PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island officials are so far refusing to release a document detailing allegations of inappropriate behavior by at least one high-level state official during a business trip to Philadelphia last month, Target 12 has learned.
On March 10, two officials — David Patten, director of the R.I. Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, and Jim Thorsen, director of the R.I. Department of Administration — visited a facility developed by Scout Ltd., which is leading efforts to redevelop the historic Cranston Street Armory in Providence.
Six people familiar with the situation told Target 12 that after the pair returned, Scout staff members wrote an email alleging that Patten made a series of inappropriate comments that shocked the people he met over the course of the daylong visit.
Patten has been on paid leave since three days after the trip, and his family told Target 12 he is out of work for medical reasons. The McKee administration hired Patten for the job a little over a year ago, at a current salary of $174,490. He previously served as vice president of business affairs at the Community College of Rhode Island from 2013 to 2018.
Thorsen remains in his job, but is slated to step down at the end of this month to rejoin the U.S. Treasury Department. A spokesperson said Thorsen had already tendered his resignation prior to the Philadelphia trip.
The offices of Gov. Dan McKee and House Speaker Joe Shekarchi both received copies of the email from Scout, but so far they have refused to release the document despite requests from Target 12. They said they would only consider releasing it after a formal review by lawyers under the Access to Public Records Act, which could take weeks.
“Regarding your request for any email documents as described below, our legal/APRA team is asking we direct reporters [to the portal] for all APRA requests to keep them centralized and organized,” Andrea Palagi, McKee’s communications director, said in an email. (Target 12 has made that request.)
Palagi did not respond to questions about whether Patten or Thorsen had been disciplined over the trip, or how McKee reacted to the alleged behavior.
Shekarchi’s spokesperson, Larry Berman, said it was up to McKee to deal with the situation.
“We have no comment about personnel matters in the executive branch,” Berman said. “The General Assembly has no responsibility for administration employees.”
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio did not receive the email about the trip, a spokesperson said. Everett Abitbol, Scout’s director of hospitality and development, has not responded to messages. Scout’s lobbyist in Rhode Island, Jeff Britt, declined to comment.
Multiple people in Philadelphia who were visited by the two men either declined to comment on the record, or did not respond to phone calls requesting information.
Asked for the state’s general policy on reporting inappropriate conduct, Department of Administration spokesperson Laura Hart said the “best practice” for employees who “witness unprofessional or concerning behavior” is to contact the state’s Division of Human Resources.
“Depending on the situation, Human Resources may choose to make referrals to resources, take disciplinary action or other appropriate steps,” Hart said in an email. “As I mentioned before, neither I nor the director are able to comment on individual personnel matters.”
Separately, Hart confirmed that Thorsen’s calendar shows he met with HR immediately after returning from Philadelphia late on a Friday. The reason for the meeting was not disclosed.
In addition, Hart said that after Thorsen returned to Rhode Island, he asked Scout to provide an invoice so that he could personally reimburse the company for a $250 meal that he and Patten shared while they were there.
The problematic Philadelphia trip is the latest twist in the state’s yearslong struggle to figure out what to do about the Cranston Street Armory, a massive and long-vacant structure in Providence’s West End. In recent months, it has been used as a temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness, despite protests from some neighbors.
After decades of failed efforts to redevelop the fortress-like building, Rhode Island hired Philadelphia-based Scout through a competitive bidding process to come up with a reuse plan. Thorsen and Patten were in Philadelphia to visit Bok, a facility that Scout officials have often touted as an example of what they can do with a large space.
Providence Mayor Brett Smiley and Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos are among the elected officials who have expressed support for Scout’s vision.
“The prospect we could have the next generation grow up near this building and now it as a vibrant community-based building with opportunities for recreation, employment – we can kind of rewrite that story for a generation of West End residents and really Rhode Islanders as a whole,” Smiley said earlier this year in a promotional video posted online.
Scout was working on ideas for the Armory in December when McKee announced the building would be used as a 24-hour “warming station” for homeless people.
The state’s plan has been to close the warming station by the end of April, opening the door for the reuse plan to move forward. However, McKee’s proposed 2023-24 state budget contains no funding for the Armory project, which is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars.
The state has paid Scout $467,750 since last July for its work on the project so far, data shows.
Eli Sherman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.