DeSimone called no House Oversight hearings for 2 full yearsJanuary 21st, 2013 at 4:07 pm by Ted Nesi under Nesi's Notes, On the Main Site
The committee was created in March 2010 by House Speaker Gordon Fox, who’d just taken over from Bill Murphy, to replace the old House Committee on Separation of Powers. Fox tapped longtime Providence Rep. John DeSimone to be its first chairman.
In a statement at the time, Fox described DeSimone as “just the person we need as chair of this committee as we ramp us its duties in this post-Separation of Powers world.” The speaker pledged it would “do a thorough job of reviewing the organization and operation of the various public bodies that come before it.”
Arguably, that wasn’t incorrect – because no public bodies ever came before the House Oversight Committee. DeSimone never held a single oversight hearing during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions, House spokesman Larry Berman confirmed Monday. The panel only met once – on May 26, 2011 – for a bill hearing.
DeSimone, who’s been in the House since 1993, wasn’t available for comment Monday about why he never called any oversight hearings during a period that saw double-digit unemployment and the 38 Studios debacle. He had no primary opponent last September and was re-elected in November with 74% of the vote.
DeSimone’s behavior as chairman is even stranger in light of his lofty comments at the start of the 2011 session, when he declared it “vital for the General Assembly to exercise its oversight authority,” describing himself as “excited and honored” to work with Fox “on this important and substantive work.”
That same month, House Minority Leader Brian Newberry asked DeSimone to hold an oversight hearing to examine why the reconstruction of North Smithfield’s School Street Bridge had taken nearly three years. Newberry never heard back, but didn’t sound surprised about it on Monday.
“I think the Oversight Committee last session was treated as a dumping ground where people wouldn’t have any influence,” Newberry told WPRI.com.
Some of the speaker’s other 2011 appointments to House Oversight give credence to Newberry’s hypothesis: the panel’s members were DeSimone, Stephen Ucci, Peter Palumbo, Michael Marcello, Edie Ajello, Ray Hull, Rene Menard, Grace Diaz, Thomas Winfield, Daniel Reilly and Bob Watson.
Common Cause Rhode Island executive director John Marion said the House’s record on oversight was far inferior to the Senate’s, particularly when the Senate’s oversight panel was led by former East Greenwich Sen. Michael Lenihan; his successor, Providence Sen. Frank Ciccone, was stripped of his chairmanship after threatening police officers’ pensions as they arrested the majority leader on suspicion of drunk driving.
Things may be changing on House Oversight, however.
Speaker Fox eased out DeSimone this month by making him chairman of the House Committee on Municipal Government, a post left vacant after Woonsocket Rep. Jon Brien lost his primary; DeSimone hasn’t issued any public statement about what he plans to do in his new chairmanship.
The new chairman of House Oversight is Scituate Rep. Mike Marcello, who’s pledging to hold multiple hearings in the coming months, and Fox himself emphasized on Newsmakers last summer that oversight would be ramped up this session. “I think the speaker is sincere about using it as a real committee,” Newberry said.
(photo: R.I. General Assembly)