Questions surround no-bid contract

For decades, the Rhode Island State Police has been one of the most respected institutions in the state, maintaining high ethical and professional standards, and striving to stay above politics. It has been called upon many times to investigate corruption in the state’s sleaze-plagued government.

Thus, it is deeply troubling that the State Police, under its new colonel, Ann Assumpico, awarded a no-bid contract worth $225,000 to a politically connected firm that Gov. Gina Raimondo had repeatedly urged the agency to hire.

It is not clear why there was no request for bids, which is required for contracts of more than $5,000 under state law, with limited exceptions. The firm hired, Terrance W. Gainer Sr. LLC, will be looking into ways to improve the department’s efforts at “attracting, training and retaining a racially and gender-diverse department,” something that is certainly in the public interest.

In her formal request to the state Department of Administration for approval of the no-bid contract — which came days after she had already announced the contract — Ms. Assumpico offered this non-explanation: “Mr. Gainer was selected after vetting his qualifications, his team’s qualifications, and an interview by the Colonel of Mr. Gainer.” She then revised the application and wrote this: “There are a limited number of vendors that perform state police assessments of this nature.”

We are not experts, but there seem to be hundreds of retired police officers and federal agents who provide assessments of this nature. It is also not clear why the state could not rely on the exhaustive, taxpayer-funded accreditation process the agency undergoes every few years to provide an outside look at what the state police can do to improve diversity in hiring.

The governor’s interest in having the State Police hire Mr. Gainer is hard to figure. According to her press aides, she knew nothing about the firm, which came recommended by the governor’s counsel.

But there are political fingerprints surrounding the firm. Ms. Raimondo received a $1,000 contribution from Mr. Gainer’s niece, Bridget, with whom the governor appeared on a Chicago television show to discuss pension reform. Before embarking on his consulting work, Mr. Gainer was hired by former Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid to be sergeant-at-arms of the U.S. Senate. Earlier, Mr. Gainer had resigned as Capitol Police chief when a nepotism controversy arose over his hiring his son-in-law.

One of Mr. Gainer’s specialties is the burgeoning gray market of marijuana. Both The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune reported on his work for Green Thumb Industries of Chicago, helping to protect cannabis-growing operations, though marijuana is still a controlled substance under federal law.

How this gives him an unparalleled ability to analyze diversity hiring by the Rhode Island State Police is far from clear. Colonel Assumpico’s explanation: “His credentials are so impeccable ... You want to get the best fit for your department.”

Ms. Raimondo’s press aide Michael Raia argued that the governor is not concerned about the no-bid contract, which was the colonel’s decision. Rather, he said, she is focused on the important work of the study.

But we believe it is vitally important that the State Police be kept free from even the hint of corruption. In cases similar to this — where a no-bid contract went out under puzzling circumstances — it is the State Police that would be called on to take a look. Colonel Assumpico should recuse herself, and the department should begin an investigation in consultation with the state attorney general’s office to make sure the spirit of the bidding law was followed.