You couldn’t blame the R.I. Economic Development Corporation’s heavy-hitting board of directors if they harbored some ill will toward Gov.-Elect Lincoln Chafee, considering the criticism he leveled at the agency on the campaign trail – particularly for its approval of the 38 Studios deal, which closed today.
But it’s all water under the bridge now, and there are no hard feelings about the incoming governor among the directors, who includes the heads of Verizon, Rhode Island Hospital parent Lifespan, and insurer FM Global, EDC Executive Director Keith Stokes told reporters at a press conference this morning. The comments were made in the heat of a hard-fought campaign, and the executives understand that, he said.
In a follow-up conversation, Stokes reinforced the point, saying he has spoken with every member of the board about the election and none of them was upset about Chafee’s comments. There won’t be any mass resignations when Chafee takes office next January, he said.
Stokes also downplayed Chafee’s eyebrow-raising threat to sue Gov. Donald Carcieri and the board over 38 Studios, saying it was his understanding that Chafee was only talking about a situation comparable to the shenanigans that allegedly went on at the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, another quasi-public agency.
Chafee will get the chance to start putting his own stamp on the EDC board shortly after taking office. The terms of three expire in February: FM Global CEO Shivan Subramaniam, Gilbane Chairman Paul Choquette Jr., and Verizon region president Donna Cupelo. Under a law enacted earlier this year, one of those three seats must go to a small businessperson.
“The governor is the chairman of the board of the Economic Development Corporation, so Gov.[-Elect] Chafee has every ability as chairman of this board to set the tone and the direction” of the agency, Stokes said. “At the end of the day, the governor has the right and the need to pick his team,” he later added.
As for Stokes, whose one-year term also expires in February, he hinted today that he would be willing to stay on board as head of the agency if Chafee wants him – which is a possibility, based on the governor-elect’s comments at our Oct. 6 televised debate. Other members of the EDC’s management team are currently being asked to reapply for their jobs as the agency continues to undergo a broad shakeup in the wake of the 2009 Verrecchia report.
Stokes, who has known Chafee for years, said his knowledge of all levels of government will come in handy on Smith Hill. Stokes also said he plans to invite the incoming governor to the EDC board’s next meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 17, two weeks from today. The agency’s staff is preparing briefing materials to get Chafee up to speed on its activities.
Stokes, who served on the EDC board before Carcieri appointed him to a one-year term as its chief, also offered strong words of praise for the current board, which was put in place after the Verrecchia report. Calling them “the best and brightest” from Rhode Island’s business community, he said they have been engaged and forceful in their oversight of the agency since their confirmations in February.
We’ll hear from Gov.-Elect Chafee about this and many other issues at a press conference he is scheduled to hold at 3 p.m. in Warwick.