At the Top of the Patronage Network

As I mentioned to John DePetro last week, one of the notable developments in the controversy of Speaker Mattiello v. the Convention Center Authority was that labor union pooh-bah George Nee was a co-author of an op-ed pushing back against the Providence Journal’s strong support for Mattiello’s audit idea.  As the editor’s note explains, Nee is a vice chair of the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority.

Providence Journal reporter Katherine Gregg gave Rhode Islanders a bit more of a look into the way things work around here when she tweeted that “AFL CIO president and ConvCtr board member George Nee confirms he too has family on RICCA payroll. His sister in law, Eileen Smith, is admin asst to RICCA exec director.”  Gregg’s tweet links to an article in which she reports that the Convention Center’s employees technically work for a private company, ASM Global, which refuses to “disclose names, job titles and pay of these workers.”

Our look into the way things work can only go so far, I guess.

For a little bit more of a taste, recall a March 2016 post in this space that points out some additional Nee connections.

  • Brigid Nee, who appears to be his daughter, was at the time development manager for the non-profit Year Up, which began receiving money from the Governor’s Workforce Board when the Dept. of Education began reducing funding for the group.  You might have guessed that George is a member of the GWB.
  • No fewer than half of the 16 members of the board had associations with organizations receiving money from it.
  • In 2010, when 38 Studios was on its way into the state, Nee (who, Surprise!, was on the board of the Economic Development Corp. that handled the controversial money transfer and is still on the board of RI Commerce) worked his connections trying to get a job for Shana Mancinho, daughter of one of his AFL CIO coworkers.
  • It doesn’t appear that Mancinho got the job, but the state’s transparency site shows a Shana Autiello (which appears to be her married name for the past several years) working in public relations for the Department of Labor and Training (at $70,820 per year), which is the agency associated with the GWB.

This isn’t even just the tip of the iceberg.  It’s a few flakes of snow on the sharp point of the tip of the iceberg.  All those boards… all that money… all that influence.

That brings us back to Mattiello v. the Convention Center Authority.  The crux of the alleged controversy is that the Speaker of the House ordered an audit of the authority when a “Mattiello friend,” James Demers, began having difficulty there as an employee.  News reports suggest Mattiello backed off the audit after a conversation with another “friend” inside the authority, the Teamsters lobbyist Paul MacDonald — whom Gregg reports as a board member with multiple relatives employed by the authority.

When one thinks of the surprising audacity of the authority in rejecting the audit and, in fact, calling for an investigation of the speaker, a question comes to mind: Is all of the controversy just the unions and other insiders teaching the speaker a lesson about his actual place in this network of patronage?

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