Thanks for nothing!

By PROVIDENCE PHOENIX STAFF  |  November 22, 2011

Cicilline, of course, quickly turned the dispute to political advantage with a barrage of radio ads and fundraising appeals. The firefighters spat back. And the columnists and talk show hosts poured it on.

It was turkey time in Providence, again. And the whole country was watching.


KEN BLOCK

Ken Block, top bird for the fledgling Moderate Party, has made ethics a central issue in his long-shot bid to upend Rhode Island's ethically challenged politics. But Block, it seems, has some challenges of his own.

Last month, a blogger at rifuture.org revealed that Block had skirted the state's campaign finance laws: donating the maximum $10,000 to the state party operation and then giving another $10,000 to its Barrington affiliate, which promptly forwarded — you guessed it — $10,000 to the parent organization.

Now the Board of Elections, after suggesting for a time that the party may have found a loophole in the law, is seeking to impose a fine. And Block is fighting it beak and toe.

This doesn't look good, Ken. Pay the fine.


RHODE ISLAND HOSPITAL

If Block needs help repairing his clipped wings, he may want to steer clear of Rhode Island Hospital.

The state recently fined the hospital $150,000 for conducting its fifth wrong-site surgery in the last two years.

Back away from the scalpel, turkeys.


THE RHODE ISLAND SUPREME COURT

Curbing the felonious tendencies of the Rhode Island pol may be a hopeless endeavor. But the voters took an admirable stab at it nearly a quarter-century ago when they amended the state constitution to establish one of the most powerful and independent ethics commissions in the land.

In June, the state Supreme Court gobbled up much of the panel's authority when it ruled 3-1 that the commission can't prosecute members of the General Assembly for misuse of their most powerful tool: their vote.

The case centered on former Senate President William V. Irons, an insurance broker accused of doing the bidding of CVS and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island in the legislature while collecting hundreds of thousands in commissions connected to the companies.

The majority said Irons was protected by the state constitution's "speech-in-debate" clause, a provision dating to 15th Century England that is meant to prevent disgruntled citizens and other branches of government from taking shots at lawmakers for their legislative work.

But as dissenting Justice Paul A. Suttell suggested, a mad-as-hell electorate was looking to shake up Rhode Island politics in a big way when it established the ethics commission in 1986. Constitutional language declaring that the ethics amendment applies to "all elected officials" should have trumped some dusty parliamentary protection. Instead, the court handed lawmakers an invitation to corruption.

Not that they needed it.


BISHOP TOBIN

Providence Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has a sharp tongue and a special affinity for microphones. So when Congressman Patrick Kennedy reamed the Catholic Church last month for inserting abortion politics into the health care debate, the prelate's forceful response was hardly a surprise.

But if the bishop had a right to pipe up on the issues, he went turkey when he publicly questioned Kennedy's personal faith.

In an open letter to the Congressman that appeared in the diocesan newspaper this month, the bishop asked if Kennedy belongs to a parish, wondered if he attends Mass on Sundays, and suggested that his support for abortion rights is an unpardonable offense.

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