State republicans are correct about non-cancellation leases

By Arlene Violet
Posted 5/1/20

While it is no doubt unpopular with citizens who are scared out of their minds with the coronavirus, state GOP leaders are correct that the governor was wrong to make no-exit leases for field …

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State republicans are correct about non-cancellation leases


While it is no doubt unpopular with citizens who are scared out of their minds with the coronavirus, state GOP leaders are correct that the governor was wrong to make no-exit leases for field hospitals particularly with the RI Convention Center. While initially stating that all 3 leases had 30 day cancellation clauses, only one lease at the former Lowe’s warehouse space at Quonset has one. What is particularly opprobrious is that the Convention Center lease smacks of political payback.

The Republicans point out the curious time frame wherein the Governor released information about the state’s expected surge of Covid-19. On April 15 the almost $4.6 million, six month lease for the Convention Center was approved. Despite weeks of requests from  journalists to disclose the coronavirus forecasting model, the governor disclosed on April 16, one day after the deal with the Convention Center was signed, sealed, and delivered, that the virus would likely peak in 2 or 3 weeks and that there was sufficient hospital capacity to handle the projected surge. She further offered that the hospitalizations are likely to be lower than the projection. Certainly, it is wise to have a backup plan for field hospitals but there is no need to enter a non-cancellation lease for sixth months.

Perhaps, politics was the main reason for the Convention Center’s fiscal windfall. The chairman who oversees the facility is a close personal friend and contributor to the Governor. The vice chairman is George Nee, one labor leader who negotiated with the Governor relative to flexible hours and full employment for his members working in the state. Was this lease a payback?

Why it seems so, is the Convention Center is also a favor factory for politicians and their minions who receive whopping salaries. The number of employees is legion for a facility which is closed far more than it is open. But for Providence College basketball and a few other local seasonal sports teams, prop up meetings like the Rhode Island Foundation annual meeting, it would be a ghost town. Certainly, nobody is flocking to the Center once coronavirus hit the state. But what is really the “salt in the wounds” is that taxpayers subsidize the facility about $25 million a year anyway. The reality is that the rent should be a cipher given the subsidy dished out year after year.

The governor's spokeswoman told the Providence Journal (April 21, 2020), “It should be noted this is all federal money”. She forgets that we are federal taxpayers as well. We don’t want that money squandered, particularly when small businesses are bleeding red ink. Use the money to help the little guy, not the fat cats.

Readers will also recall that House Speaker Nick Mattiello called for an audit of the facility. While he went about it the wrong way, he is correct that an audit should be conducted, particularly given the past history of bloated spending and salaries. When the coronavirus subsides, the audit should proceed.

Governor Gina Raimondo has done a great job in managing the epidemic. This non-cancellable lease (along with the Carpionato rental in Cranston) is a misstep. She will tarnish her legacy if deals like this pop up.
So, Governor, Knock it off!

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

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