiscal collapse.

But the Ethics Commission doesn’t feel an obligation to even pretend they care about the people who will foot the bill. As far as they are concerned, it’s too much to ask that a union vice president recuse herself from a vote that will directly affect teacher contracts.

Senator Lawson has said that she followed guidance of the Ethics Commission—well, no wonder they voted 5-1 to dismiss the complaint. They think this is all just fine and dandy.

The vote on the evergreen contract legislation wasn’t close enough for Lawson’s vote to have changed the outcome. But that isn’t the point. The issue—obvious to anyone with a rational mind—is that a union employee should not be voting on legislation that directly affects the contracts of its members. Period.

Nothing to see here, guys. We aren’t really the Ethics Commission—we just play one on TV.

What do you think?

2 thoughts on “Got Ethics? Nope, Not in Rhode Island

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  2. Ms Lawson was duly elected and is answerable to her constituents. Do not see why she should not vote on this issue. Would a business owner who hates unions and fails to provide good health benefits to employees recuse, and would you be critical if he/ she voted?

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