Cicilline and the “Locked Out” Auditor – PolitiFact Does the Right Thing And Doesn’t Shield Him Behind a Technicality
Alright, alright, I’ll say it! Much as it pains me to admit it in view of their unfortunate record on so many other ratings, PolitiFact did a very good job rating an important and inaccurate statement that David Cicilline’s made during the WPRO Dem primary debate Tuesday night.
Below is my transcription of the exchange, which starts at around minute 6:50, with the statement rated by PolitiFact in bold. Kudos to both Anthony Gemma and WPRO’s Bill Haberman for eliciting this … development.
Gemma: “… The fact of the matter is, that he locked out the City Auditor. So, why would you lock out the City Auditor … when you’re not trying to hide something? …”
Haberman: “Congressman, that auditor issue has come up a lot.”
Cicilline: “That is absolutely false. The auditor was not locked out. And so … that is absolutely untrue.”
An important component of David Cicilline’s 2010 congressional bid consisted of a protracted campaign of cover-up and deception about both the fiscal condition of the City of Providence and the steps that he had taken to close a budget gap.
The largest component of this campaign, of course, was then-Mayor Cicilline’s deliberate, repeated mischaracterization as to the financial status of the city; i.e., Providence is in “excellent fiscal condition”. But critical to that lie … er, mischaracterization, was a months-long systematic repression, indeed, concealment, of information – information about public dollars and public expenditures, let’s remember – that could contradict his rosie statements.
Then-Mayor Cicilline delayed the independent audit of the city by waiting until right around Election Day 2010 to release the requisite information to the auditing firm, thereby ensuring that unhelpful information would not come out until after the election.
And prior to that, then-Mayor Cicilline had refused to give to Internal Auditor James Lombardi (it was widely reported that Lombardi had been locked out of his city computer, a report that I had echoed; this has turned out not to be true) critical data about the true fiscal condition of the city, thereby preventing the release of such information. Mr. Lombardi – incredibly – had to file an Open Records request to obtain this information. (Mr. Lombardi was able to compile and release his report about two weeks before the election and, of course, for many weeks prior, John Loughlin had been talking, at every opportunity and microphone, about the real fiscal condition of the city. But both of these loud alarms proved too late, mainly because Cicilline-infatuated media chose to ignore them.)
As a function of gauging the accuracy of Cicilline’s statement of Tuesday night
That is absolutely false. The auditor was not locked out. And so … that is absolutely untrue.
PolitiFact spoke to the Internal Auditor, James Lombardi, and learned the following.
Lombardi now says that he was never locked out of his computer. His computer access to city financial records was never canceled, he said, because he never had such access in the first place.
Nor was he ever physically locked out of his office or anywhere else where he tried to get records.
That would mean Cicilline is correct in the strictest sense of the phrase “locked out.”
But you can still be figuratively locked out if you are denied access to something you’re legally entitled to. …
Lombardi, whose complaints about his inability to get information from the mayor’s office go back to 2004, told us that in this case the problem wasn’t that he was denied the information. The problem was the timeliness of the responses he was getting.
A key issue was whether the city’s reserve fund — sometimes called the rainy-day fund — was being severely depleted. City records show that on Jan. 11, 2010, Lombardi had requested copies of all authorization forms transferring money in and out of the reserve fund in January 2010, which the Cicilline administration was tapping because of its budget problems. …
He did not get the information until October 2010, according to a report he filed with the City Council. That’s nine months.
When we asked the Cicilline campaign about the delay, spokesman Eric Hyers said “there was absolutely not any plan to delay him, to do anything secretly or to stonewall him.”
Hyers said Lombardi “had access to whatever he needed. He oftentimes had very unrealistic expectations as to what the turnaround time should be and how soon he should be provided with certain information. At times he assumed that City Hall officials were his own personal staff; they had their own jobs to do.”
Hyers said “this constant tug of war over what he was entitled to and when he should have it was not unique to 2010. It started several, several years ago.”
We saw two other examples. …
Really? Anything less than a nine month delay to obtain financial information is a “very unrealistic expectation”?
PolitiFact wasn’t buying it, either. They could have gotten hung up on “locked out” but, instead, focused on the actions and intent of David Cicilline. Good for them. (Oooch, ouch, the pain …)
Former Providence Mayor David Cicilline said that the internal auditor for the city “was not locked out” of access to the city’s finances.
The auditor now says that he was not locked out in the usual sense of the word.
But there’s a fine line between being locked out and stonewalled.
Cicilline’s spokesman emphatically says that “neither of those happened.”
But the record shows that Lombardi faced many months of delay in getting information he was entitled to by the City Charter. He was forced to use the state’s open records law to get information and waited months for it.
And key information — that Cicilline had been tapping the rainy day fund — wasn’t provided until October 2010, after Cicilline’s primary victory. …
The auditor was not locked out in the strictest sense. But the inability of the internal auditor to get information that might have led to a timely disclosure of the city’s serious financial problems had the same effect.
Because the statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, we rate it Mostly False.