Asleep at the wheel

By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  October 3, 2012

The_Pit_main
THE PIT Enrico DiGregorio, a major state contractor, operated an illegal mine for months.

AN ODD POLICY

If the state has a weak system for vetting contractors, it does stumble upon wrongdoing from time to time. And it has a couple of tools for cracking down on violators: it can suspend contractors for up to two years or debar them permanently.

The legal standard for suspension or debarment, though, is relatively high. And the state seems rather cautious about exercising its power.

When Sealcoating pled guilty to conspiracy and three counts of making false statements, the purchasing office sent a letter to the firm declaring that it would "permanently debar" the paver.

But the company objected. And two years later, the office reversed itself, citing a shakeup in the Sealcoating's management. In a matter of months, the company was working for the state again.

Wuori, the president of the firm, insisted Sealcoating did its penance in the mid-'90s. And besides, she said, its crime is "ancient history" by this point. She may be right. But it's not Sealcoating that should be making that decision.

Highway contractors, by failing to disclose their wrongdoing, have effectively taken the decision-making power away from the state. And Rhode Island officialdom, for its part, has done little to take it back.

But this is not just a matter of disclosure and enforcement. There's a bigger issue. The state has made a consequential public policy decision that seems an odd fit for a place so blue.

The state cares, at least nominally, about firms that engage in fraud — Sealcoating did face some penalty, after all. But it has decided, consciously or not, that environmental and workplace safety violations don't matter all that much.

It has decided that violators are free to earn the taxpayers' millions even if they're fouling the land or putting workers at risk.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at dscharfenberg@phx.com. Follow him on Twitter  @d_scharfenberg.

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