Central Falls Mayor James Diossa is among the new guard of political leaders hoping to step out from the shadow of public corruption that often runs beside issues of taxes, incentives and educating a 21st-century workforce in Rhode Island.
After serving three years on the City Council he moved into his current position Jan. 1. On the heels of former Mayor Charles D. Moreau’s sentence to two years in prison on a federal corruption charge, Diossa on Feb. 21 delivered on a campaign promise when he signed into law a sweeping new municipal code of ethics.
“It’s a clear message that it’s time to learn from history. We want no more corruption,” Diossa said in a telephone interview with Providence Business News. “If we want to move Central Falls and Rhode Island forward, we have to be open and transparent.”
The 12-page code of ethics prohibits “pay-to-play” with restrictions on no-bid contracts and campaign contributions. The new code prohibits threatening or disciplining a city employee for trading, or not trading, with a particular business. No-show jobs, where a municipal employee collects a paycheck without substantially fulfilling the requirements of the position, are against the law. It’s the same for outside business activities on municipal time.
“I’ve seen what’s happened to my city in the past few years and what the residents have endured,” Diossa said.
Moreau, who served as mayor of Central Falls for nine years, admitted guilt to one count of federal program fraud in September.
Moreau awarded an emergency no-bid contract to friend and political supporter Michael Bouthillette.
In return, Bouthilette did renovations for a second home Moreau owns in Lincoln and installed a furnace at a discounted price in the former mayor’s Central Falls home. Moreau did not pay Bouthillette for the work.
“There was always a sense of corruption,” Diossa said about the city. “It affects you, because people don’t trust their local government.”
Diossa said he has found most residents eager for a sense of fresh air in city government. And some of the residents, specifically city employees, are charged with being part of the cleanup.
The new code of ethics specifies that city employees have a “duty to report” any prohibited conduct to the newly created position of city ethics integrity officer.