To the Editor: On the eve of the primary election, Mr. Cushman offers several mischaracterizations of me in an attempt to mislead the voters in Warwick. I'll address these one at a …
To the Editor:
On the eve of the primary election, Mr. Cushman offers several mischaracterizations of me in an attempt to mislead the voters in Warwick. I'll address these one at a time:
1. After reading of Councilman Merolla's campaign finance violations printed in this paper on Aug. 13, 2020, I communicated this information to voters, many of whom have told me that they are happy to have been made aware. These are not "wild" or "ridiculous" accusations. These violations happened: in at least 12 payments, over 6 years, in over 300 printed publications, and can be verified through Councilman Merolla’s finance reports between 2014 and 2019 and with the agency that publishes the advertisements. In that same Warwick Beacon article, Councilman Merolla admitted to using $5,911 of campaign funds to pay for the advertisement to promote his personal law firm. After being confronted with this information, Councilman Merolla refunded the $5,911 to his campaign account, which can be seen in his public campaign finance report filed as recently as September 1, 2020. Again, fact.
2. I remember well the single meeting in 2015 that Mr. Cushman references where the Attorney General found the Warwick Municipal Pension Review Board in violation of Open Meetings Law. The City Council had arranged for a meeting with the Pension's actuary. The Board also needed to meet with the actuary, and quickly arranged that meeting without providing 48-hour public notice. The Board entered executive session in that same meeting. While the Board believed its actions fell within the emergency exception to the notice rule, the Attorney General’s Office did not agree. As is customary after such a finding, the Attorney General filed suit in order to assess any monetary repercussions. I have been a member of the Board since 2012. The Board had no open-meeting violations prior to that 2015 meeting or since. Mr. Cushman’s claim that the Board violated the state’s open meeting laws “several times” is sadly disingenuous and misleading, which is clear from a very simple review of the Attorney General’s publicly reported violations on its website.
3. The Municipal Pension has not underperformed expectations. In fact, investment performance for the past 10 years has been in line with the benchmark (over 8% return through August, unaudited). Furthermore, Warwick's City Worker’s Pension at 73.7% funded liability is the second strongest City Worker Municipal pension in the state and represents an increase of over 4% since 2012. This has been accomplished in an extraordinarily difficult financial environment for the city, and is a testament to the stewardship and diligence of each member who has served Warwick on the Pension and Retirement Board. I'm proud of the work of my fellow Board members, and Warwick should be, too.
4. As a former City Councilman, Mr. Cushman is fully aware that the decision to approve or deny COLA increases is determined by a formula that is codified in law, and only the City Council has the power to amend this formula – not the Pension Board. As a result of the formula in place, which is the law that must be followed, the Board denied COLA increases for at least 10 years prior to approving a COLA increase last year. I was personally delighted to approve this increase. First, that signaled the health of the plan. Second, that once-in-a-decade COLA offered some relief, albeit small, for retirees surviving on a fixed income. Mr. Cushman references a few pension participants receiving over $100,000 per year, but the average yearly pension is far lower at $34,758. If Mr. Cushman desires to change this formula to further prohibit COLA increases for retirees, he should take this up with the City Council, as he is already aware.
I am stumped by Mr. Cushman’s final accusation about me being a poster boy for the same old politics. I have never served in politics. What I have done is serve my community. Besides waiving any income for my service to the Warwick Pension Review Board for 9 years, l have served on the Board of Directors of The Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, the Sojourner House, and Junior Achievement, and also served on the Professional Advisory Council to the Rhode Island Foundation.
Mr. Cushman is certainly free to support the candidate of his choice, but his timed tactic of publishing a letter now with mischaracterizations and misrepresentations to seed doubt with the public in order to deflect actual, factual violations and ethics concerns is tiresome. Many career politicians may fear my candidacy, but I hope that the voters in Senate District 31 will welcome me in serving them. I believe in a motto of the Rhode Island Foundation: “The most important thing you can do while you're here is to ensure the world will be better when you're not.”
Candidate Senate District 31