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An open letter to the Central Falls City Council



Update: Due to an error in the announcement for Monday night’s Central Falls City Council meeting, the discussion about James Lombardi III nomination to lead the Wyatt Board. The meeting will be rescheduled.

I wrote the following regarding Central Falls Mayor James Diossa nominating James Lombardi III to the position of Chair of the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation, the governing body of the Wyatt Detention Center:

City Council President and City Councilors:

Mayor James Diossa said to Providence Journal reporter Kevin Andrade:

“With his extensive background in law and accounting, combined with his experience leading and serving on boards across the state of Rhode Island, I believe Mr Lombardi would complement the board as chairman.”

He also said that Lombardi would “yield good meetings” and that, “What I’ve asked of him is just do the right thing and nothing else. The right thing is just asking the right questions.”

When Mayor Diossa nominated Joseph Molina Flynn to chair the board, there was a lot of hope that he would bring positive change. And he did, at least until the $130M bondholder lawsuit and his subsequent retirement from the board. Molina Flynn brought a moral authority to his position, one seasoned by his years of experience as an immigration lawyer.

Can we please ask a favor?

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James Lombardi III may well be a good and moral person, but his experience is in balancing books and running good meetings. Are we sure he will do all in his power to stop the use of this for-profit prison to house ICE detainees? Or will he simply execute the fiscal duties of the position as he believes they must be executed under the law? Does this include selling the Wyatt to a for profit prison corporation, ensuring that the prison stays open forever, housing ICE detainees and other undesirables for the foreseeable future?

Following the letter of the law and being fiscally responsible is not always compatible with what is morally right and good. Legality does not equal morality.

What the Wyatt needs is a Chair who will fight for what is morally right, not a number cruncher who will make the meetings run on time and satisfy the greedy needs of the for-profit prison industry and Trump’s deportation machine.

Again, I don’t know James Lombardi III, so maybe he is the person for this job. But are we sure? Because more than just money is at stake here. There are human lives and very real, very evil policy considerations to be considered.

A challenge this large shouldn’t fall to a beautiful City like Central Falls, that has been too long ignored by – and when noticed – abused by, the powers that be. But this is a challenge that only Central Falls can face.

Please question James Lombardi III aggressively. Make sure he truly is the person this job needs. Because if he is not, people will suffer, and Central Falls will suffer too.

The Central Falls City Council meets tonight, September 23, at 6pm to take up the matter of James Lombardi III’s nomination as chair of the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation Board. Here’s the agenda. Here is James Lombardi III’s resume.

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.