Watchdog urges Chafee to withdraw higher ed pick

Eva-Marie Mancuso

Common Cause of Rhode Island urged Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Monday to withdraw his pick for interim higher education commissioner because the government watchdog group said her appointment would violate state ethics rules.

The governor recommended Friday that Eva-Marie Mancuso serve as interim commissioner while a search is underway for someone to fill the post permanently. She is currently chairwoman of the newly formed Rhode Island Board of Education.

In a letter to Chafee, Common Cause Executive Director John Marion said Mancuso's appointment would be a violation of the "revolving door" ethics provision because elected or appointed officials are prohibited from serving, for one year, in paid positions requiring approval from the body on which they serve.

Mike Trainor, a spokesman for the Board of Education, said Mancuso is seeking an advisory opinion from the state ethics commission that will be made available to the board once it is issued. The board voted at the start of its Monday night meeting not to discuss the appointment in executive session, as planned, and to defer the issue to its next meeting, according to Trainor.

Chafee said Monday he stands by his choice and that the ethics commission could grant a waiver allowing the appointment.

He said Mancuso not only understands the challenges facing higher education but is aware of recent changes in higher education governance in the state and would require no learning curve.

"Eva-Marie Mancuso has been head of the new board. I like continuity. She's been a great leader," he said. "I think it's the best way to go forward."

Chafee also said the last national search a few years ago for a higher education commissioner was costly, time-consuming and did not yield a successful candidate.

Ray Di Pasquale, president of the Community College of Rhode Island system, has served as interim commissioner for four years.

Common Cause's Marion said in his letter to Chafee that a waiver allowing Mancuso to serve would set a "troubling precedent."