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The apparent conflict of interest between National Grid and CRMC Chair Jennifer Cervenka



Jennifer Cervenka

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo appointed Jennifer Cervenka and two others to the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) sometime in July 2017. In appointing Cervenka, the governor paved the way for a potentially large conflict of interest between the board of the CRMC and National Grid.

Immediately prior to serving as chair of the CRMC, Cervenka served as the chair of the Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce Coalition. In an email Cervenka told me she resigned from the Coalition board in August 2017. CRMC minutes show that Cervenka was introduced as the new chair of the Council at a July 25 meeting. The Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce Coalition is “a lobbying partnership representing nine Chambers of Commerce and more than 7,500 member businesses throughout Rhode Island,” that actively works on, and advocates, “for issues important to our members.”

The nine chambers in the coalition are the Northern Rhode Island, Central Rhode Island, East Bay, East Greenwich, East Providence Area, Newport County, North Kingstown, Southern Rhode Island and Ocean Community Chambers of Commerce.

The Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce is the organizing chamber of the Coalition, meaning that this is the chamber that manages and runs the coalition. The president and CEO of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce is John Gregory.

At the November 14 CRMC public hearing to decide on permitting for National Grid’s liquefaction project aimed at Fields Point in the Port of Providence, Gregory spoke in support of the project, saying “LNG is an essential component in the energy supply mix in Southern New England.”

You can view that video here:

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John Gregory and Jennifer Cervenka worked together at the Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce Coalition until Cervenka took the job as chair of the CRMC, in August. This relationship and apparent conflict of interest was never brought up at either of the two CRMC hearings concerning the liquefaction facility at Fields Point.

Lori Spangler, manager of community and customer management at National Grid, is on the board of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, the organizing member of the chamber coalition. National Grid is a member of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.

Jacques Afonso who works with Spangler in community and customer management at National Grid, is on the board of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce.

Alice Hourihan, who works on the Commercial & Industrial Program Strategy Team for energy efficiency at National Grid in Rhode Island, is on the board of the Central Rhode island Chamber of Commerce.

Timothy Horan, president of National Grid Rhode Island, is on the board of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. National Grid is a member of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. The Greater Providence Chamber of commerce is not a member of the Coalition.

Governor Raimondo’s office did not reply to a request for comment.

I received this email at 3:27pm on November 30:

Mr. Ahlquist –

For the sake of responsible reporting, may I offer additional clarification to our Chair Cervenka’s response to you early this morning?

The Chair told you this morning that she had resigned from as chair of the RI Chamber Coalition. Yet you still published your blog post alleging a conflict of interest.

There cannot be a conflict of interest until there is one, simply, and the National Grid matter did not come before the Council until November, nearly three months after the Chair resigned from the Coalition.  To say there is a conflict of interest is false. To say even that there is an apparent conflict is also false.

It seems you draw connections between the Chair and John Gregory, executive director of the Northern RI CoC, but is no conflict there, either. He spoke the other night in that capacity, NOT as a representative or member of the Coalition.  Further, the Coalition neither represents individual members of its participating chambers, nor does it get involved in contested permitting proceedings; rather it represents general business interests on pending legislation before the Rhode Island General Assembly.

The CRMC asks you to either remove this false report or change it to reflect the truth as it was told to you.

Thank you.

Laura Dwyer
Public Educator and Information Coordinator
RI Coastal Resources Management Council

My response:

I changed the piece to reflect the information Chair Cervenka sent me before publication. I carefully said that there was an apparent conflict of interest. An apparent conflict of interest is one in which a reasonable person would think that the professional’s judgment is likely to be compromised. I’m not saying there was a conflict of interest, but given the associations, a reasonable person could think that Cervenka should recuse herself. After all, part of her work for the council was writing policy, and the Northern Rhode Island Chamber (the organizing chamber) was in full support of the liquefaction facility long before Cervenka was tapped as CRMC chair.

That said, I am happy to append your letter to the piece, letting readers know the CRMC’s position on this.

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.