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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – After saying little for months and now facing national scrutiny, Gov. Dan McKee on Friday defended his handling of two state officials’ disastrous business trip to Philadelphia while acknowledging mistakes were made.
The governor called a State House news conference to address the continued fallout from the March 10 trip that David Patten and Jim Thorsen took to visit a facility run by state contractor Scout Ltd. Scout officials later sent an email accusing Patten of “blatantly sexist, racist and unprofessional” behavior and Thorsen of failing to intervene.
Patten finally resigned as part of a separation agreement on Thursday night, one week after McKee was forced to release the email after a successful public-records fight by Target 12 and The Providence Journal. Patten is still facing investigations by the R.I. State Police and the R.I. Ethics Commission.
“All we can do is continue to do the work that we’re doing, admit when mistakes happen – as we have in this case – and move forward,” McKee said. He also said publicly for the first time that he had reached out to Lindsey Scannapieco, Scout’s managing partner, to apologize personally just days after the visit by Patten and Thorsen.
McKee said Patten’s resignation on Thursday allowed him to finally speak more openly about what’s been going on behind the scenes. The human resources review, now suspended, had previously prevented him from speaking substantively in public about what happened, he said.
“I had my hands tied behind my back,” McKee said.
But the news conference also comes on the heels of a tough couple weeks of news coverage sparked by the public release of the Scout email. The email drew national news coverage by The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, NBC News and more, shining an unflattering spotlight on Rhode Island and the McKee administration.
And the issue has since become a punchline, with the Inquirer publishing an article that makes tongue-in-cheek demands of Rhode Island. Narragansett Beer Co. responded by offering free white clam and chorizo pizza this weekend to anyone with a Philadelphia ID.
“We heard your demands,” the company quipped on Twitter.
Who is David Patten?
McKee’s comments came as new details are being revealed about Patten, whose past shows strong political connections, a prior work separation agreement and more allegations of bad behavior.
A former Westerly School Committee chairman and active with the town Democrats, Patten first joined state government in 2013 when he was hired as an administrator at the Community College of Rhode Island.
His résumé included recommendations from state Sen. Frank Ciccone, D-Providence, and former Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere, D-Westerly. And Friday, McKee also said he’d known Patten for several years, dating back to his time as Cumberland mayor.
“Our paths crossed multiple times and there was never a sense that he was not only professional but skilled,” McKee said Friday.
But Patten’s relationship with the CCRI soured in 2017, resulting in a separation agreement that says “certain differences have arisen between David Patten and CCRI regarding the strategies for accomplishing change at CCRI.” The school released a copy of the agreement to Target 12 in response to a public records request.
Little else is know about what happened, however, as both sides signed a clause agreeing to keep the matter confidential.
“Neither will make or release adverse public statements regarding each other and further agree that the terms and conditions of this agreement shall remain confidential,” college officials wrote in the agreement.
The agreement also required outgoing President Meghan Hughes to write a letter of recommendation for Patten, who was temporarily assigned to the R.I. Office of Postsecondary Commission until his official resignation took effect on Jan. 31, 2018.
And McKee officials said they were in the dark about what happened at CCRI when they hired Patten as the state’s property director in March 2022.
“We did not know about the CCRI arrangement when he applied,” Office of Management and Budget director Brian Daniels said, adding that they are reviewing hiring protocols as a result of the Patten-CCRI oversight.
“I hope to heck we’re not dealing with an issue like this in the next three years,” McKee said, alluding to the expiration of his current term at the end of 2026.
On Thursday, the McKee administration also released a second email showing unnamed witnesses detailed “a rather uncomfortable situation” involving Patten at Ladder 133, a Providence bar and restaurant, one night before his business trip to Philadelphia.
“We believe that all in attendance witnessed some erratic behavior from Director Patten both to the group and towards the waitress,” wrote the people, whose names were blacked out on the document.
The one-page email details a series of allegations, including Patten asking inappropriate questions, talking about behaving badly toward his wife and making homophobic comments.
“Director Patten also made some off-handed comments that we deemed homophobic in nature,” they wrote in the email dated March 10. “Specifically alluding to choices of alcoholic drinks, driving, and innuendos regarding workplace relationships.”
Asked for comment on the email, Patten attorney Michael Lynch did not deny the allegations. But he highlighted that the authors acknowledged Patten may have been going through something, arguing that was in line with the “mental health event” he’s said Patten experienced during the Philadelphia trip.
“Any such referenced conduct was certainly part of the effects of the diagnosed acute stress event that had built up over time and carried over to the following day and for which Mr. Patten ultimately sought and received the care needed to address this health related matter,” Lynch said.
McKee said the second email was included in the state’s human resources review, and he stressed that Patten had to be treated fairly during the months before his resignation.
“Due process is for everyone – whether you like them or don’t,” McKee said.
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