free hit counter code RI treasurer was on vacation when state retirees testified about pension cuts – Freeht.buzz

RI treasurer was on vacation when state retirees testified about pension cuts

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When state retirees came to CCRI last December to offer hours of testimony about how pension cuts had affected them, General Treasurer James Diossa wasn’t in the room.

In fact, he wasn’t even in the country.

On Dec. 14, the day of the pension meeting, Diossa was finishing a six-day vacation to the Dominican Republic with his family — one of 71 days he has been out of state since taking office in January 2023, according to a Target 12 analysis of travel records.

Asked about the treasurer’s absence from the meeting, Diossa spokesperson Michelle Moreno-Silva told Target 12, “He watched the live stream.”

The Dec. 14 meeting was one of only six public meetings held by the pension advisory working group, a panel that General Assembly leaders had tasked Diossa with setting up to help them reexamine the pension changes enacted back in 2011 ahead of this year’s budget debate.

Lawmakers voted in June to direct Diossa to form the pension group, but the treasurer’s office didn’t appoint members and begin holding meetings until mid-October. By then, Diossa had already set the dates for his vacation, Moreno-Silva said.

In addition, Moreno-Silva emphasized that Diossa had not appointed himself to the pension study group, explaining that he stayed off it in order “to ensure a transparent and open dialogue.”

“The Dec. 14 meeting of the Pension Advisory Working Group was an opportunity for Working Group members to hear from the public,” she said. “Treasurer Diossa convened the Pension Advisory Working Group, selected its members, and remained engaged with them and other stakeholders while following the entire process closely.”

Last month, Diossa took another family vacation, spending nearly two weeks in Colombia, from April 6 to April 19.

That put him out of the country on April 11 — the day the House Finance Committee held its hearing on one of Diossa’s top legislative priorities, the so-called “baby bonds” bill, which would create trust accounts seeded with state money for all low-income newborns.

Moreno-Silva noted that Diossa sent his legislative director, Rob Craven Jr., to testify on behalf of the bill while he was away.

Target 12’s analysis of travel records, published last Thursday, shows Diossa has been out of state the most among the four general officers who rank below the governor. Attorney General Peter Neronha was second, followed by Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos and Secretary of State Gregg Amore. All four are Democrats. (The analysis excluded visits to Massachusetts or Connecticut.)

The amount of time Diossa has spent traveling “seemed quite — maybe not excessive, but certainly that was a lot of time in a short of amount of time in office,” said John Marion, executive director of the good government group Common Cause Rhode Island.

Apart from personal vacations, Marion said citizens should take a close look at the reasons why elected officials are traveling to judge whether they are taking trips that benefit the public.

“There are very legitimate organizations that it’s good for the state if our public officials are engaging with,” Marion said. “Lots of legislators go to the National Conference of State Legislatures conference, which is just a great way to interact with other legislators and get ideas from around the country.”

Similarly, the state treasurer may have more reason to travel in order to attend investment conferences and meet with financial professionals due to his role overseeing the state’s $10 billion pension fund portfolio.

However, Marion said, “Some of it is just junkets, industry-paid-for junkets that are nice, basically free vacations, and those should be looked at a little more skeptically by the public.”

More than a decade ago, Common Cause successfully advocated for the R.I. Ethics Commission to adopt a rule requiring elected officials to disclose when third-party groups pay for their travel and how much was spent. Rhode Island is one of relatively few states with such a requirement, Marion said.

“We have one of the more comprehensive disclosures of third-party-paid-for travel,” he said. “And that’s why every year the Rhode Island media is able to look at it and scrutinize it.”

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Threads and Facebook.

Eli Sherman contributed to this report.

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