NBC 10 I-Team: Coventry town councilor fined for conflict of interest
COVENTRY, R.I. (WJAR) —
Coventry Town Councilman Gregory Laboissonniere has settled a complaint with the state’s ethics commission and agreed to pay a $1,500 fine for a conflict of interest. He’s served the town for the last five years.
In his private life, Laboissonniere works for a company that sells credit card transaction equipment to stores and restaurants. Some of the businesses the councilman earns money from are located in Coventry and come before the town council for licenses.
That's where things got off track for Laboissonniere.
“It's called a substantial conflict of interest when you participate in a vote that has a financial impact on your business associate,” said Jason Gramitt, an attorney with the Rhode Island Ethics Commission.
A complaint was filed against the councilman relating to his votes on licenses for seven businesses in Coventry from which he received "monthly residual commission payments." They include estaurants and markets, a pizza shop and a gun supplier. Laboissonniere is also a musician and earned cash for more than a dozen performances at a Washington Street bar in 2016.
In his official role on the council, he voted to approve the bar's renewal for a liquor license in October of that year, along with 18 other licenses. The state's ethics commission calls that a conflict.
In a statement, Laboissonniere told the NBC 10 I-Team he takes responsibility and will change his behavior moving forward:
On January 9, 2018, at an informal hearing of the RI Ethics Commission, on advice from my legal counsel and at the request of Ethics Commission attorney Therese Giusti to conclude this case, I decided for financial reasons, to end my defense of the complaints against me by consent agreement.
I was assessed a $1500 civil penalty. The penalty was significantly less than the cost projected by my attorney to proceed to a formal hearing and defend the allegations against me. Attorney Giusti complimented me before the Commission Membership for being completely forthcoming with the commission in its investigation.
The investigation pertained to votes taken by me to renew licenses of businesses who use Clearent for their credit card processing. I am employed by Clearent and act as the Account Executive for some of the businesses that were before the town council for renewal.
I also played music at one of the businesses and was compensated for those musical appearances.
Every business for whom I voted had already received unanimous recommendations for renewal from each town department and/or state agency having input and each vote of the town council was unanimous at 5-0. None of the votes were cast for individual businesses.
Rather, the votes were lumped into one motion for all such businesses seeking renewal. This has been the practice of the council in the past.
The overwhelming number of business license renewals were of those with whom I have no connection.
In hindsight, I should have erred on the side of caution and insisted that a separate vote be taken on the businesses with whom I had done business and recused myself from voting upon them in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety. I did not and I take responsibility for that. I have insisted on this procedure going forward.
Nonetheless, I maintain that I acted in the best interests of the people of Coventry and will continue to serve the people and the town to the best of my ability.
I would like to thank my Attorney Gregory Inman for his diligence and sound advice, Attorney Giusti for her fair recommendation and the Ethics Commission members for their just treatment and consideration.
Jason Gramitt, with the Ethics Commission, said the commission has been around for about 30 years and offers free training to public servants.
“If you’re going to run for public office or you’re going to be a public official by now you probably know an ethics commission exists and I think it’s incumbent upon all of our officials to train themselves, make sure they understand these fairly simple requirements of the code of ethics," Gramitt said.