Sheehan: Transparency Needed for Quasi-Public Agencies
Sen. James Sheehan is submitting legislation that will require more transparency and oversight of committees.
Release courtesy of the Rhode Island Legislative Press Bureau.
Are Rhode Island’s quasi-public agencies operating effectively and efficiently and in the best interest of the state and its citizens?
Sen. James C. Sheehan (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown) says the recent turmoil at the RI Economic Development Corporation with the 38 Studios debacle helps answer this question and “underscores the need for a thorough review of and comprehensive reform of the quasi-public corporations in the state.”
Senator Sheehan said he has long had questions and concerns about the efficiency and accountability of the state’s quasi-public agencies, but that those concerns have been greatly heightened by the recent troubles involving EDC and 38 Studios, “which has left the state on the hook for $75 million.”
“While quasi-public corporations operate in an independent manner, they are publicly-owned assets and, as such, are accountable to the people of Rhode Island,” said Senator Sheehan. “Further, these quasi-publics need to operate at the peak of efficiency. Toward this end, there must be more transparency, oversight and improved internal governance.”
Senator Sheehan, who is the acting chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Oversight and the co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Economic Development, said the time has come to reform quasi-public agencies.
Legislation was introduced during the 2012 session to do just that, and though the legislation was heard by the Committee on Government Oversight, it was not taken up by the full Senate or the House of Representatives.
“The legislation did not pass this year, sadly, but it needs to be approved next year,” said Senator Sheehan, who explained that the three bills which made up the reform initiative included requiring quasi-public agencies to abide by the Access to Public Records Act (open meeting law) and the state Purchasing Act. The bills also would have required that quasi-publics be regularly subjected to performance audits, release budgetary and financial reports, and share internal documents with legislative leaders.
Senator Sheehan said that the boards of directors at quasi-public corporations "must be well trained and the agencies must also be guided by a strong internal code of ethics, including the prevention of conflicts of interest."
As acting chair of the Senate Oversight Committee, Senator Sheehan added that "for our part, the legislative oversight committees themselves need to be strengthened in terms of staff and resources in order to fulfill their duties in a post-separation of powers era.”
Senator Sheehan is also the Vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.