Dee from the Desk: Taking on a city ordinance

It’s been said, many times, many ways: Politics makes strange bed fellows. This time a city ordinance has brought the head of the most conservative faction of the Rhode Island Republican Party and the Rhode Island ACLU together.

The ordinance bars “classified” public employees from running for office. This does not however include the mayor, school teachers, firefighters or police officers.

It does include Republican Ray McKay, who wants to challenge U.S. Senator Jack Reed in the general election. McKay works for the city of Warwick as the network and telecommunications administrator and apparently if he were to seek public office while maintaining that position it would be of concern to the city, at least with this ordinance in place.

Yesterday ABC6 caught up with Mayor Scott Avedisian and asked him about the ordinance. He said, “until that is not on the book, the personnel department and the personnel director has decided that she needs to enforce that, that is the law of the city.”

Avedisian said he expects to find out whether to nix the law or enforce it in the next couple of weeks. He noted that mayor is not a classified position.

So in Warwick, Rhode Island, the top position in the city can wage a campaign but the IT guy can’t? It seems a little over the top to bar someone from running because they work for the city.

Currently, we have two mayors and the General Treasurer seeking the State’s top spot, Governor. What’s even more interesting about this is that often these guys are attending day time campaign events. Raimondo has been rolling out her jobs plan at 10:30 a.m. and Taveras has plenty of photo ops during the day. Fung is questioned about campaign stuff during “working hours” and hosted a morning announcement. Now they may all be on the up-and-up and put in their time later in the day or take vacation time for political events but the point is if they can do it, why can’t McKay run for office and keep his job?

As long as McKay is not releasing city “secrets” or campaigning on the city dime it shouldn’t matter if he runs for office. It is interesting that this ordinance exists in Warwick, the same city where a DPW worker who was fired for taking city property for his own use was reinstated. The worker told police he had been allowed to “borrow” the city property. Initially he was fired but he had to be reinstated, with back pay.

Instead of focusing on ordinances that prevent people from running maybe the city needs to focus on enforcing ordinances that prevent people from acting out of the scope of their employment and borrowing city equipment.

McKay’s senate run would in no way affect his ability to perform his job. This law is not protecting the city but instead it is barring people from participating in government and exercising their civic voice. Some candidates need to keep their day jobs because quite frankly they can’t afford to simply not work and only campaign. An ordinance like this is simply disenfranchising people who need a job to survive and can’t simply rely on independent wealth.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out and whether Mayor Avedisian, who is also a Republican, will stand by the ordinance. Avedisian may be a Republican but McKay might be a bit too conservative for him and Avedisian, who supported Chafee, is clearly too far to the left for McKay’s liking.

But no matter what side of the aisle you are on, this ordinance should be alarming because it essentially bars certain members of the community from being civically involved. Our country was founded on the principle that people would be allowed to participate in the government. A century ago there were property requirements for office seekers but today those were eliminated in order to encourage civic participation.

The question will ultimately be decided by a judge and the true purpose of this ordinance will be explored. McKay is likely to be the only candidate willing to take on popular incumbent Senator Jack Reed, so if a judge refuses to let Mckay run for office this race may be over before it even started.

Dee DeQuattro is the assignment desk manager and digital news coordinator for ABC6. She studied politics and communications and holds a master’s degree from Providence College. Follow her on twitter @deedequattro and log on to ABC6 .com for her latest in depth coverage of politics and news.