Who is Tony Silva? Top McKee aide has been holding several jobs, investing in real estate

Anthony Silva, the chief of staff to Gov. Dan McKee, had done well for himself in recent years.

© Herald News Anthony Silva has been Dan McKee’s chief of staff in both the governor’s and the lieutenant governor’s offices.

His relationship with McKee, a fellow Cumberland native whom he has described as a “lifelong family friend,” landed him a six-figure job in the State House that still left him time to take on several part-time positions. While also collecting a police pension, he’s invested in buying and selling properties in his hometown. 

Silva is now facing scrutiny for one of those real-estate deals: His plan to purchase 45 Canning St., a piece of land almost entirely covered by wetlands, and build a house there.

Questions over whether Silva used his political influence to get approval from the Department of Environmental Management, and attempted to get the town of Cumberland to drop its objections, are now the subject of an investigation being led by the attorney general’s office. 

Former top cop for Cumberland credited with helping McKee regain mayoral post; considered running for office himself

Silva, who grew up in Cumberland, spent nearly 18 years working as a police officer in Lincoln before being named police chief in his hometown, in 1997.

© ANDREW DICKERMAN Cumberland Police Chief Anthony Silva speaks at a 2003 news conference alongside Dan McKee, who was the town’s mayor at the time.

Because Silva was leaving Lincoln just shy of the 20-year mark, when he’d become eligible for pension benefits, Cumberland struck a deal where the town would pay the contributions to his Lincoln pension plan for 2½ years. (To prevent any “double-dipping,” Cumberland Mayor Francis A. Gaschen said the town would not pay into a state pension plan on Silva’s behalf while also contributing to his Lincoln pension.) 

Soon after arriving on the job, Silva made national headlines — and drew pushback from the ACLU — when he invited parents of teenagers to fill out a “consent to search” form that would allow officers to enter their homes without a warrant if police suspected that a party was going on.

He spent nearly a decade as chief of police in Cumberland and then left in 2006 to run the Rhode Island Municipal Police Academy. 

That same year, he managed McKee’s campaign for mayor, and was credited with helping the future governor oust the incumbent, David Iwuc. (McKee had previously served two terms as mayor before being defeated by Iwuc in 2004.)

Silva “may have played a key role in pushing votes in McKee’s favor,” The Providence Journal reported after McKee’s 2006 victory.

Political strategists pointed to Silva’s ability to trade on his reputation as the former police chief, and surmised that he had helped McKee capture the Portuguese-American vote. 

At the first Town Council meeting that took place after McKee was sworn back into office in 2007, Silva was appointed as an assistant to Cumberland’s emergency management director. He continued to hold that part-time position for the next 14 years, council minutes show, though he was often informally described as the “deputy director” or “assistant director.” 

Meanwhile, McKee’s political profile continued to grow. In 2013, as McKee prepared to run for lieutenant governor, Silva told The Valley Breeze that he was considering entering the wide-open competition to become Cumberland’s next mayor. 

Within a few months, however, Silva changed his mind and he told the paper that the timing wasn’t right. He had been tapped to head the Division of Motor Vehicles in 2012, and explained that he didn’t “want to be known as the guy who quit the DMV.”

© Journal files Anthony Silva, who was head of the Division of Motor Vehicles at the time, attends an event to unveil a special license plate for electric and hybrid cars, in 2014.

A little more than a year later, Silva did quit the DMV.

McKee won the 2014 lieutenant governor’s race, and he brought Silva on as his chief of staff. The Cumberland mayoral election, which Silva had decided against entering, went to Bill Murray, another close friend of McKee’s.

But after just one term, Murray — who faced criticism for his “brusque leadership style,” according to the Breeze — was defeated by longtime Town Council member Jeff Mutter. In recent months, Mutter has tangled with Silva by questioning the DEM’s decision to grant him a wetlands alteration permit over the town’s objections, and he is now cooperating with the attorney general’s investigation.

The two men have steered clear of attacking one another’s credibility, but have also offered very different accounts of what transpired when they met for coffee at Phantom Farms in March and discussed the Canning Street proposal. 

High-paying position in lieutenant governor’s office was one of several jobs for Silva

Loyalty to McKee has paid off for Silva.

When former Gov. Gina Raimondo left to take a job in the Biden administration and McKee took her place, he again named Silva as his chief of staff. The position came with a $196,792 annual salary, up from the $148,960 that Silva earned as chief of staff to the lieutenant governor in fiscal year 2020. 

But the higher-profile position has also come with more scrutiny. 

Earlier this week, the Rhode Island Republican Party filed an ethics complaint alleging that Silva violated the law when he did not disclose his interest in the Canning Street property in the financial disclosure statements that he filed with Rhode Island Ethics Commission. Silva says he was under the impression that he didn’t need to do so, because he had only entered a purchase-and-sale agreement and was not the owner of the property. 

The new attention being paid to Silva’s financial disclosure forms had the side effect of shining a spotlight on the information that he did disclose — namely, that he held several side jobs while also serving as chief of staff to the lieutenant governor. 

Each year from 2018 to 2020, Silva received additional income from the emergency management job in Cumberland, teaching positions at Roger Williams University and Community College of Rhode Island, and his own construction company, he wrote in his ethics forms.

That naturally raised the question of how much time he was devoting to his day job in the lieutenant governor’s office — resurrecting the perennial debate over whether Rhode Island even needs a lieutenant governor.

McKee said on Tuesday that he was unaware that Silva held the emergency management position in Cumberland, which came with a $7,500 annual stipend. 

That job entailed writing and updating emergency management plans and coordinating the town’s Community Emergency Response Team, according to Silva’s financial disclosure statements. Silva told the Journal on Thursday that he had been spending an average of five to six hours a week on his duties in Cumberland. 

“We have a very organized and active CERT team which I know he is primarily responsible for,” Mutter told The Journal on Tuesday, adding that Silva “had a fairly active role” during the pandemic. 

Mutter later told The Valley Breeze that he was reevaluating whether Silva should stay in that position. On Thursday, Silva handed in his resignation, citing the demands of his job in the governor’s office.

The additional income that Silva earned from teaching at CCRI and Roger Williams has been less controversial. 

According to CCRI spokeswoman Amy Kempe, Silva has been an adjunct faculty member since 2005 and typically teaches one class a semester, usually Criminalistics 1. He taught one class during the Spring 2021 semester, earning $3,189.20, but is not scheduled to teach in the fall.

Silva said in an email that teaching at CCRI only takes up 2½ hours of his time each week, and that the course he teaches takes place from 7 to 9:25 p.m., after the workday.

At Roger Williams University, Silva has taught for several years in the Justice System Training & Research Institute, said spokeswoman Jill Rodrigues. The last course that he taught was Strategic Planning Seminar for Public Safety Leaders in April 2019. 

Silva, in an email, said that he listed the position as a source of income for 2020 “in the interests of full disclosure” because he periodically teaches four- to eight-hour seminars for police executives. “Total hours spent at RWU in any given year may reach an average of 16 hours,” he wrote. 

Rodrigues noted that Silva is considered an independent contractor, not a member of the faculty. She did not say how much he earned for each class. 

Silva “will continue teaching at our Institute, contingent upon his availability,” but is not scheduled to do so in the fall, Rodrigues said. 

In addition to the part-time jobs that he disclosed on his ethics form, Silva has another source of income thanks to the deal that Cumberland struck over his pension. According to the Lincoln’s human resources department, he receives $1,781.81 a month from his police pension through the town, which adds up to just over $21,000 a year. 

His time working for the Cumberland Police Department and the state qualifies him to retire next February and collect an additional annual pension of $46,958, according to Ben Smith of the state treasurer’s office. 

Construction company was never registered, but Silva has been involved in multiple Cumberland real-estate deals

A final item on Silva’s financial disclosure forms raises additional questions.

Each year from 2018 through 2020, he said that he had been self-employed as the owner of My Hero Construction. However, neither the Rhode Island Contractors’ Registration and Licensing Board nor the Secretary of State’s office has any record of a company by that name. (A contractor named Anthony Silva whose license expired in 2019 is a different person, according to both the Anthony Silva who works in the governor’s office, and state officials.) 

Staff in Cumberland’s building and zoning department similarly could not find records of any building permits issued to My Hero Construction.

In an email, Silva wrote that “My Hero Construction was NEVER operational and no projects were ever begun or completed.”

He did not respond to a follow-up question about why he nonetheless listed the company as a source of more than $1,000 in income for three consecutive years. 

What is clear from property transaction records is that Silva has taken an interest in buying and selling real estate in recent years.

© Antonia Noori Farzan “Stop destroying wetlands” reads a sign in Cumberland posted by a Canning Street resident.

Silva has said that he entered an agreement to purchase 45 Canning St. in 2017 because he and his wife hoped to build their next home on the wetlands-covered property — the implication being that he wasn’t trying to turn a profit. 

However, in 2018, Silva and his wife Linda purchased a different piece of land on the opposite end of Canning Street for $27,000. After building a two-bedroom home, they sold 116 Canning St. for $382,950 in 2019. (In some older records, the property is listed as 114 Canning St.)

In an email, Silva said that he and his wife “had a custom home designed for us” but decided to sell it once it was built “in favor of building a home on the other Canning Street lot.”

The Silvas sold their longtime family home in Cumberland for nearly $400,000 in 2018, and continue to own houses on Great Island in Narragansett and in Woonsocket. Silva says that they primarily live in a renovated barn on his daughter’s property in Cumberland that serves as an in-law apartment. 

Another real-estate deal that Silva made in 2019 became its own source of controversy. He and his son, Ross, purchased a historic home that had been built in 1825, and then promptly tore it down. 

Though the home in the Arnold Mills Historic District had been recognized by Rhode Island Historical Preservation Commission, there were no rules in place that prevented it from being demolished, The Valley Breeze reported at the time. 

Silva told the paper that he was a big believer in historic preservation, but the house was in bad shape and full of mold. He said that he and his son planned to build a new home in its place, potentially for a family member to live in.

About seven months later, they sold the empty lot to a North Attleboro-based construction company for $170,000 — more than the $112,500 than they’d paid for the house in the first place. 

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Who is Tony Silva? Top McKee aide has been holding several jobs, investing in real estate

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