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Ethics Commission Penalizes Merolla $3,500 for Marcum Votes

[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Councilman Steve Merolla speaks during the ground breaking for the new Potowomut Fire Station Oct. 29, 2014 at 225 Potowomut Road.

[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Councilman Steve Merolla speaks during the ground breaking for the new Potowomut Fire Station Oct. 29, 2014 at 225 Potowomut Road.
[CREDIT: Rob Borkowski] Councilman Steve Merolla speaks during the ground breaking for the new Potowomut Fire Station Oct. 29, 2014 at 225 Potowomut Road.
PROVIDENCE, RI — The RI Ethics Commission has penalized former city councilman Steve Merolla $3,500, settling an ethics complaint by Warwick resident Rob Cote that he failed to recuse himself from votes concerning hiring and paying Providence CPA firm Marcum LLP.

The settlement, agreed to in an executive session of the Ethics Commission this morning, is a civil penalty, said Merolla’s attorney, Christopher Gontarz. In the settlement, the Ethics Commission found that Merolla did not benefit financially from the votes, but that in not recusing himself from them he violated RI ethics law,  he said.

Gontarz said Merolla’s relationship with the firm was as his personal tax accountant and also for his law firm, Merolla, Accetturo, & Lough. Gontarz said that Merolla did not at the time, and still does not, consider his relationship with Marcum in conflict with his duties as a councilman at the time.

“But under the state code of ethics, they define it much more broadly,” Gontarz said.

Marcum’s work for the City documented an improperly negotiated change in sick time policies for Warwick firefighters that cost the city as much as $386,000 between 2013 and 2018. WarwickPost.com’s Joe Hutnak has provided an analysis of how and when Warwick firefighters began taking advantage of the improper “side agreement”.

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Ethics Commission found probable cause in complaint

Cote’s complaint, filed as No. 2020-6, criticized Merolla for failing to recuse himself from votes April 22, 2019, to approve the first extension of the Council’s contract with YKSM (later renamed Marcum), to investigate Warwick Fire Department overtime and an increase in funding in the amount of $30,000; and on June 17, 2019, to approve the second extension of the Council’s contract with YKSM and an increase in funding in the amount of $165,000, respectively. Such a failure violates Rhode Island General Laws § 36-14-5(a), prohibiting officials from conflicts of interest interfering with their duties.

In each case, the Ethics Commission voted 6-0 June 29 that it found probable cause indicating a violation.

Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of WarwickPost.com. Contact him at editor@warwickpost.com with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

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