Remember the Verrecchia report?
That was the scathing outside review of the R.I. Economic Development Corporation commissioned by Governor Carcieri in late 2008, following the abrupt departure of its then-executive director, Saul Kaplan. The report’s recommendations inspired lawmakers to make a number of changes to the EDC the following year, and Lincoln Chafee cited it all the time as a way to back up his own criticisms of the agency during the campaign.
It’s worth noting, then, that Governor Chafee’s decision to only commit to one more year for Keith Stokes at the EDC’s helm, and Carcieri’s original decision to only give him a one-year contract, both go directly against a key point made by former Hasbro CEO Al Verrecchia and his co-authors.
“There has been far too much turnover at the [EDC] director level, and that, unquestionably, has affected the performance of the organization,” they said in their final report. Carcieri echoed that after the report was released, saying the EDC needed to be guided by someone whom business leaders and agency officials were confident would be around for the long haul.
More from the report:
Given the end of the Governor’s term in 2010, it may be difficult to attract the best candidate possible if the director position is perceived to have a short term. Accordingly, the State should be prepared to offer a 3-5 year employment contract at market-based compensation levels, if required. Naturally, the next Governor would have the flexibility to replace the director, but the guaranteed term of employment (as outlined in an agreement) should afford sufficient protection to candidates so that they consider the position an attractive one.
The General Assembly followed that advice by allowing the executive director to serve a three-year term, regardless of whether someone else takes office in the interim. Carcieri then offered the job to Ioanna Morfessis, who accepted before quickly backing out.
By that time, the EDC had been without a permanent leader for a year, and the state’s unemployment rate had long since hit double-digits. So Carcieri brought in Stokes – but only for a year. Now Chafee is keeping Stokes – but only for a year.
Chafee doesn’t have to get rid of Stokes next January, of course. But if Verrecchia & co. are to be believed, the failure to put someone at the helm of the EDC for the duration is hurting the state’s economic development efforts. Since Verrecchia is now chairman of the EDC board, maybe he’ll make that point to Chafee himself.
Update: Chafee spokesman Christian Vareika argues that focusing on how long Stokes serves in the job misses the report’s larger point, which is that the EDC needs to be given a clear direction.
“Nothing in what Governor Chafee has said about retaining Keith Stokes precludes him from completing his appointed term,” which goes until February 2013, Vareika said in an e-mail. “Further, the policy, strategy, and programmatic focus of the RIEDC is the purview of the governor and the [EDC] Board of Directors, and regardless of whether Stokes serves one year or more, there will be consistency in those areas.”