Hopkins Hill fire chief draws ethics complaint from Coventry resident
PROVIDENCE – A longtime Coventry resident has filed a six-count ethics complaint against the chief of the Hopkins Hill Fire District, Frank M. Brown Jr., asserting that he failed to recuse himself multiple times on decisions that resulted in "direct financial gain."
The complaint by Douglas Soscia, which includes a nine-page summary and more than 200 pages of exhibits, was delivered Monday to the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. The agency will now determine whether to accept Soscia's submission and ultimately go forward with a full investigation of the allegations.
Soscia filed a companion complaint against Brown's wife, Denise, who is on the board of directors of the fire district and also serves as its paid tax collector. He says that Frank Brown has a direct financial interest in nominating his wife to be the district's tax collector. The district's website does not list members of the fire board.
Douglas Soscia is a member of Soscia Holdings, which owns multiple properties in Coventry, including Johnson's Pond, purchased in 2020.
Hopkins Hill, like the three other fire districts in Coventry, is an independent entity, with its own taxing authority –and no relationship to town government. In 2017, the Central Coventry Fire District hired Brown to also oversee its operations, although all of the allegations pertain only to his position as the chief in Hopkins Hill.
Brown told The Hummel Report Tuesday he had not seen a copy of the complaints. After receiving them via email from The Hummel Report he said that afternoon in a text message: "Until I’m formally served from the Ethics Commission, I have no comment ... Once served, I will comment."
"I believe Denise and Frank worked together to ensure the security of each other's paid positions," Soscia wrote in his cover letter to the commission. "The 'Chief' is appointed by the Executive Board. The 'Executive Board Members' are presented to the voters for election based upon their fitness; as determined by the 'Nominating Committee.' Frank Brown is a member of the 'Nominating Committee.' It comes as no surprise to me that Frank Brown nominates Denise every year for the highest paid position: 'Tax Collector.'"
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In that position, which she has held for two decades, Denise Brown makes $17,500 annually.
Soscia details Frank Brown's relationship with a company that the district paid nearly $75,000 to install new LED lights. Several years later, Brown accepted the company's request to join its executive committee, something he did not disclose on his 2018 and 2019 ethics form. The chief began disclosing it in 2020, but never amended the previous two years.
The complaint also details how the Browns had solar panels installed on their Linwood Drive home a month after the district approved spending $45,000 for the same company to do the same work at headquarters. The district did so without putting the work for the fire station out to bid, according to a review of minutes.
Soscia said in a statement to The Hummel Report: "My inquiry started when Frank broke the public's trust by using his position to forward his personal agenda. We own multiple properties in Frank's district and feel anything but safe with Frank at the helm."
In his complaint, Soscia said that Frank Brown is the head of the district's nominating committee and "has a direct financial interest in nominating his wife, Denise Brown, for election" to the highest paid position on the board of directors.
Denise Brown sought an advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission in 2002 asking if she could serve as the fire district's tax collector, since her husband was the chief. The commission advised that she could not participate in any personnel matters – or those that would affect her husband financially. Soscia attached minutes from multiple meetings showing Denise Brown allegedly voting on agenda items that he asserts benefited her husband.
In his statement, Soscia added: "So I took a brief look into Frank, his wife Denise, and the Hopkins Hill Fire Board. It was very apparent, very quickly that Frank has his hands in everything. When I discovered that his wife Denise was on the Fire Department Board, making more than double everyone else's salary; the picture started to become very clear."
Finally, Brown had his house painted in the same red and blue color scheme as the Hopkins Hills station on Hopkins Hill Road, within the same year. An exhibit included in Soscia's complaint shows a posting from Brown's personal Facebook page:
"After 30 years it was time for a change!! Before and after!! James DeAngulus (owner of Jimmy's Painting) and his crew exceeded our expectations!!"
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