I’m Guessing It’s Not Going to Be a Quiet End to the Legislative Session This Year

Jim Baron of the Pawtucket Times, on Governor Donald Carcieri’s response to the RI Senate’s Government Oversight Committee hearings into his adminstration’s temporary-staff policies…

An uncharacteristically tough-talking Gov. Donald Carcieri lambasted the Senate Government Oversight Committee Thursday, accusing its members of “abusing…manhandling…berating and harassing” administration staffers during hearings and making demands for information that are bringing the operations of the state purchasing division to a halt.
Moreover, Carcieri threatened to sic the Bureau of Audits and even the State Police on legislators who may have exerted “inappropriate influence” over the awarding of past contracts and to make public, by posting on the Internet, a log of any calls legislators make or have made to the administration requesting that a certain company win a state contract or a constituent get a state job….
Carcieri said the purchasing division of the DOA is “currently at a virtual standstill” because department officials have spent approximately 500 hours identifying, locating, retrieving, photocopying, collating and delivering “over 10,000 pieces of paper” to the committee. “It is my understanding that the committee hasn’t even bothered to open many of the boxes of paper we have provided. Every hour expended to respond to the committee’s requests is an hour that an employee is not performing their usual duties.”
There is also a concern that we will not be able to close the state’s fiscal books by the end of June,” he said. “I cannot allow state government to grind to a halt in order to accommodate these many voluminous document requests”…
Carcieri suggested two remedies. He said if the committee wishes, he would instruct DOA “to give Senate and Senate staff unfettered access to all of the purchasing documents in the state’s possession” that are not being used as part of an active procurement. “You and your staff will be allowed to inspect the documents personally, determine what is of interest to your committee and make any necessary photocopies.
“If your committee is unwilling to make that effort,” Carcieri told Lenihan, “I will hire an outside copying firm to photocopy every document related to state purchasing from 2002 to 2006 in order to provide them to the committee as quickly as possible.” That, he estimated would cost taxpayers $400,000 to $600,000….
Katherine Gregg of the Projo, on the same subject…
While denying that he was seeking to divert attention from the Senate’s inquiry into his administration’s use of a private company, Smart Staffing Service, to supply hundreds of state workers, Carcieri said in an open letter to J. Michael Lenihan, the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight Committee: “It appears that committee members are less interested in seeking facts than they are in scoring points in the media. I can no longer allow this harassment of hard-working state employees to continue.”
He accused the lawmakers of “abusing,” “manhandling” and “verbally berating” state workers at their public hearings. He also accused the committee of creating “chaos within state government” and jeopardizing the year-end close of books with “its voluminous inquiries”….
But Carcieri said: “I cannot allow state government to grind to a halt in order to accommodate these many voluminous document requests. I also cannot allow these hearings to be used as a vehicle for abusing hard-working state employees.… That is not acceptable.
“I understand that committee members may have political problems with me as governor. That’s fine. But that cannot be used as an excuse to manhandle department employees,” he said.
And Steve Peoples of the Projo, on $80 millon in expected revenue that Rhode Island won’t be receiving this year…
The state probably won’t receive $80 million of anticipated revenue in the coming fiscal year from American International Group — the insurance giant that agreed last year to pay various states and investors more than $1.6 billion in restitution and penalties for filing false financial statements.
Rhode Island is due to receive the largest share of the settlement — nearly $100 million, including interest. State officials, thinking they were moving conservatively, projected revenues of $80 million in May from the settlement.
Yesterday they learned they would probably receive nothing in the next fiscal year.
“It is my opinion that the AIG settlement will enter long and protracted [litigation] in the next four to six months. We don’t expect the revenue for 2008. We’re just at a standstill at this point,” said A. Michael Marques, director of the state Department of Business Regulation.

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Anthony
Anthony
14 years ago

The requests of the General Assembly are in keeping with its “power of the purse” role.
I can understand the Governor’s frustration with the General Assembly’s actions and more important, the motivation for its actions (which are really directed more at hurting Carcieri himself than on any legitimate reason of saving taxpayers money or investigating ethical concerns).
Still, the General Assembly has the constitutional right to do what it is doing. I’m sure that George Bush isn’t thrilled with some of the requests coming to him from the Democrat Congress and if you want to see abusive treatment before a legislative committee, take a look a the US AG’s testimony before Congress or the confirmation hearings of any Supreme Court justice.
Unlike Congress, where we had every opportunity to keep a Republican majority (but some folks wanted to send a ‘message’), Governor Carcieri knew he’d be dealing with a Democrat majority. This can’t be unexpected.
I like Carcieri’s idea of providing open records access to the Senate staff although we all know that the “hard work” performed by state workers in either the executive or legislative branch doesn’t run beyond 5PM with at least an hour for lunch.

Tim
Tim
14 years ago

Anthony,
The governor isn’t saying this Senate committee doesn’t have an oversight role. What the governor is saying is they don’t have a right to abuse his staff and they don’t have a right to make ridiculous demands for documents when much of what they have received sits untouched.
Good for the governor to stand up to these clowns. Let’s consider this a bit of executive branch oversight of the legislature.
Must say I’ve been very surprised by the attitude coming from the usually competent and thoughtful Mike Lenihan. Anyone know what’s going on with Lenihan? He doesn’t look good at all. Has the look of a homeless man with that unkept beard of his. A pair scissors are in order.

SusanD
SusanD
14 years ago

“Maybe it’s because these records are filed by date, so if you want to pull files that have to do with deviations from norm in bidding you have to go through 7,700 files.… Maybe somebody ought to be looking at what their problem is over there.”
I always appreciate how even handed Anthony is, a difficult task for some of us when it comes to the G.A.
But while the G.A. undoubtedly has the Constitutional right to do what they are doing, it looks like this the first time they have ever actually exercised it. No oversight can ever have been done with such an obstructionist filing system.
The question is, who set it up that way (it presumably pre-dates Carcieri by several decades) and why has the G.A., with their oversight authority and obligation and in this day of gigabytes and scanners, not requested that it be corrected so that they can properly fulfil their Constitutional duties?

John
John
14 years ago

Susan,
Simple answer to your question. Before Separation of Powers was enacted, the General Assembly argued that it excercised oversight not through the hearing process used by other legislative bodies, but by having its members serve on public boards and commissions. Eventually, the public figured out that this was little more than a clever ruse to maximize the amount of money they could earn from their elected office.
Now the General Assembly finds itself in the position of actually having to exercise oversight authority like any other legislative body. I honestly think Lenihan’s heart is in the right place on this one (moreover, his view that the single biggest obstacle to cleaning up the RI political system is the excessive power of the Speaker of the House also seems right on target). However, too many of Mike’s colleagues have, perhaps in the manner of all cornered rats, chosen to use the oversight process as a means to lash out at whichever of their perceived tormenters they think they can reach. The unopened boxes of documents speak volumes about the nature of the “oversight” process that they are following. This is really nothing more than a game of chicken — and the Governor just told them he has no intention of blinking first.

Anthony
Anthony
14 years ago

The executive branch has little oversight power over the legislative branch. The Constitution was designed to give the people oversight power through the legislative branch as a check on the executive branch.
I agree with Susan. It’s 2007. Is the state so inefficient as to not have electronic files that can use search terms? It’s not like the General Assembly is asking for materials going back to 1985. Most of these contracts are relatively recent.
One of the reasons I can’t cut the Governor much slack on this issue is because having more efficient records retention and storage was supposed to be one of the biggest accomplishments of the Governor’s Fiscal Fitness program.
But it seems that “more efficient” means just having a record retention schedule, filing them by date to ensure that documents get destroyed when they are supposed to get destroyed.
That might help clear the clutter of obsolete records, but it apparently hasn’t done anything to help expedite the searching of records.
I wouldn’t let someone get away with the “this is too much work” excuse in business and I would hope that the Governor won’t accept that excuse from those in government.

Tim
Tim
14 years ago

Anthony,
The executive branch has more oversight of the legislature than you care to admit. Also quite surprised you’ve so readily dismissed the ball busting angle in all this given how strong the union smell on that committee. Lenihan lost control of his own committee to his union underbosses Sheehan and Ciccone. We’ll see if Lenihan gets his control back. The governor’s actions from here on out will tell the tale of who’s now running the show, Lenihan or Sheehan/Ciccone.

Anthony
Anthony
14 years ago

Tim,
I don’t dismiss the ‘ball busting’ part. I’ve already said that I believe that the General Assembly is more concerned about doing damage to Carcieri than about resolving problems.
My point is that they’re entitled to do it, even if I disagree with what they are doing and that the executive branch should be able to respond to the inquiries.
I’m approaching this from a broader perspective.
Under similar circumstances, if there were a Republican General Assembly and a Democrat Governor with an inquiry into a serious issue, I wouldn’t accept the response of “it’s too much work”, either.
Unfortunately, I think this type of partisanship is only going to get more common rather than less common.

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