More Commentary on Stephen Iannazzi
My situation may be unique (although I doubt it), but one of the consequences of Rhode Island’s political and economic structure is that it is so darn difficult just to get by and raise a family that little time remains to keep a consistently watchful eye on local political corruption. Such has been the case in my efforts to garner commentary on the union-rep nepotism that brought 25-year-old Stephen Iannazzi into a $90,000 State House job.
But the responses have come trickling in, nonetheless.
To recap, young Iannazzi’s boss, Senate Majority Leader Dominique Ruggerio has defended the hiring in no uncertain terms. East Bay state Senator Louis DiPalma defended it, as well. Responding to an inquiry from me, several local elected officials took varying positions. Since then, Tiverton Town Council Member Rob Coulter sent the following:
Thank you for calling this to my attention. I agree that the qualification profile and the close relationships connected with such a highly paid public position are grounds for serious concern and further inquiry.
While obviously this involves a state – not Tiverton – position, we all share a common interest in transparent, efficient government. With Rhode Island suffering from the third worst unemployment rate in the nation, I’d say taxpayers, and other state employees for that matter, deserve a thorough confirmation of whether this $88,000 position was, and still is, appropriately filled. Perhaps a more thorough explanation will satisfy these questions which have been fairly raised, and I hope that our Senate delegation will take the appropriate steps to ensure public confidence in the integrity of the public hiring system and that taxpayer dollars are being spent fairly and wisely.
Coulter’s fellow Tiverton Town Council member Joan Chabot looked into general salary levels:
I have reviewed the Providence Journal article that you indicated in this email and conducted some research into JCLS. I couldn’t easily find hiring/compensation procedures for the JCLS, but found only that it should be similar to the procedures used by the executive branch.
I also researched salary information for a legislative assistant/legislative aide position to get an idea of the “going” rate. That research produced an average salary of $46,000 for a legislative assistant/aide at the state level.
Based on this research, I think it is very suspicious that a person with no experience and no college degree could qualify for a legislative aide position with a starting salary of $88,112. Common sense dictates that this issue deserves further explanation and scrutiny.
Many questions come to mind… What was the hiring process? Were there other applicants for this position? Were interviews conducted? What are the salaries of other legislative assistants/aides? Is this person’s salary in range of the other assistants/aides? If it is, why is the salary range so high?
This should certainly send up a red flag in government spending at a time when the state can least afford an $88K legislative aide. I’m certain we can find several college graduates that would take the job for half the salary. Our state legislators should be questioning this issue and pushing for answers from the JCLS now that they are aware of the situation. And if irregularities are found, then the situation must be addressed.
From the RI House, Representative Dan Gordon (R, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton) responded as follows:
I believe that at a bare minimum, the questions that have been posed by the media and the public regarding the hiring of Mr. Iannazzi must be answered. The lack of responses thus far are certainly lending to the cloud of suspicion.
As a State Representative and custodian of taxpayer dollars, it is troubling to me that there are obvious family and labor ties involved in hiring this young man. I’m certain the people would like to see his resume, what exactly are the job duties of a Senate Aide that justify an $88,112 salary with state benefits, how the position was advertised, and the resumes of the other applicants. I know for a fact that highly qualified degree holders have offered to do the job for half the salary. Let’s see some transparency from the Senate chamber.
And Rep. John Edwards (D, Tiverton, Portsmouth) mailed the following on House stationery:
Thank you for contacting me in reference to Senator DiPalma’s remarks concerning a recent hire by the Senate Majority Leader. While I do not know this particular individual or of his qualifications, I was surprised to read that someone so young was so well compensated.
My experience has been that the level of income this young man receives is normally reserved for someone more experienced in their field. Again, I will re-iterate that I have no knowledge of his qualifications.
The hiring and personnel process in the General Assembly should be addressed to bring more transparency to it, to allow more people to apply for these positions. I have spoken to Speaker Fox, concerning the recent pay raises he has given to a number of House employees. I expressed my disagreement with his decision and shared the many outraged calls and emails I received from my constituents. The leadership of the General Assembly needs to be sensitive to the concerns of our constituents on this matter, especially in the midst of this deep and long recession.
So, I’ve not yet found another elected official willing to take DiPalma’s astonishing step of defending Ruggerio’s hire of his union pal’s son at an absurdly high salary, but I’ve also not seen indication of any sparks for further action. I’ll soon be posting a chart of people I’ve contacted and their responses (or lack thereof), as well as contacting more elected officials and other people involved in state and local politics.