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Nesi’s Notes: July 6

Ted Nesi

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Happy Saturday! Here’s another edition of my weekend column for WPRI.com – as always, send your takes, tips and trial balloons to tnesi@wpri.com and follow @tednesi on Twitter.

1. Lack of transparency was an original sin of the Catholic sex abuse scandal. Parishioners were not informed when priests were accused, and attempts to bring the issue to light too often were met with stonewalling. Slowly, painfully, that is changing. This week the Providence Diocese published what at one time would have been an unthinkable document: a list of 50 priests “credibly accused” of abuse, along with their parish assignments and dates of removal from ministry. Almost no corner of Rhode Island was untouched: bishops assigned the 50 priests to 185 institutions in 32 cities and towns over the course of the last century. In a letter and video, Bishop Tobin described the list’s publication as “an expression of the transparency we want to encourage, and the accountability we need to accept.” Yet the commitment to transparency only goes so far; the document was released on a shortened three-day holiday work week for the chancery, and neither Tobin nor his compliance chief, retired State Police Maj. Kevin O’Brien, agreed to do interviews. Inevitably, that has left many unanswered questions. What did diocesan leaders know, and when did they know it? How many allegations were there against each of the 50 priests? How many additional accusations did the diocese decide were not credible? How many cases were investigated by civil authorities? Why was the 2011 removal of one priest announced at the time as a transition to senior priest status?

2. Some of those lingering questions may eventually be answered by Attorney General Neronha, who affirmed this week that he is conducting an ongoing investigation of clergy sex abuse that includes a reexamination of existing files and evidence. What’s unclear is whether the public will ever get to share in any insights Neronha and his prosecutors gain: lawmakers buried the AG’s bill to let grand juries issue reports on important investigations that don’t lead to indictments. That means he can’t follow the same playbook as his Pennsylvania counterpart did last year. (It wasn’t the only high-profile defeat for Neronha in his first legislative session: the Assembly also blocked his proposal to reclassify simple drug possession and defied him on a $5 million budget item.)

3. Governor Raimondo is not a big fan of the 2019-20 state budget: she says it spends $40.6 million more than she wanted, cuts key economic development and job-training programs, gives away as much as $42 million to out-of-state investors, forces taxpayers to buy new license plates, increases future deficits, and creates the risk DCYF won’t have adequate funding to protect children. She also just signed that budget into law. What gives? The governor said despite her reservations, she couldn’t “in good faith” reject a plan that also includes major boosts to education. This line near the end of Raimondo’s transmittal letter was intriguing: “We are one of only six states that lack a line-item veto – a critical tool for ensuring transparency and accountability. The line-item veto is the single best tool to increase transparency and protect taxpayers from unnecessary or unwise spending. It has the support of a solid majority of Rhode Islanders and I look forward to working with the General Assembly to put it on next year’s ballot.” It will be interesting to see whether that turns out to be just a bit of post-session blowing off steam or if her office actually follows it up with a concerted push. (“Let’s go!” tweeted longtime proponent Ken Block. “The time is now,” agreed GOP Chairwoman Sue Cienki.)

4. Governor Raimondo will be in Idaho most of next week to attend the Allen & Co. Sun Valley Conference, a major annual gathering of media and telecom bigwigs. Her office says she’ll be seeking economic development opportunities. She departs Tuesday and returns Friday. (Raimondo previously spoke at a 2017 Allen & Co. tech conference held in Arizona.)

5. Here’s a dispatch from Target 12’s newest addition, Eli Sherman: “Mayor Elorza and City Council leaders reached a budget deal this week, but somehow they still don’t see eye-to-eye on how much Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré will earn during the 2019-20 fiscal year that began Monday. The commissioner’s salary was a sticking point in negotiations between the mayor – who proposed a slight pay bump – and some city councilors, who wanted to reduce Paré’s salary by $40,000. After giving the $770 million budget initial approval on Wednesday, Council President Sabina Matos said the line item for Paré’s salary had been reduced. But Elorza’s office maintains the commissioner will earn the same amount he did last fiscal year. ‘This IS public information, you know,’ former Projo reporter Mike Stanton pointed out on Twitter, as reporters lamented the lack of clarity. But unless leadership reaches some type of agreement on what Paré’s paycheck will look like, it may require comparing pay stubs between fiscal years to get a clear answer.”

6. If you visit the State House these days, you’ll notice some dramatic changes: no desks in the House and Senate chambers. That’s because the end of session marked the beginning of a $2.5 million renovation project for the hallowed halls where reps and senators cast their votes. “The project is intended to restore the chambers as closely as possible to their original appearance at the beginning of the last century, while improving handicapped accessibility and technology, and complying with modern electrical, building and fire codes,” legislative leaders said in a breakdown of what’s planned. Among the highlights: replacing the much-criticized drapes on the two rostrums. (No more sadly faded red curtain behind Speaker Mattiello.) All the work is being done with the support of Sally Strachan’s State House Restoration Society, and it’s supposed to be done by the time the Assembly’s next regular session starts on Jan. 7, 2020. As noted in last week’s column, that means legislative leaders will have to find somewhere else to gather when they take up the IGT bill this fall.

7. Charlie Baker remains the country’s most popular governor, with a 73% approval rating, and talk has already started about whether he will go for a third term in 2022. But June was not a great month for the recently re-elected Republican: the Red Line’s struggles have renewed criticism of how he manages the MBTA, while the RMV’s ignoring of license suspension notices was linked to a deadly motorcycle crash. “I’m going to be really watching very closely how the RMV issue impacts the governor and his administration, and whether it derails his ability to run for a third term,” Stonehill College’s Peter Ubertaccio said on this week’s Newsmakers. He described the RMV failure as “an example of the kind of mismanagement that Charlie Baker as a gubernatorial candidate would have gone after his predecessor for.” Politico Massachusetts’ Stephanie Murray says the headlines have also clearly led to a shift in priorities on Beacon Hill. “At the beginning of the year, the whole conversation about new revenues and change on Beacon Hill was going to be about education and funding the state’s education system,” Murray said on Newsmakers. “And as we head into July, it’s all about transportation. … The conversation is totally shifted, and now the speaker is promising to have a debate about new revenue for transportation this fall.”

8. The Warwick Beacon’s Ethan Hartley takes a deep dive into the city’s financial woes.

9. The power of the presidential Twitter account: @realDonaldTrump retweeted local radio host John DePetro’s July 4 tweet in praise of his “Salute to America,” and as of this writing the message had garnered over 8,300 retweets and 40,000 likes.

10. The congressionally chartered National Trust for Historic Preservation announced $1.6 million in grants Friday from its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, and one of the recipients is the Preservation Society of Newport County to support God’s Little Acre. The trust’s description of the cemetery: “The largest and most intact Colonial-era African burial ground in the country, where the story of slavery and the European Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade is told, brings life to the stories of creative survival and perseverance by the first Africans of Newport.”

11. The pilot for a sitcom called “Made in Rhode Island” is being filmed … in Worcester. (The producer says his team couldn’t get enough tax credits in Rhode Island.)

12. Nate Cohn investigates whether we should trust online political polling.

13. Lyman Stone argues Baby Boomers ruined everything.

14. Everything old is new again: Millennials are rediscovering the joys of typewriters.

15. Travel & Leisure names Tricycle the best ice cream in Rhode Island.

16. Brown’s Gordon Wood on the real meaning of the Declaration of Independence.

17. Set your DVRs: This week on NewsmakersIan Donnis, Dan McGowan, Stephanie Murray and Peter Ubertaccio break down the first half of 2019 and what to expect for the rest of the year in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Watch Sunday at 10 a.m. on Fox Providence. Podcast lovers, subscribe on iTunes — get the Newsmakers podcast here and the Executive Suite podcast here — and radio listeners can listen Sundays at 6 p.m. on WPRO-AM 630 and WEAN-FM 99.7. See you back here next Saturday morning.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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