Tom Coderre Takes Big Role in State Senate

If you didn’t see the news in the Projo or at RI Future, Tom Coderre has been appointed chief-of-staff for incoming Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed. Tom is a fellow board member with me for the Rhode Island Center for Law and Public Policy and a tremendous advocate for recovery and improved mental health services for those struggling with addiction.

I look forward to continuing to work with Tom and wish him Godspeed as he takes the reins in his role as chief-of-staff. We are a state in some serious trouble, but with careful planning and research, and by valuing quality-of-life issues for working families, I believe we can get things headed in the right direction. Tom will be playing a big part in this exciting time of change.

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11 responses

  1. The salary is ridiculously high-it should be less than half that.The office of Senate President didn’t exist 20 years ago.Why do we need it?Plus a high paid staff?give me a break.And they want to raise the gas tax and tax mileage.This could’ve been co-written by Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka.

  2. Kiersten,

    As President of The Rhode Island Center For Law And Public Policy, I can only echo your sentiments. Tom is tireless in pursuit of what he believes in and lucky for Rhode Island, he believes in what I think are the right things.

    On a personal note, I’ve known Tom for a few years, having met him when he was in the beginning stages of his recovery. In all that time, he’s been a mentor to me and a model of what good recovery support programs can do. After a very public personal humiliation, he’s had the courage to put his life back together and move forward in the service of others. Now, he has the opportunity to put his talents to work for us all.

    I could go on about my friend, but for now I just want to publicly congratulate Tom in his new and most challenging position.

  3. I worked with Tom Coderre on the Handicapped Parking Commission in 1996 to get our Handicapped Parking Laws in conjunction with the Federal Handicapped Parking Guidelines. I too congratulate Tom on his Rehabilitation
    and being able to get back and do community work for those that need his work and what he can bring to the RI Senate as the President along with his staff. If you naysayers belief you can do any better why don’t you get off your duff and help do something for the state instead of sitting by the wayside and complaining all the time. If you have a suggestion on how you can improve something let the powers that be know about your idea and let them discuss through your representative and/or senator.

  4. Thanks, Craig. It’s nice to hear someone bear witness to Tom’s leadership skills in action.

  5. Craig- testifying before this state legislature is a nasty experience-the reps and senators generally speak to citizens in a demeaning or patronizing way.They are largely unresponsive to emails and calls.
    This appointment is a waste of money in the face of a huge state deficit.Cutting the legislative staff to the bone would be a good start.And the staffs of the general officers also.
    I addressed this to you because I am apparently the only one who posted a comment on this that wasn’t fawning admiration of the appointee.He recovered from addiction?Good.It doesn’t mean he gets to come around for seconds at the public’s expense.He had his shot as a senator.

  6. Got to agree with you, Joe. Way too much salary. For a part-time legislature, no less.

  7. At the risk of being accused of “fawning”, I’d like to offer a few observations. First, while I know Tom as a friend and colleague, I also know him to be a person of great abilities. He possesses the requisite leadership qualities necessary to operate a full-time professional staff.

    As the Senate President’s Chief of Staff, Tom will supervise 58 persons in a variety of tasks. These are full-time employees. Given that Rhode Island has a part-time “citizen” legislature, if properly managed this staff can be a valuable asset to the legislature and thus the state. Having seen the legislative process operate up close over the years, if anyone thinks that the legislative process will operate more efficiently and smoothly without a professional full-time staff,should re-think that position. If the assertion is that this staff hasn’t always worked well, I wouldn’t necessarily argue the contrary. However, don’t judge the job Tom and the new staff will do until they’ve had the opportunity and time to perform.

    The implication that substance abuse recovery was a basis for consideration for the job is grossly misplaced. Moreover, the notion, again implied, that once having served previously disqualifies one from future service is likewise short-sighted. With respect to this concern, I would suggest that we need persons with experience, energy and foresight in state government – especially at this time. Regarding Tom, I would submit that he is not the person who served in the state senate a few years ago. While is motives for serving the public remain strong, he has greatly matured over the past few years, having learned a great deal about life and, more importantly, himself. In the “rarefied” air of the state house, self-awareness and introspection are important qualities to have.

    Tom has a variety of professional experiences that will come into play in this new position. He started his career in the Legislative Counsel’s office, held office as a Senator for eight years, worked in the United Way, was the national field director of Faces and Voices of Recovery, has participated (with and without me) on a number of boards and organizations, and was instrumental in the creation of the Institute for Addiction Recovery at Rhode Island College. Prior to his tenure as a state senator, he worked for the local Chamber of Commerce in Pawtucket. This is a sketch of his CV. People can quarrel over his qualifications for the job – that’s legitimate. But don’t ignore those qualifications and instead concentrate solely on his past difficulties.

    To the issue of salary, I, too, was surprised at the range. However, it’s at least $ 10,000 less than his predecessor, whose primary qualification was that he was a close friend and associate of the previous Senate President. For better or for worse, that salary is in line with other salaries for similar positions at the state house. Perhaps a management review might be in order to eliminate redundancies and inefficiencies. (Remember the “Big Audit”? WOW! That was a roaring success!) I would even support that effort. Efficiencies that save money and increase performance in service to the public is always necessary.

    But I think at its heart, the underlying basis for criticism is that government doesn’t seem to work at almost any level. (almost?) Given the condition of the country and state, you’ll get no argument from me. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I’ve argued just that point over the years in a variety of forums. But, at the national level, we have an opportunity with new leadership to reverse the trends of the last eight years (at least).

    At the state level, there is a dearth of leadership in both the Executive and Legislative branches. But that isn’t because we’re paying them too much – it’s because we have the wrong people in too many offices. Frankly, that’s our collective fault for basing our elective choices on rhetoric, sound-bites, and recycled slogans. About 1/3 of the legislature ran unopposed. Many candidates ran for re-election regurgitating brochures from previous elections – with minor, if any, alterations.

    So,if we’re really unhappy with the way government operates, many of us need to look in the mirror. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and they are us.” As Craig aptly points out, we can all get off our “duffs.”

  8. I wasn’t very concerned with the prior addiction-it was the “recycling”that applies to a lot more people than Mr.Coderre that gets me to make the comments I did.
    The state legislature has been poorly run since I’ve lived here(25 years),and I think prior service in this failing assembly is a negative indicator.Too many former legislators find a sinecure at Smith Hill.
    I still maintain that a Senate President is about as necessary as tail fins on a bicycle.I do not want to be hounded for more and more taxes and fees while the legislature doesn’t economize in any meaningful way.
    Just consider-federal employees and retirees pay 1/3 of the premiums for health insurance.The legislators pay 0%.That’s obscene.I think if Mr.Coderre has a real desire for public service he should take the job at $65,000.
    Why would the Chief of Staff to the Senate President supervise 58 people?That seems like an excessive amount of staff for Paiva-Weed to have.
    And if I were you.I wouldn’t point to an organization like the United Way as a paradigm of a good non-profit,if you recall their wasteful excesses of a few years back.

  9. To paraphrase the prolific Mr. Schoos, “all those guys on Smith Hill are bums, except for my guy.”

    Say it ain’t so, Geoff! ;-)

  10. Mark,

    As I’m sure you’re aware, that has never been my position. In fact, past history would indicate otherwise. I’ve been particularly critical of democrats – some of whom I’m friendly with and some not so friendly – when I thought it warranted. Indeed, you need look at a column I wrote in 2007 relative to ethics issues/conflicts of issues of many state senators, including the former Senate President. I don’t think anyone locally was more vocal than I.

    So, I don’t think I fit the model of this form of NIMBYism. On the other hand, I hope it’s not being suggested that one is a “bum” merely because he works on Smith Hill. :)

    As for the necessity of a Senate President, I hope that all who opposed the creation of that position voted against the authorizing constitutional amendment a few years ago.

  11. I have known Tom for some time now, and have seen his growth and passion for public service only get stronger. his recovery should be celebrated and made an example for all people who may have struggled with addiction. I am a person in recovery myself and Tom’s non stop work ethic makes me want to take a nap. If Tom is awake, he is working. I think the people of Rhode Island and the State Senate will be served with tireless devotion. Also, tom is making even less than the last Cheif of Staff. the governor really wants to have a debate about wasteful spending he should just take a look around his dinner table and see the friends he has given to over the years.

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