As the subpoenas fly and the investigation continues into the unseemly air surrounding the Convention Center Authority and House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello’s call for an audit, we’re stuck in a moment of intense interest but little information. That gives us a chance to look for broader lessons.
One recurring theme with Mattiello is that his “friends” and allies keep popping up in a conspicuously connected way. So, the former Authority employee whose suspension allegedly sparked the audit as payback, James Demers, is often called “a Mattiello friend.” The head of the Joint Committee for Legislative Services (JCLS) who has been subpoenaed is “Mattiello friend” Frank Montanaro, Jr. And when the offices of JCLS were suddenly cleaned out, ostensibly to address a mold problem, a company called Single Source, owned by Mattiello associate Jack Pomeranz, did the work.
An argument sometimes advanced by people seeking to justify Buddy Cianci’s activities comes to mind: In a corrupt environment, those in power have a reason to cultivate a network of people they can trust… which starts to look like corruption. A line exists somewhere between filling offices with people who’ll help you deal with the corrupt system and giving out patronage jobs to friends who bring nothing to the table. The point at which an official crosses that line is not always clear, and it can move depending on the individuals and the circumstances. We’re talking something more like a battlefield, where natural and strategic considerations may suggest rough boundaries, than a football field, where the lines are so clear that a toe can make a difference.
Of course, because the line is not clear, allegations of corruption can become a weapon even when not justified. We have some experience with that in Tiverton. When reform-minded residents (including this writer) claimed a majority of the council, cries of (and lies about) corruption became commonplace. There was never any evidence, but the accusation was thrown around on social media and even statewide TV. The slender hooks were that the council hired a solicitor whom we knew would not undermine us, but just explain the law, and appointed a resident with a different view than the establishment to the library board.
At the same time that we keep an eye out for corruption and hold officials accountable, we do need to be careful about being misled by accusations about it.