PROVIDENCE — On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Governor Daniel J. McKee defended the controversial state contract with the ILO Group and outlined his “Rhode Island 2030″ vision for bringing the state back from the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the House and Senate oversight committees grilled officials in McKee’s administration over an education contract, worth up to $5.2 million, that was awarded to the ILO Group.
The consulting firm formed two days after McKee took office and one day before McKee took part in a Zoom meeting with Chiefs for Change CEO Mike Magee, a McKee ally and donor who mentioned ILO during the call. That meeting led to a contract for ILO, whose managing partner, Julia Rafal-Baer, then worked for Chiefs for Change and had been invited to the Zoom meeting. Senators also noted Rafal-Baer was on a state task force that issued a report on issues ILO was later hired to address.
Senator Louis P. DiPalma, a McKee ally who heads the Senate oversight committee, ended the hearing by suggesting McKee terminate the ILO contract and rebid the work. “With where we are now, I can’t answer that question emphatically to my constituents that this was an open, fair, transparent process,” he said at the time.
During the podcast, McKee said he would tell DiPalma the same thing he told him during a private meeting: “that he was wrong and that you have all the information that you need to know that the procurement process was followed.”
After listening to a recording of DiPalma’s statement, McKee said, “So when that gets clarified, who apologizes for making rash statements like that? You’re basically indicting the people who are in the procurement process by saying that somehow that they broke the rules. So who puts Humpty-Dumpty back together again?”
Soon after the House and Senate oversight hearings, Attorney General Peter F. Neronha’s office and the State Police confirmed that they are investigating the circumstances surrounding the award of the ILO contract.
But McKee said he has been assured that the state procurement process for the ILO contract was done correctly. “If Senator DiPalma thinks that he doesn’t like the procurement process, then change it,” he said.
During the podcast, McKee responded to Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Brown, who criticized the decision to give Johnston $1.5 million in public funds to cover tax breaks for an Amazon warehouse and shipping facility there. “Not a dime for (expletive) Amazon,” Brown tweeted.
“My gosh,” McKee said. “We negotiated the very best agreement in the country. The state of Rhode Island didn’t give any money to Amazon directly in that transaction. Yet we got things. We got a $500,000 a year for five years to help our small businesses, $250,000 a year to help with our learning centers that I’ll be opening up in Providence and around the state of Rhode Island.”
Also, he said he expects the project to create about 1,200 construction jobs and about 1,200 full-time jobs once the warehouse opens.
“We really have created an opportunity there for Rhode Island,” McKee said. “The agenda and the vision that we’ve set up in 2030 – the Amazon agreement is very consistent with that.”
Last week, McKee and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos released a 53-page working document – titled “Rhode Island 2030: Charting a Course for the Future of the Ocean State” – with preliminary recommendations for using federal funding and responding to the pandemic.
“I think that one of our main objectives, and all these efforts, is to increase per capita income in the state of Rhode Island,” McKee said. “I think that’s going to be a measurement for us. In the end, it’s about creating resiliency, a really high quality of life, and economically making sure that people are earning more money in all our communities.”
McKee talked about the need to bolster the “green and blue economies” by, for example, investing in renewable energy and the fishing industry.
“We’re looking at 50 (wind) turbines that could be started ... in 2022, about 15 miles off our coast, and completed by the end of 2023,” he said. “I think it’s 400 megawatts of power that could power as many as 270,000 homes in the state of Rhode Island, which would be about 25 percent of our energy needs.”
McKee said his administration has conducted 20 interviews to fill six vacant state judge positions. The Rhode Island judicial vacancies include one on Superior Court, two on Family Court, one on District Court, and two on Workers’ Compensation Court.
McKee said he would have nominations ready for Senate confirmation if the General Assembly comes back for a special fall session, and if not, he’ll have them ready after the regular legislative session begins in January.
Hear more by downloading the latest episode of Rhode Island Report, available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Google Podcasts, and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player below:
Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.