PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Dan McKee’s office said Wednesday night he remains committed to the COVID-19 Equity Council that state leaders created last year, pushing back at criticism from one of its members following a midday meeting.
Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz — who ran for governor in 2018 and has already announced plans to challenge McKee for the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial nomination — said members of the Equity Council were informed Wednesday afternoon that their group would be “placed on hiatus” after a meeting next week.
“It was proposed that another body ‘may’ be formed in its place, but no timeline was provided, as to when that new body might be formed,” Muñoz said in a statement. “In addition, no information was provided as to what the membership of a new body might reflect, as it relates to diversity and the extent of community involvement.”
“Staff representing the McKee administration indicated that there is an opportunity to create a new ‘version’ that better ‘aligns with the administration’s priorities,'” Muñoz said, adding that other members also expressed concern about the decision during the meeting.
The Equity Council got its start in April 2020 as the Latino Advisory Group, which then-Gov. Gina Raimondo created “as a response to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the Latino community,” according to its website. It added members and expanded its focus the following month, in part due to the protests that erupted after the murder of George Floyd.
A list of Equity Council personnel shows 18 community members as of March 30, including Muñoz. Others included Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, who was then Providence City Council president, as well as Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera and Care New England executive Dr. Pablo Rodriguez.
No agenda for Wednesday’s meeting is posted on the council’s website, which has not been updated since April 21.
McKee spokesperson Andrea Palagi pushed back at Muñoz on Wednesday night, saying in an email, “The governor’s Equity Council is not being dismantled. The governor’s long-term vision is actually to develop the group in a more permanent way and expand its focus beyond COVID-19. … Addressing issues of equity and opportunity in all areas is a priority of the governor.”
Palagi said Health and Human Services Secretary Womazetta Jones plans to convene additional meetings of the Equity Council next week and again during the first week of June.
Muñoz said that schedule differs from what the council was told earlier in the day.
“The council was informed that we would meet one more time (May 26th) before a ‘hiatus’ and that a possible ‘new’ version of the group may be created, but no definitive plan is in place,” he said, adding, “If the administration has changed course, then that’s great news.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram