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Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for March 21, 2023
Council rejects “tri town” proposal in meeting marred by skirmishes
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
Wednesday March 22nd 2023
RICHMOND – The acrimony between members of the Town Council reached an all - time high at the March 21 meeting. Before the meeting even began, councilors squabbled over the new seating arrangement, introduced at the previous meeting by council President Mark Trimmer because some council members did not feel comfortable sitting next to councilor Michael Colasante.
Recounting the incident on the condition of anonymity, several sources said Colasante became angry when he entered the council chambers and saw that he would not be in his original seat, but had instead been moved to the end of the table.
Refusing to take his seat, Colasante instead stood closely behind the seat of council Vice President Richard Nassaney, who found his behavior threatening. He eventually took his seat, but expressed his frustration, another source recounted, by flinging a paper copy of the agenda at the other council members, whom he referred to as ”f*****g” babies.”
In an interview on Wednesday morning, Nassaney described the scene before the meeting began.
“I sat where the V.P. would usually sit, and Mr. Colasante was not very happy with that seating arrangement and chose to stand over me for an extended period of time in a semi-authoritative manner, demanding that I move, and I informed him that the President, multiple members of the public and other council members had asked me to sit in that seat, so I obliged,” he said. “Colasante was asked a week or two before to move his seat, which he declined to do, so we made the move and last evening, after a very contentious standoff, he finally moved himself to the far side of the table.”
“Tri-town” is now just one town
A majority of three council members voted in favor of a motion made by councilor Samantha Wilcox to decline a proposal to endorse a “tri town collaboration” with Hopkinton and Charlestown.
The collaboration, spearheaded by Colasante, began with a discussion at the annual Chariho Omnibus meeting in January about how the three Chariho towns might work together to oppose unfunded state mandates and support funding for the regional school district.
The group has met twice, the first time at a Richmond restaurant and the second time at Colasante’s residence.
There were concerns, expressed by some members of the Chariho School Committee and members of the three Town Councils, that the group was not posting meeting agendas or holding public meetings with published minutes.
Wilcox noted that information about the meetings was not publicly accessible.
“… I had to really fish for information, I had to do an APRA [Access to Public Records Act] request to get information on this, and once I saw that information, it was, for me, the fact sheet was just something I couldn’t agree with,” she said.
Colasante vigorously defended the collaboration, insisting that council members’ concerns were unfounded.
“I don’t know how you can make this up in your head,” he told the council.
“There is a reason why we have these ridiculously laborious rules to follow and so on, and it’s so that everybody stays involved, knows what’s going on makes informed decisions, and so on,” he said. “This situation wasn’t done that way, and so I don’t care if the commission [collaboration] meets a hundred more times. I personally, as Town Council President and I personally, as one of the five Town Council members, can’t say ‘hey, I’m going to … give the endorsement of the Town Council to this group.’ “
Councilor Helen Sheehan, who attended both meetings, praised Colasante for taking action when others had not.
“Everybody has talked about we have all the unfunded mandates and everybody says we should do something about it, and nobody’s done anything about it – I should say, nobody but Mike has done anything about it,” she said.
Trimmer suggested the items of concern to the town be added to a future Town Council agenda so the entire council could address them.
The motion to decline to join the collaboration passed with Trimmer, Wilcox and Nassaney voting in favor. Sheehan voted against the motion. Colasante was reluctant to cast his vote, but when pressed by Town Clerk Erin Liese to record a vote one way or the other, he voted nay.
With the Charlestown Town Council voting to take no action on the collaboration, only Hopkinton has endorsed the group, leaving its future in doubt.
Technical glitches prevented the town from video- recording the meeting, but some residents who were in the council chambers when the vote was taken clapped in approval and were then mocked by Colasante who mimicked their applause.
Councilors and Town Hall staff
The disagreements continued when the council discussed an agenda item, added by Trimmer, regarding interactions between council members and Town Hall staff.
“We as a council need to agree on, we can’t just go and assign a job to somebody or tell somebody they need to do a job differently,” he said. “One individual can’t say ‘this should be your responsibility or what have you’. It is up to the council as a whole, put it on the agenda, discuss it, to pass it…It’s not up to us. It’s a threatening work environment at times.”
Some members of town staff, who spoke off the record to protect their identities, said Colasante had made comments that they had found threatening. One comment, confirmed to have been made by Colasante to several staffers, was,
“Don’t worry about a thing. I give people enough rope to hang themselves.”
There was, not surprisingly, continued disagreement over whether council members could or should direct town employees.
“Now, it’s my responsibility, however, to go in and talk with you from time to time, to ask you certain things,” Colasante said. “Certain people on the council are getting the feeling that certain people are being dictatorial and demanding that things have to be done, and, I mean, you just have to go back to the Town [Home Rule] Charter, because everybody’s trying to dodge that we’re the hire and firing agents and nobody has the authority to send out a letter of denial, but they’ll scoot around that and say ‘no the town, the way it’s been working for years, we haven’t done that’. Well, if you want to follow the town charter, then follow it 100%, everybody, okay?”
Council members debated what they could and could not ask town employees to do.
“I think that being a councilor and going into the Town Hall and you have to have the utmost respect for the people working there and not make them feel uneasy in any way, shape or form,” Nassaney said. “You are a servant. You’re a public servant. They are the employees of the town.”
Former council President Nell Carpenter said whether interactions with town staff were appropriate depended to a large extent on the council members’ intentions.
“It’s what your intentions are,” she said. “It’s what you’re trying to accomplish. Is it for the greater good?”
Mark Reynolds, who served on the town’s Charter Review Commission, said the role of the council did not include managing the daily operations of the town.
“Your role is the big picture, policy-making,” he said. “’What can we do to bring business into town? What can we do to lessen regulations on businesses?’ Big picture. Policy. You’re like the Board of Directors of a publicly-held company. Those are the kinds of decisions you should be talking about, not who we should hire as a clerk in the Planning Department.”
In other business, the council hired Jeffrey Vaillancourt as the part-time electrical inspector with Trimmer, Sheehan and Colasante voting in favor, Nassaney abstaining and Wilcox voting no.
The council also approved the hiring of a part-time Wellness Director, a position that was approved by the previous council.
Council members received an update from representatives from the Rhode Island Department of Transportation on the upcoming roundabout project at the intersection of Routes 138 and 112. Work is expected to begin this summer, but will stop during the Washington County Fair which takes place from Aug. 16 to Aug. 20.
It was evident Tuesday that the divisions on the council were, if anything, deepening. Asked whether he believed council members would be able to work together, Trimmer said he hoped the bickering would end so the council could attend to business.
“Now that we’ve put all that rancor behind us, we can get down to the work the people elected us to do,” he said.
Richmond Planning Board Meeting Update for March 14th 2023
Board hears developer’s aquifer ordinance comments
By Cynthia Drummond for the BRVCA
March 18th 2023
RICHMOND – Members of the Planning Board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting listening to input on proposed amendments to the aquifer protection ordinance from Paul Mihailides, the developer of The Preserve Sporting Club & Residences, and his attorney, Americo Scungio.
While the amendments to the ordinance have not yet been approved by the Town Council, Mihailides is concerned that they will hamper his future development plans.
The proposed changes, intended to protect the town’s groundwater, divide activities in the aquifer protection zone into three categories: permitted, permitted with a special use permit, and prohibited.
The Planning Board has also recommended the creation of two sub-districts within the aquifer protection overlay district, often referred to as the APOD. Sub-district A, with the most restricted use regulations, includes the sole source aquifer and well head protection areas. Sub-district B comprises groundwater recharge areas.
Scungio began by reminding the council that the board’s approval of Phase 2 of the development had required a hydrogeologic study, which he hoped would not have to be conducted again.
“This was back in 2018, and had specific findings in those reports and in those hearings that there was no adverse effect upon the aquifer – all of the uses that were proposed in the master plan, so if you pass the APOD and apply it to the master plan approval, you’re basically requiring The Preserve to do the exact same work again, subject to your review again, which you’ve already reviewed,” he said.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said the town did not intend to require another study.
“We’ve already said that we’re not going do that,” she said.
“Anything that received master plan approval under the regulations and the ordinance, as they existed at that time, is vested.”
Board Chair Philip Damicis added,
“As long as it’s a use that was proposed in the master plan. If you deviate from that, then you would have to do a hydrogeologic study to determine what the impact of that change is.”
One issue is a proposed brew pub, which the board approved in the master plan, but only for beer sold on the premises. Brew pubs are known to consume a lot of water.
“The concern with the brew pub is, brew pubs can often start off relatively small,” Damicis said. “Take the Tilted Barn. [located in Exeter] It started out very small and I’m glad they were successful, but they got very successful and the concern is, you could reach a point where you’re pulling a significant of water out of the aquifer.”
Town Planner Shaun Lacey said the brew pub activity was not in the town’s zoning use code and unique to the “planned development resort” zone created especially for The Preserve.
“The benefit, I think, of having the brew pub as a unique use within the PDR district allows you to position yourself to allow that type of application, that type of use, with a special use permit within the confines of your own property, as long as it’s outside of sub-district – A, which is the wellhead protection.”
Scungio asked several questions about water - use benchmarks and how the town would determine whether too much water was being withdrawn.
Mihailides told the board that he already had permission from the state to withdraw 600,000 gallons of water per day to irrigate his gold course.
“We’re not using a fraction of that,” he said. “600,000 gallons a day. So, I don’t know how many six-packs of booze that makes.
We could never get to that point, and to take away something that we already have. It’s nuances.”
Damicis said the overarching purpose of the amendments was to protect the town’s water supply, and that he and Ellsworth would contact the town’s consulting engineers, GZA GeoEnvironmental, to try to get an idea of a water - use limit that would protect the town and satisfy The Preserve.
Mihailides also wanted assurances that the two helipads on the property would not be impacted.
“We don’t want to be limited where a member can land a helicopter on the property,” he said.
Ellsworth replied that the ordinance amendments would not affect the helipads that were already there.
The concern, she and Damicis told Mihailides, was the potential for spilled fuel contaminating the groundwater. Mihailides replied that helicopters would not be fueled on the pads.
Board members moved on to the planned equestrian complex which will include polo grounds.
Board member Dan Madnick said the equestrian complex was already a permitted use.
“I’m trying to make it work for you and work for the town and try not to make it too difficult for you to do business there, and also protect the water resource,” he told Mihailides.
Ellsworth reiterated that the uses already approved in the master plan were permitted, but if Mihailides wanted to build a second hotel in Sub-zone A, over the aquifer, he would need to apply for a special use permit.
Damicis said the board would consult with GZA and submit a revised draft of the amendments at the board’s first meeting in April.
In other business, Lacey presented a brief overview of new development applications and members discussed the 14-bill package of proposed state housing legislation.
Before the meeting adjourned, Damicis introduced the newest board member, Daniel Ashworth, a Pawtucket police officer who also works part time as a firearms instructor at The Preserve.
Ashworth did not recuse himself from the proceedings pertaining to The Preserve, and did not speak during that segment of the meeting.
Ashworth was advised by Ellsworth when he was first appointed to request an opinion from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission regarding his participation in matters relating to The Preserve, and he is reported to be waiting for the commission to issue an opinion.
Chariho School Committee Meeting Update for March 14th 2023
Still Only One Town in “Tri-town” Coalition
By Cynthia Drummond
March 15th 2023
RICHMOND – School Committee members voted at Tuesday’s meeting to adopt the proposed 2023-24 schools budget. The vote was nine in favor, with one Richmond member, Kathryn Colasante, opposed and Hopkinton member, Polly Hopkins, abstaining.
Richmond member Clay Johnson, a vocal opponent of the budget, did not attend the meeting.
Reached the morning after the vote, School Committee Chair, Catherine Giusti, said she was surprised that committee members who had opposed the budget throughout the process had voted to adopt it. Giusti also noted that she hoped those members would end their efforts to defeat the budget.
“I expressed that if someone voted for the budget at the public meeting last night, but then went out into the public and tried to get the budget defeated, it would be really disingenuous,” she said. “I was surprised at the vote.”
Before voting to adopt the budget, members agreed to add some funds back to the $57 million spending plan.
“We restored about $70,000 back into the budget so that we would not have to make cutes to the transportation,” Giusti said. “And really, what we saw last night is how the routes were going to change and committee members were worried, really, about kids having to walk a longer distance, but also, some of the main road stops made people nervous.”
Giusti added that the committee agreed to cut about $14,000 in funds for the purchase of books, but a motion to further reduce the district’s unassigned fund balance from 2.25% to 2% was defeated.
More information on the budget, which will be put to a vote on April 4 by residents of the three towns can be found on the Chariho website.
Hopkinton is the only Chariho town, so far, to have officially joined the “tri town” coalition promoted by Richmond Town Council member Michael Colasante and more recently, Hopkinton Town Council member, Sharon Davis.
Despite efforts by Colasante and Davis at Tuesday’s meeting to persuade school committee members to name members to the proposed coalition, the committee took no action.
This followed a similar decision by the Charlestown Town Council on Monday to take no action on coalition membership. With the Richmond council yet to decide on whether to join the group, that leaves only one member town, Hopkinton.
Davis described the two previous meetings of the coalition as informal get togethers of town representatives to address common concerns.
Davis told the school committee that leading the coalition’s list of concerns is the need for a “forensic audit management study” of the school district, an idea long touted, but not described in detail.
It should be noted that although the term “forensic audit” does not automatically imply fraud, it differs from a “management study” and is defined by the Corporate Finance Institute as follows:
“A forensic audit is an examination of a company’s financial records to derive evidence which can be used in a court of law or legal proceeding.”
“I will keep trying to move forward on this issue, and look forward to creating an RFP [request for proposals] with the Chariho Director of Finance, once we are sure of obtaining funding,” she said. “My estimate is approximately $75,000.”
Davis said Sen. Elaine Morgan (R-Dist. 34) had been asked to try to raise those funds.
Another concern of the coalition is unfunded state government mandates, which place unsustainable burdens on the towns.
The third concern is the Chariho teachers’ contract, which the coalition believes is too generous.
Colasante distributed a 14-page document to school committee members, which states the group’s objectives and asks people to submit their opinions.
The name of the group appears to have been changed from “coalition” to “collaboration.”
Colasante told the committee that despite its Republican origins, the group is not political. Colasante said he first brought up a collaboration between the towns and the school committee in January, at the annual Chariho Omnibus Meeting.
“It’s a culture of collaboration and it’s our opportunity, really, to work together to really humanize the process because it’s really not Democrat or Republican,” he said. “I feel that we have an opportunity, looking at the school committee, looking at the make-up now of the Town Councils. I got to know Sharon Davis, I got to know Steve Stokes.
[Stokes, a member of the Charlestown Town Council, attended the first meeting, held at the Dragon Palace restaurant in Richmond. He did not attend the second meeting, which took place at Colasante’s residence.]
Colasante then recounted an analogy, in which he referred to Charlestown.
“Even in Charlestown, if you have a gentleman – this is my analogy – he’s worth $10 million,” he said. “He sees a $10 bill on the sidewalk. Even though that guy could be worth so much money, is he not going to pick up that $10 bill off the sidewalk? So, everybody can benefit by it, even Charlestown can benefit by it.”
Charlestown Town Council President Deborah Carney told the committee that she remembered a tri-own/ school district committee which was formed about 20 years ago.
Those meetings, she said, were posted and public, with both agendas and minutes.
“What bothered me personally was reading in the paper that Charlestown was part of this tri town collaboration, because it had been given a name when I knew nothing about what was being discussed, so I, too, had my own issues with the way this was originally presented because in my mind, it was not what we discussed at the Omnibus meeting.”
Carney said her council had taken no action regarding joining the group, but had drafted a motion to discuss, if a tri town group is eventually formed, unfunded state mandates, and a possible management study.
Richmond councilor and staunch Colasante ally Helen Sheehan said the collaboration was addressing a need.
“Everybody agreed that something needed to be done, but nobody did it,” she said. “So, Mike started this collaboration. So [there was] a little bumbling about getting all the right forms and everything in order. So, I would like you not to throw the baby out with the bath water, because it’s a really good idea.”
Charlestown committee member Andrew McQuaide pointed out that the coalition’s actions to date had not been collaborative.
“You could have met in a public meeting and you chose not to, and that was a choice,” he said. “You could have vetted this publicly and you chose not to, and that was a choice. And when you cherry-pick individuals to participate, that is not how you develop a concentrated effort for collaboration and it’s definitely not how you develop a culture of collaboration. That’s not bumbling. Those are intentional decisions, and it has clearly impacted the ability for us to move forward. With that said, I share the sentiments that many other people have shared which is, let’s try this again and let’s see if we can do this in a public fashion, in a way that truly develops a culture of collaboration.”
Kathryn Colasante moved to elect two school committee members to participate in the coalition, but there was no vote.
Town Council and Chariho Meetings Updates for March 7th 2023
Council meeting, Chariho budget hearing expose ongoing divisions
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – Tuesday evening was a busy one for members of the Town Council, who first attended an early council meeting and then headed over to the Chariho Middle School for the public hearing on the schools budget.
At the council meeting, there was a change in the councilors’ seating arrangement, after one council member stated privately that they were uncomfortable sitting near council member Michael Colasante.
Council Vice President Richard Nassaney now sits in the center, between council President Mark Trimmer and Colasante, councilor Samantha Wilcox has moved to the far end of the table and councilor Helen Sheehan is at the opposite end.
Council members briefly debated the recommendation of Town Planner Shaun Lacey to hire Michael Rosso as the town’s part time electrical inspector, but in the end, they decided to reject it.
Lacey’s March 7 memorandum to the council and Town Administrator Karen Pinch stated that after conducting interviews with several candidates, the Building, Planning and Zoning Department recommended Rosso, who has been doing electrical inspections for the town since the previous inspector, Al Vennari, retired.
Lacey said that Rosso, who has 40 years of inspection experience, had performed well while he was acting inspector and proposed that he be hired.
However, Colasante, backed by Trimmer and Sheehan, proposed that the town hire Jeff Vaillancourt instead and added that the council, not town administrators, should have authority over hiring and firing.
(Vaillancourt, the current Vice Chair of the Zoning Board of Review, is a Republican who ran unsuccessfully for the Town Council in the last election.)
“In the town charter, the Town Council is the body that hires and fires, and up to this point, when I get just the recommendation, without having the person’s, the whole set of applications and resumes,” Colasante said. “It kind of puts me at a disadvantage to really picking the most qualified person in my view. I asked Ms Pinch [Town Administrator Karen Pinch] if she would please in the future submit to the council all the resumes and all the applications, so that way, we can see who applied. “
Nassaney disagreed, arguing that prospective hires should be vetted by the administrators with whom they will be working.
Colasante, Sheehan and Trimmer voted against a motion to hire Rosso and immediately after that vote, Colasante moved to hire Vaillancourt.
Since the Vaillancourt appointment was not on the agenda, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth suggested the council consider the proposal at the next meeting. The resumes of all the candidates will be attached to the agenda.
Council members also discussed Colasante’s “Tri Town Coalition” which has met twice, once at the Dragon Palace restaurant in Richmond and the second time at Colasante’s residence. The purpose of the coalition, as Colasante has often stated, is for the towns to band together to require that state mandates be funded by the state.
The coalition was first proposed at the annual Chariho Omnibus meeting in January.
“I floated the idea that basically, proposing legislation requiring all future mandates be accompanied by state funding,” Colasante said.
Colasante also stated, incorrectly, that recent revaluations would result in significant property tax increases. The mil rate, which is still to be determined, will be adjusted to mitigate the impact on property tax bills.
”It’s only a short span of time before they’re going to see big increases, - all right? - to their taxes again because of …the high reval,” he said.
Trimmer said he was uncomfortable with the coalition meetings taking place out of public view and without the agendas posted.
“The whole idea of getting together with a few people and discussing things is one thing, but all of a sudden, it morphed, without any discussion in the council at all, it morphed to ‘Richmond has joined this tri-town coalition,’” he said.
Colasante replied that the Hopkinton Town Council had voted in favor of joining the coalition at its most recent meeting, and the matter was on the agenda for Charlestown’s March 13th Town Council meeting.
Councilor Samantha Wilcox, said she wanted to know more about the coalition and what it stands for before deciding whether to support it.
Colasante responded by introducing Hopkinton Town Council member Sharon Davis, who had brought with her some written material about the coalition. Davis also told the council that she had contacted the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office and had been told that as long as only two members from each public body attended, there would not be a quorum (which is three members) and therefore, no Open Meetings Act violation.
Davis read a statement that included Charlestown, which has not joined the group.
“Several Town Council and School Committee representatives from the three towns, Charlestown, Hopkinton and Richmond, would like to meet and form an informal tri-town collaboration group to lobby for or against potential state legislative issues,” she said. “We would also encourage our state legislative representatives to create the legislation that we support.”
Trimmer said he supported the goal of working together to effect change, but he wasn’t comfortable with the process.
“The process needs to be laid out,” he said.
Wilcox said she supported the idea of reaching out to state representatives.
Colasante said that the coalition had already had an impact on the state legislature.
“In just the short time that we spoke, and, you know, some of us have gone to the State House for these hearings and listened to Speaker Shekarchi - all right? - on his proposals and whatnot, what has happened when they heard of our getting together and discussing these things as a collaborative, all three towns in sync with one another, it’s really, I mean, about that legislation, all right? Where they’ve kind of watered it down a little bit because of our concerns. …It’s going to help us out in the long run and I met some very wonderful people from Charlestown and Hopkinton and if these issues didn’t come up, I don’t think I would have met Councilor Davis, and she’s a wonderful person, Steven Stokes, from Charlestown, and that’s what I mean about bringing the humanization to politics.”
Long time Richmond resident Iva Lipton said,
“I think it’s a good idea too, but you don’t represent the town without telling the town, and I think that, Mike, you overstep in so many ways,” she said.
Former council President Nell Carpenter said she supported Colasante’s initiative.
“The start of something always begins somewhere, and this is the start, so I actually commend councilman Colasante for initiating this,” she said.
Trimmer asked councilors whether they would be interested in serving on the coalition.
Wilcox said she needed to know more about it before making a decision. Sheehan told her that the information had been provided that evening.
“So, let’s take our time and see a nice mission statement and what the group’s going to be and formalize the group,” she said.
Colasante said he would provide more information on the coalition at the next council meeting.
“More issues will come up over time, and the town councils will decide what’s in the best interest of all three towns, because it’s the only way we’re going to do things as long all three towns – it benefits all three,” he said.
Trimmer said he wanted a consensus of council members and assurance that “the tri-town coalition doesn’t become a shadow council, or secondary legislative body.”
Trimmer also resisted urging from Davis that the council vote to approve the coalition and said he wanted to put the item on the agenda of the next council meeting.
Wilcox, the only Democrat on the council, said both parties should be represented on the coalition.
“There should be a couple of different party members from each town to make sure that it’s completely balanced,” she said.
“That was always my idea from the get-go,” Colasante replied. “That why we approached councilor Davis and Ms. [Deborah] Carney from Charlestown, who is also a Democrat”
Carney said Wednesday that she was incensed that her town had been mentioned as being part of the coalition, when she had not yet submitted the item as part of the council agenda.
Carney sent a written statement to the BRVCA which reads:
“I was not present at any of those so-called tri-town collaboration meetings. I have not met with Mike Geary, Sharon Davis, Michael Colasante, Helen Sheehan Kathryn Colasante or Clay Johnson. [Johnson is reported to have been present at the most recent meeting at Colasante’s home.]
I do not know what was discussed or decided at these meetings, as I was not present.”
Chariho Public Budget Hearing
The public hearing, required as part of the Chariho budget preparation process, took place in the auditorium of the Chariho Middle School. Despite a strong showing by both supporters and opponents of the 2023 budget, the room was only about half full.
Before the meeting began, budget opponents were offered orange T-shirts that read: “Another Forgotten Taxpayer.”
The discourse was polite, considering the deep divisions in the community that touch many aspects of life in the three towns, particularly the public school system.
Town Moderator Mark Reynolds allowed three minutes for each comment, although several residents spoke for much longer.
Several people said the rejection of the budget last year, which resulted in level funding for the current year, was already hurting the district’s eight schools and urged the approval of the new spending plan, which, at just over $57 million, is a 1.45% increase.
Some, like Hopkinton council member Sharon Davis and Hopkinton resident and former councilor Barbara Capalbo, said they supported the budget but suggested that the school district further reduce the fund balance.
Davis asked the School Committee to consider reducing the fund balance to 2% which would save the district $148,000. The current fund balance is 2.25%.
Capalbo agreed on a 2% fund balance.
“I think that’s a reasonable request from Sharon Davis and from some of you,” she said.
Several Chariho teachers and support staff said they were already having difficulty maintaining the same level of performance with a level funded budget and worried what would happen if there were more cuts.
One Charlestown resident who has two children at Chariho schools has also worked as a substitute teacher.
“I had absolutely no idea how incredibly difficult it was to work in schools until I went inside,” she said. “I’ve seen, just over the past four years, our staff being constantly asked to do more with less, and they do it. They do it every day, for these kids.”
Other residents said it was important to support public education, but others, including Sen. Elaine Morgan, (R-Dist. 34) said the increase, even at 1.45%, was more than the taxpayers in the three towns could bear.
“We have the best school system in the state, but enough is enough,” she said. “We cannot pay any more.”
But Richmond resident Jeff Noble said any further erosion of the public school system would hurt the community.
“We’re falling behind,” he said. “Everyone else in the world is investing in their schools. Those nations wanting to complete with us are not sitting around whimpering about investing in the future for our kids or their kids. They’re going to be competitive, we’re going to end up not being competitive, and then what’s going to happen?”
One Chariho parent warned that if the schools declined, parents would send their children to out of the district schools, or move out altogether, which would in turn hurt home values.
Carney told the committee that she supported the proposed budget, as did Richmond councilor Samantha Wilcox.
Colasante repeated several statements, including another description of a “tri-town coalition” that does not include Charlestown.
“We have a tri-town collaboration that Richmond, Hopkinton and Charlestown are discussing right now, to support our state legislators,” he said.
One teacher said that instead of blaming the school district, the towns should be bringing in businesses to alleviate the burden on taxpayers.
Colasante noted that one of his challenges was fighting for businesses.
“What the heck have Hopkinton and Richmond been doing in promoting economic growth in the last one to two decades?” he said. “I agree with them 100%. I am fighting - all right? - the conservation elite in Richmond. They don’t want any development.”
Voters will have the final say on the budget at an all-day referendum on April 4.
Richmond Planning Board Meeting for February 28th 2023
Board continues vineyard, mulls housing survey options
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
March 1st, 2023
RICHMOND – A public informational meeting on an application for a housing subdivision and vineyard was continued at Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting at the request of the developer.
Attorney Steven Surdut, representing the Punchbowl Development Corp. of Westerly, requested the continuance to allow his client to address concerns expressed by board members when they first heard the application last June.
Surdut said he would be ready to present the amended application at the board‘s second March meeting.
A site walk, which gave board members an opportunity to visit the property, took place on Feb. 18, but Surdut offered to organize a second site walk for recently - appointed members who have not visited the 9.47-acre site.
One of those new members, Daniel Ashworth, who was appointed at the last Town Council meeting, did not attend Tuesday’s Planning Board meeting, which would have been his first. Ashworth, a Pawtucket police sergeant, was working on Tuesday evening.
The second newly-appointed member, Kevin Stacey, was present at Tuesday’s meeting.
Board members resumed their discussion, which began at the Jan. 10 meeting, of affordable housing and accessory dwelling units.
Town Planner Shaun Lacey recalled that at the January meeting, the board had learned of a housing survey of residents of the town of Old Saybrook, Connecticut.
“The board wanted to see other examples from other communities that have done similar surveying of its residents to gain more public opinion and understanding of what their housing goals and needs might be,” he said. “So, working with Bryce [board member Bryce Kelley] included with your packet materials tonight are two surveys on housing, from the towns of Little Compton and Warren, for you to review and consider.”
Lacey proposed that the board work with the town’s Affordable Housing Committee to draft a survey.
Board Vice President Dan Madnick said he favored a joint workshop, which would help determine the parameters and goals of the survey.
“What we really have to try to figure out in all these surveys is, how narrow or how broad we want to have this survey and what our goals are,” he said. “We’ve got the data. We’ve got very little rentals in Richmond, very little deeded affordable housing.”
Kelley, a research analyst at HousingWorks RI who also serves as the Planning Board’s liaison on the Affordable Housing Committee, proposed that the survey be framed as a housing needs survey.
“Getting a sense of what Richmond residents’ needs are in this day and age, as it pertains to housing, without drilling as deeply into deed restricted affordable housing,” he said.
It would be useful, Kelley added, to determine which Richmond residents are facing housing issues
“Are older adults experiencing housing trouble? Are kids having to leave because they can’t afford housing and there’s no rental stock? So, we really need to drill into those pockets,” he said.
Members then began a discussion of an issue that has vexed Richmond leaders for many years: creating more affordable housing in a rural town that lacks many municipal services, including public transportation.
Madnick wondered how the town could encourage the construction of more affordable housing.
“I’m not sure how we’re going to be able to guide development in that direction, or what mechanisms we have to do that,” he said.
Board President Philip Damicis said ordinances could be amended to encourage affordable housing construction.
“We have ordinances, regulations that we could change to incentivize people to develop differently,” he said.
But Damicis also made it clear that he would resist any initiatives that would alter Richmond’s rural character.
“Honestly, there’s a lot of people like myself that live in Richmond because we don’t want to live in North Kingstown,” he said. “I want to live in a rural area. I like the idea that I’ve got some acreage. I like the idea that we have 2,000 acres of open space. That’s why I moved here. That’s why I stayed here.”
Also attending the meeting was Town Council member Michael Colasante, who expressed his views on the housing issues facing the town. Each of Colasante’s assertions, however, was disputed by board members and Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth.
Consulting what appeared to be notes on his cell phone, Colasante said he had recently spoken with Paul Mihailides, the developer of the Preserve at Boulder Hills who also built the Fox Run condominiums on Jupiter Lane.
“There were two units put aside, and Paul mentioned to me not too long ago that there were people who didn’t even fit the income value to buy those units, and they were empty, the last time I talked to him about those low to moderate income units, and on top of that, not only were they not filled, bought, what ended up happening is, I don’t know if many people know this, but say, hypothetically, they were to buy that unit at $210,000, they cannot ever reap the benefit of the property value going up, so if they buy it for $210,000, if they live there for 10 years, they have to sell it for $210,000,” he said.
Ellsworth was quick to correct him.
“Mike, that’s not correct,” she said. “It doesn’t stay at the original price.”
“Well,” Colasante replied, “it doesn’t go up proportionately… A lot of times, those people are kind of stuck there.”
Kelley joined the discussion.
“That’s not really the spirit of those units, to make a windfall,” he said. “It’s giving those people who are in those income brackets the opportunity to own a home. I don’t think it’s necessarily directed at building wealth at the same appreciative value as the neighbors, per se. I think it’s to discourage flipping.”
Ellsworth said the the Fox Run units didn’t sell because the asking prices were too high.
“The problem is that Paul had priced them at the higher end of what he can charge, based on family incomes,” she said. “And people who are eligible to buy those are not going to buy those units when they can spend a little bit more and get a unit that’s not deed restricted. And Paul knows that’s what the problem is.”
Colasante then turned his attention to open space.
“We’re talking about affordable units and what not and not having enough units, another thing too is the Land Trust, they have over 12,000 acres in Richmond that is put aside,” he said.
This time, it was Madnick who pointed out the inaccuracy.
“The Richmond Rural Preservation Land Trust, the board of the town, they have less than 600 acres,” he said.
Colasante replied that 12 housing units had been proposed for a property behind his house until the Land Trust swooped in a bought it.
“They went out and they bonded for $1.2 million to buy land in Richmond,” he said. “They took it off the tax roll, so those [sic]10 or 12 cluster development behind me never came to fruition because they bought it.”
Ellsworth again stepped in with a correction.
“Mike, that’s not what happened with that development,” she said, noting that the developers realized they would not be able to afford to develop the property, so they asked the Land Trust to purchase it.
“What’s your point?” an irritated Damicis asked Colasante.
“Well, they took 12 units off the tax roll here,” he said. “We’re talking about not having enough units here in Richmond for people to be able to come in here and buy, and another thing, when your cluster developments…”
Damicis broke in.
“I don’t want to sit and argue all night about this, but that 100 acres pretty much abuts De Coppet, [the estate now owned and preserved as green space by the state]. It’s a crucial conservation open space and it’s what we keep hearing overwhelmingly from the community here is that they … love the rural character of this town, and they value open space. They value conservation,” he said.
Colasante continued to argue his point, proposing a zoning policy that fell out of favor about 20 years ago.
“Instead of doing the cluster, you do the two acres, two and a half acres, that way, out of the whole development, the town would have garnished [sic] at least another $30,000 to $50,000 in property values and just because that house is a three bedroom compared to a two bedroom, it would just put the same amount of kids in the school system…”
Kelley broke in,
“That’s sprawl you’re dealing with as well, though,” he said. We want to limit sprawl as much as possible.”
“That two-acre zoning, we don’t allow anymore,” she said. “We don’t allow people to develop like that anymore. We do conservation developments.”
As Colasante continued to speak, Damicis interrupted him with a suggestion that he talk with Lacey about conservation development subdivisions and why the town encourages them.
“There’s a lot more to that that I think you’re not understanding, quite honestly,” he told Colasante, before ending the discussion.
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for February 21, 2023
Councilor loses bid to scrap wellness director
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
February 22nd 2023
RICHMOND – Town Council member Helen Sheehan lost her bid at Tuesday’s meeting to eliminate the newly-created position of Wellness Director and allocate the American Rescue Plan Act funds to another initiative.
The council also made two appointments – one to the Planning Board and the second to the Economic Development Commission, and granted an entertainment license to the organizer of food truck events.
Daniel Ashworth, a Pawtucket police sergeant and neighbor of councilor Michael Colasante, was not appointed at the Feb. 9 meeting because he was not present, but his appointment was approved on Tuesday, with councilor Samantha Wilcox casting the only dissenting vote. (Council Vice President Richard Nassaney was absent.)
One concern regarding Ashworth’s appointment has been his connection to the largest developer in town, The Preserve, where he is a firearms instructor. Ashworth did not disclose his position at The Preserve on his application, nor did he reveal that connection until Wilcox asked him specifically about it.
“When I Googled your name, you came up as a trainer at The Preserve,” she said. “That’s not a position you’re paid for? You’re not an employee there?”
“No, I’m also there as well. I’m sorry,” Ashworth replied. “So, I am a firearms instructor there. I also do some transportation services, things like that, for The Preserve - it’s four hours a week, maybe hours a month. It’s very limited. It’s firearms training.”
Wilcox said she was concerned about an employee of The Preserve being so closely involved with the Planning Board. (It should be noted that three individuals connected to The Preserve made campaign contributions to Council President Mark Trimmer and Colasante. See the Jan. 3 story on the BRVCA website.)
Trimmer said he did not believe that Ashworth’s position at The Preserve was a problem.
“Honestly, if it were someone who worked in the planning office, management, marketing, etcetera, etcetera, I would probably shy away from it, but it’s such a minimal impact…I’m sure he would recuse himself from issues as such, and I think it would be a really good idea,” he said.
After the vote, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth urged Ashworth to contact the Rhode Island Ethics Commission for advice on recusals.
“The first thing that Mr. Ashworth should do is contact the Ethics Commission and get an advisory opinion so that they can explain to him exactly what it is he needs to recuse himself from,” she said.
Louise Dinsmore, a frequent commentator at council and Chariho School Committee meetings, was appointed to the Economic Development Commission.
Reading from a prepared statement, Dinsmore said the commission needed a written directive from the council, prioritizing the rehabilitation of the largely vacant Chariho Plaza property on Route 138.
“I would strongly recommend that at your next council meeting, your council be specific in your words and go an important step further and put some teeth behind this priority,” she said. “At your next meeting, I really feel that the town council should adopt the specific priority of the development of the Chariho Plaza and direct the Town Manager [Administrator] and the Town Planner to be co-point persons in driving this priority forward. I would go a step further in suggesting that part of the performance evaluations of the Town Manager [Administrator] and the Town Planner include tangible steps that lead to conversations among the Chariho Plaza stakeholders, various town boards and commissions, to ensure the thoughtful development of the Chariho Plaza. Someone has to be held accountable to get this done.”
Dinsmore’s appointment to the commission was unanimously approved, however, her remarks about administrators being held accountable raised some eyebrows.
Town Administrator Karen Pinch pointed out, later in the meeting, that accountability for the success or failure of Chariho Plaza development initiatives was not included in either her or Town Planner Shaun Lacey’s job descriptions.
“It was something that was said earlier that I can’t let go,” Pinch said. “… It’s a private entity. They will do what they want to do with their own property. Whether they develop that or not to the liking of the public has nothing to do with our performance. In fact, there is nothing in the Town Administrator job description that says anything about economic development.”
“Not myself, not you as a council, not Louise, not anyone in this audience, nor in this room, can force a private property owner to build.”
The Wellness Director
After describing the services provided by agencies and organizations to Richmond residents, Sheehan repeated a proposal she made at the beginning of her tenure: abolish the newly-created position of Wellness Director and use the federal grant money elsewhere.
The position, which pays $75,000 per year and can be renewed or terminated after three years, was approved by the previous Town Council on the recommendation of the town’s Wellness Committee. Interviews are set to begin soon.
The Wellness Director would serve as a resource for residents needing social or medical services, but Sheehan said the position was unnecessary.
“The population of Richmond, as of July 1, 2022, was 8,165 people,” she said. “Of those, 1.9% or 122 people, lived in poverty. I think they’d be better served by connecting with agencies that have the ability to give them heat vouchers, pay their rent, give them food, get them into an education program if they’re appropriate for one. Why would we start over with someone when they’re already existing people who already have the training there? ... I feel as if any time you start a new bureaucracy, it never goes away, so I think we should not fund the Wellness Director, because there are so many agencies that can do the job so well.”
Wilcox reminded the council that representatives from several community agencies, including Wood River Health and Police Chief Elwood Johnson, had served on the Wellness Committee and had determined that there was a need for a Wellness Director.
“Two of the people that you mentioned, both the Executive Director of Wood River Health and the police, by way of Chief Johnson, were both on the Wellness Committee and still found that this is a need that the community has to support the town and support the staff,” she said.
Colasante weighed in with his argument, which, like Sheehan, he has made since before taking office; that the position will end up being permanent, adding to the tax burden.
“My question to everybody is, when does it stop? Because it’s a perpetuating problem that just keeps going. Like Ronald Reagan said, ‘government is not the solution. Government is the problem,’” he said.
“On that, I have an answer for you,” Wilcox countered. “It stops after three years. … And I don’t agree that it’s a duplication of services and we can go back and forth on that all day, because there’s a need that Chief Johnson and the Director of Wood River Health found. They’re in the business, they know what they’re doing, and it’s not duplication.”
Several members of the public, some of whom had served on the Wellness Committee, said they supported the director position, and Trimmer agreed. So did Chief Johnson, who said it was difficult to navigate the many agencies who themselves had frequent staff turnover.
“Familiarity. Networking. Professional relationships you develop are how you get things done,” he said. “If you hire a competent person that knows what they’re doing, they’ve been vetted by the people that you put in charge of doing that, I think you’ll have success in at least facilitating somebody with a resource that they need.”
After hearing the opposition to her proposal, Sheehan declined to make a motion to eliminate the position, so Colasante moved to eliminate it and the motion failed.
A tri-town collaboration?
Colasante announced that he had been to a meeting last week with representatives from Hopkinton and Charlestown to discuss state education and other mandates and how to keep control with the towns.
“These other towns, like us, are in the same predicament, and it’s good to work with these towns without the bureaucratic red tape because again, keeping it local, local town councils working together, is stronger than any state organization that is given to us to try and coordinate us,” he said. “The other towns know of this and they were very excited to hear that we were getting this started.”
Trimmer said he hoped the coalition was not a political strategy.
Colasante replied that it was not.
“At that first meeting, we had Democrats, Independents and Republicans at the meeting and everybody was in sync with one another and nobody really cared what the heck the letter was at the end of their name,” he said.
Contacted Wednesday, Charlestown Town Council President Deborah Carney said she had not attended the meeting, and had no knowledge of the tri town coalition, nor had a senior Hopkinton administrator, also contacted on Wednesday.
Food Trucks to return
The council approved an outdoor entertainment license for P&EE Consulting Inc., which operates “PVD Food Truck Events.”
This year, the events will take place in the parking lot of Pasquale Farms at 421 Kingstown Road, the site of the former John and Cindy’s Harvest Acres Farm.
Council members agreed that unlike the former site, near the Town Hall, there would be more parking and fewer traffic safety concerns at Pasquale Farms.
Is Chariho’s Per Pupil Cost Really That High?
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
February 17th 2023
RICHMOND – At the Feb. 7 meeting of the Chariho School Committee, newly-appointed Richmond member, Clay Johnson voted against adopting the Fiscal Year 2024 budget.
Johnson cited the cost per pupil as one of the most important factors to consider in evaluating the proposed budget.
“There’s been a lot of focus on percentage increase, and I think that’s the wrong way to look at budgets,” he said. “When we look at the Uniform Charter of Accounts, that’s a way to compare budgets across the state, and nowhere on there is a comparison with a percent increase. So, there’s two important factors for schools. One is the academic performance and second is efficiency in how we’re spending our money, and when we look at the best-performing school districts in the state, they’re performing efficiently, at a much lower rate per pupil.”
Johnson pointed to the Barrington and East Greenwich school districts as examples of high-performing districts with lower costs.
“That’s the key way to look at budgets and in the private sector, you look at benchmarking, and I would recommend benchmarking against the best in the state, and those are East Greenwich and Barrington right now, from an academic standpoint,” he said. “If we look at their per pupil rate and applied it to Chariho, we’d be spending six to eight million dollars less in this district. So, what I would recommend, as we start to look at our budget for next year is, we start to look at what those districts are doing, how they’re allocating for these budgets and setting limits and caps on these line items so we’re not just guessing where we’re going to end up on each line item, and padding each line item and having to go through the budget and pull the padding out to get where we want to go.”
The per-pupil numbers
A chart on the Rhode Island Department of Education’s website provides a complete list of all the public school districts in the state and each district’s cost per pupil.
The most recent document, released in 2021, confirms what Johnson stated; Barrington and East Greenwich do indeed have lower costs per pupil - $16,551 and $16,841 respectively. (They are not the lowest in the state. Cumberland’s cost is $14,998.)
Rhode Island’s four regional school districts are grouped together on the chart, and Chariho, which is considered a high-performing district, fared well, with the second-lowest cost per pupil, $19,083. Foster-Glocester was the lowest, $19,061, Bristol-Warren had the second-highest cost, $19,321, and the highest cost per pupil was the Exeter-West Greenwich Regional School District, at $21,042.
It should also be noted that Westerly’s cost per pupil is higher than Chariho’s, at $24,510.
“I think that there is this misconception that we are very expensive in all areas at Chariho and that’s just not the case,” School Committee Chair Catherine Giusti said. “Our teachers are not the highest paid in the state. We do not pay the highest sub [substitute teacher] rates in the state, and our per pupil cost is not the highest in the state at all. I think that people are quick to throw out information that will get the taxpayers’ backs up, and I think that there are people who are very skilled at giving only part of the picture, and I think that’s what we are seeing now, is people who are giving part of the answer and hoping to upset people. I can’t think of any other reason. We have members of the school committee who have been very clear that their goal is to level-fund this budget again. They feel that it is the only avenue that they have to show their displeasure with Chariho which is unfortunate, because I think consistently under-funding a consistently high-performing school district is not the way to get anything accomplished.”
The regional school districts comprise larger geographic areas and several schools. Three of the four regional districts have six schools apiece, and Chariho has eight schools.
Chariho Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard and Director of Finance and Administration Ned Draper pointed to disparities between the demographics of the Barrington and Chariho districts, which make it difficult to compare the two.
“He used Barrington as an example,” Picard said, referring to Johnson. “When you look at Barrington, the average median income in Barrington is what – about $125,000?”
The most recent Census data show the median household income in Barrington is even higher, $130,455.
Incomes in the three Chariho towns are lower. In 2022, Richmond’s median household income was $100,493, Charlestown’s was $86,023 and Hopkinton’s was $87,712.
Draper also noted that the North Kingstown School District was more comparable to Chariho in terms of the geographic area covered.
“They’ve got a lot of land mass, so Chariho and North Kingstown share some interesting similarities in that regard,” he said. “Same thing with Exeter-West Greenwich. In terms of size, we’re a little closer to NK, too.”
The budget that the School Committee adopted at the most recent meeting is $63.5 million, a 1.45% increase. The committee still has time, until March 14, to make changes to the spending plan.
Last year, voters in Richmond and Hopkinton rejected the proposed budget twice, and with only Charlestown residents approving it, the district was level-funded.
There are efforts currently underway to ensure that voters reject the budget again.
Johnson has launched a political action committee “Chariho Forgotten Taxpayers,” and is seeking members - and donors - to oppose the budget. The PAC was registered with the Rhode Island Board of Elections in January, around the same time the Town Council appointed him to the School Committee.
“We are looking for support now to prepare for a school budget fight in April,” the message on the PAC’s website states.
In a recent letter to the editor, posted on the same website, Richmond Republican Louise Dinsmore blamed Chariho teacher contracts for “unsustainable” costs.
“Contrary to the rhetoric and propaganda pushed by the ‘Friends of Chariho’ in the community, I am not out to ‘destroy the schools’,” she wrote. “I realize that a strong community = strong schools. That's why I moved here in the first place. But we can't just sit by while the NEA [union] shark negotiators for the teachers force our community to pay bills that are unsustainable.”
Picard said she remained hopeful that this year, the budget would be approved, but she admitted she was concerned.
“My hope is that we can continue to share the information that shows the parents and the taxpayers the investment that we’ve made in education, and that the cost of education in general has increased, just like everybody else’s household budget, but I think we do a good job of providing a high - quality program for our kids,” she said. “With that said, we recognize there’s a balance. Are we concerned that the budget will not pass? I think there’s always a concern.”
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for February 9th 2023
Council gets down to (some) business
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
February 10, 2023
RICHMOND – While they are still divided on some issues, the five members of the Town Council were able to get through their agenda at Thursday’s meeting. The meeting was re-scheduled from Tuesday, when an overflow crowd in the council chambers forced the postponement.
The meeting began with an announcement from council President Mark Trimmer that the public forum would be moved to the end of the meeting.
“The last time, we had it, it took up most of the meeting and we had to shut down,” he said. “It stopped us from doing the business. We had people to hire, we had bills to pay.”
Councilor Samantha Wilcox said she opposed moving the forum.
“It was one of the first things we did as a group, moving it to the front, because everyone felt that public input was really important and valued.”
The motion to move the forum to the end passed, with Wilcox and council Vice President Richard Nassaney opposed.
Finance Director Laura Kenyon proposed, and the council approved, several dates for municipal budget workshops.
The April 4 council meeting, which would have been on the same day as the all-day Chariho schools budget referendum, was re-scheduled to April 5.
Budget workshops were scheduled for April 5 and April 10, and there will be two public budget hearings, on April 18 and May 2. The all-day budget referendum will take place on June 5.
Information on the dates and times of budget workshops and hearings is available on the town website.
The council considered applications for appointments to several boards and commissions, including the Economic Development Commission and the Planning Board.
There are two vacancies on the Planning Board. Four residents submitted applications: Josh Comerford, Raymond Pouliot, Kevin Stacey and Daniel Ashforth.
Comerford, who has served on several board and commissions, withdrew his application. Pouliot, a retired post master who applied to several boards, was appointed to the Economic Development Commission. Stacey, who works in the communications department at the University of Rhode Island, was appointed to the Planning Board.
Ashforth was not present at the meeting, but despite his absence, Colasante, who in the past has insisted on meeting candidates in person before voting on their appointments, said he supported Ashforth’s appointment and would be willing to postpone the vote until he could be present.
“Any other time, when someone’s not here at the meetings…and the people who do show up are here, it’s disrespectful to any of the people that are here that showed up to be appointed to that position – any position, so you have two people that are here: Mr. Pouliot and Mr. Stacey,” he said. “Both of them could fill any one of those positions. You just heard Mr. Stacey speak very eloquently. Mr. Pouliot spoke eloquently. He’d be willing to be on any of these boards. Why would you hold up? If Mr. Ashworth wants to be the second position, fine, but why would you hold up tonight’s vote?”
Colasante said he had known Ashworth for several years and wanted to hold open one of the Planning Board positions for him. In the meantime, he made a motion, which was defeated in a four-to-one vote, to nominate Pouliot to the Planning Board.
Nassaney made a motion to nominate Stacey to the Planning Board, which passed with only Colasante opposed.
A single open Planning Board seat remains to be filled, but there are questions regarding Ashworth’s suitability for the position.
A member of the Pawtucket Police Force, Ashworth also works as a firearms instructor at the Preserve. That association would require Ashworth to recuse himself from matters relating to The Preserve, which appears often before the Planning Board.
Helen Sheehan presented a list of goals that she would work to achieve as a council member.
“What I wanted was for each of us to talk about what we wanted to achieve in the next two years,” she said.
Sheehan’s overall goal is economic development, which would include the repurposing of the derelict Chariho Plaza and creating more affordable housing.
“I would like for us to get credit for affordable housing that we already have in the town so that we wouldn’t have so far to go to get to the 10% [the affordable housing goal set by the state],” she said. “In conjunction this goal, we can get together as a group and think about doing something with Chariho Plaza. We could put in a 62+ housing facility that could take care of some of affordable housing numbers and not increase the number of children in the schools.”
Colasante said he would present his goals at the next meeting.
Wilcox agreed with the need to create more affordable housing, and rehabilitating the Wyoming corridor. Her additional goals are transparency in town government, increasing housing for seniors and broadening access to health care.
Nassaney said his goal was to have council members work together for residents.
“If the five of us can work together to actually get work done without small time bickering, we can actually get something done,” he said.
Trimmer’s goals also include affordable housing and economic development, and reducing the property tax burden.
“I really, really want to stop bickering, and what I’d love is for five people to find some common ground, work together and get it done,” he said.
Trimmer also introduced a proposal for an “enterprise zone,” which would offer incentives to upgrade neglected commercial properties, and a second initiative, which would create an “urban blight” zone.
“We have blight right here in town,” he said. “It reminds me of West Warwick and the Arctic section of West Warwick in the ‘70s, where we have a rundown, unoccupied shopping center. We really need to do something with it. It makes our town look hideous. It stops other people from locating here and developing here. It’s just, kind of, almost an embarrassment. I’d like to find some way to incentivize the landlords and owners of that property to upgrade it in such a way that it makes our town proud.”
The crowd that had packed the council chambers forcing the adjournment of Tuesday’s meeting did not materialize at the rescheduled meeting on Thursday. However, despite the talk of overcoming ideological differences and working together, hackles were quickly raised once more during the public forum.
Laurie Barrett, a spokeswoman for the group, Parents United RI, who does not reside in Richmond and was participating remotely, said her group supported the council’s hiring of attorney Joseph Larisa, and then listed several issues that her group has “under investigation.”
“The legal fees and apparently unconfirmed representation of the Chariho Regional School Committee by Jon Anderson, who, by the way is more expensive than Joe Larisa,” she said.
Barrett warned the council that her group would be submitting public records requests relating to Town Moderator Mark Reynolds.
(The complete story of the hiring of Larisa can be found in the Jan. 24 story on BRVCA.org.)
Reynolds had strong objections to the council’s paying Clay Johnson’s legal fees and engaged in a verbal skirmish with Colasante, in which he pointed out that Colasante had not revealed his council goals.
“It was very disappointing that councilor Colasante did not contribute to the discussion that Ms. Sheehan brought to the table,” he said. “All of the members of the council were discussing their goals. He couldn’t be bothered to do his homework, basically.”
Resident Cynthia Reiser said she would not accept the council’s appointment of Clay Johnson to the Chariho School Committee after Jessica Purcell, who is challenging the appointment in court, had come less than 30 votes from winning the seat.
“We voted, and three of you, in your ultimate wisdom, said ‘you’re wrong – you did say it through your actions – you’re wrong. You voted for the wrong person. We don’t want that person. We found a way we can have a loophole, and we’re going to vote and we hope it goes our way but meantime, we’re using taxpayers’ money to defend the town. I was disenfranchised. Over 1,400 people were disenfranchised in your actions.
“Id like you to answer why you think you know betterthan we do.
“It’s up to the courts to decide.”
“Well, it is,” and it’ll be very interesting and if it doesn’t go the way I hope it does, I certainly hope there’s a recall, that there’s a way to say ‘some people elected you. Great. But we elected Purcell and you didn’t care.”
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for February 7th 2023
Overflow Crowd Prompts Another Council Meeting Postponement
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
February 8th 2023
RICHMOND – Once again, angry residents packed the Town Council chambers and forced the adjournment of the Tuesday February 7th council meeting. With more than 60 people packing a room with a maximum capacity of 52, the council was required to adjourn the meeting, as it had adjourned the Jan. 17 council meeting - for the same reason.
It is likely that opponents of the council had planned to pack the meeting, however, reached Wednesday, council President Mark Trimmer said he believed that many of the residents in the council chambers had come to support Jordan Carlson, the owner of a dirt bike track who is involved in a legal dispute with the town. Carlson was on the agenda for the executive session which follows the council meeting but is not open to the public.
“The Democrats that packed in early on to express their anger and so on, in a rather uncivil fashion, they didn’t themselves present enough to overwhelm the system, but unfortunately, when the dirt bikers arrived, we had to shut things down,” he said.
A new council meeting has been scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. Additional space will be available upstairs in the Town Hall to accommodate an overflow crowd, should there be one.
The Residents Vent
A couple of agenda items, such as a public hearing on changes to the ordinance pertaining to the Emergency Management Director were heard. However, the remainder of the meeting, which ended after just 35 minutes as more residents arrived, consisted of the public forum.
Some residents remain angry about the council’s failure to reappoint Nancy Hess to the Planning Board. Others are angry about the council’s appointment of Clay Johnson, rather than Jessica Purcell, to the Chariho School Committee.
Tensions were further inflamed when Trimmer, with councilors Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan, erected a large sign next to the town’s busiest road, calling themselves the “Gang of Three” and reminding residents that they had promised that “it wasn’t going to be business as usual.”
Trimmer said the sign, installed on Jan. 28 next to a package store in Wyoming, was in retaliation for a letter to the editor by Kristen Chambers, in which she called the three councilors “the Gang of Three,” invoking China’s infamous “Gang of Four.”
“Slanderous comments, calling people criminals, thugs, and comparing them to the Gang of Four, that were responsible for 10 million deaths, isn’t the way you get compromise,” he said.
Contacted Wednesday, Chambers said,
“I’m like ‘wait a minute. What are they calling me out for? They’re the ones who took the name and ran with it, on a giant sign,’ and they also tied it in with that I’m on the Richmond Democratic Town Committee, which I already in a different letter said ‘I’m not writing for the Democratic Town Committee.’ So, I felt like I just had to get up and say, you know, ‘I wrote the letter. I wrote it on my own behalf, and you’re the ones who used it on your sign.’”
Town officials, including zoning official Josh Jordan, received complaints about the sign, which, as it turned out, had been installed without the necessary permit. It was subsequently removed, by Trimmer and Colasante, about a week later, on Feb. 5.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, resident Joyce Flanagan derided the three councilors for failing to obtain a permit before they put up the sign.
“You paid for and condoned the installation of the large sign in Wyoming,” she said. “We all know it’s not there anymore. Here is my question: are you really so uninformed and uninterested in following procedures that you never applied for a sign permit?”
Trimmer replied that he had not personally installed the sign and had not applied for a permit.
Former council President and Democratic Town Committee Chair, Joseph Reddish, reminded council members that they had sworn to represent the interests of all the members of the community.
“No matter how pissed off you are, how you feel you’ve been attacked, [you] always have to address the individuals behind me and the ones that are not in this room right now with respect,” he said. “Each of you are elected officials. You’re to be at a higher standard. So, I encourage you, step back, think about what you’re saying. You can’t be defensive.”
Trimmer said later that Reddish’s comments had struck a chord with him.
“His comments were sobering, and I hope that the Democrats, under the party he is chairman of, listen to those words and temper their words as well,” he said.
The Hiring of Joseph Larisa
Attorney Mark Reynolds, who chairs the town’s Board of Tax Assessment Review and ran unsuccessfully for a council seat in the last election, brought up the issue of the council’s approval, at a special council meeting on Jan. 25, of the hiring of attorney Joseph Larisa to represent the town in the Rhode Island Supreme Court case involving Jessica Purcell.
“The terms of the contract with that attorney were not disclosed at that meeting and I’d like to know what the terms of that contract with attorney Larisa are,” Reynolds said.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said Larisa would be charging the town an hourly rate of $225. Reynolds asked how Larisa’s rate compared to those charged by other outside attorneys, and
Ellsworth said Larisa would be paid more than outside attorneys hired to represent the town in tax appeals cases, and also considerably more than the rate she herself was paid.
“It’s certainly higher than the hourly rate that I get,” she said.
“How much higher?” Reynolds asked.
“I get $120 an hour,” Ellsworth said.
Reynolds also noted that the council had not issued a request for proposals for the position, but had simply hired Larisa, without public scrutiny, at the higher hourly rate.
Council Vice President Richard Nassaney did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, but councilor Samantha Wilcox said on Wednesday that she hoped the council would be able to get its work done when it meets again on Thursday.
“I think people are upset about different things, and they’re all coming together for that reason,” she said.
Trimmer said he had seen indications that residents were prepared to put their politics aside and work together.
“I had three Democrats who were at the meeting complaining last night contact me within the last 12 hours and we had civil, reasonable, intelligent, adult conversations that in no way impugned anybody,” he said. “It’s absolutely possible, but the people throwing the rocks and telling us not to throw rocks have got to stop throwing the rocks.”
Potts Foundation kicks off new campaign - February 4th 2023
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
February 4th 2023
RICHMOND – Fundraising for the Maddie Potts Memorial Field House was a challenge made even more daunting by the chaos and delays caused by the pandemic.
After taking a break, Stephanie, Dan and Julia Potts and Maddie Potts Foundation Treasurer, Melissa DeJoseph, recently launched a new campaign to raise money for scholarships and local projects.
Stephanie Potts said she and her family needed time to recover from the pressure of raising money for the field house.
“That recovery’s actually taken a lot longer than I expected, and just kind of re-focusing,” she said. “I felt I needed to let our foundation board and our friends kind of recover from that, because they’d given everything they had to give.”
Stephanie and Dan Potts’s 17-year-old daughter, Madeline, was captain of the Chariho soccer team when she collapsed on the field from an asymptomatic brain aneurism. Maddie later died, on Sept. 24, 2017, at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
The sudden death of the popular student athlete drove the Chariho community into mourning. Determined to create something good from the tragedy, the Potts family started the Maddie Potts Foundation and began raising money for scholarships for Chariho students and a new field house for the Chariho campus. The Maddie Potts Memorial Field House was officially dedicated last August.
Back to basics
The Maddie Potts Foundation board met in November - the first meeting in the new fieldhouse.
“We had our first board meeting there, and it was just a whole different feeling and atmosphere and to me, it really empowered us to continue to find ways to give back even more,” Potts said. “…I felt that we all needed to take time and be reminded that we’re here because of a monumental loss that has affected thousands of people and five years later, still does.”
With the field house open and paid for, DeJoseph explained that the foundation board will now broaden its donation focus.
“I think the field house was so huge, but I think we’re almost kind of like ‘what now?’” she said. “We all have so many ideas and of course, we wish we could just help everybody and do everything, but I think it’s important, too, to get back to the smaller things – not that scholarships are small, but compared to a $2 million fieldhouse, it’s smaller. So, I think that’s why we talked about expanding the scholarship program and expanding the donations to Unified Athletics, to local schools and also increasing the donations and the supply drives for the local animal shelters and the local food pantries. So, we’re getting back to basics.”
(The fieldhouse is valued at $2 million but donations of goods and services from contractors reduced the actual cost of construction to $1,258,696.11.)
Organized by DeJoseph and now in its second year, the Jail and Bail campaign has already raised more than $3,000 of the $111,000 goal. (Maddie’s team jersey was Number 11.)
“The whole reason we did ‘Jail and Bail’ again is because it was so incredibly successful last year as an inaugural event for us. She raised over $25,000,” Potts said.
Donations can be made to the general campaign, or to a specific “prisoner,” a participating volunteer from the community.
The funds will go towards scholarships, which, in addition to Chariho students, will now be awarded to students in South Kingstown, Middletown and Narragansett. The foundation will also raise funds for the Westerly and South Kingstown Jonnycake Centers and RICAN, and collect food and supplies for the Westerly animal shelter and the Charlestown animal shelter.
Potts said the foundation was also in the early stages of discussing a possible program with Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
“We’re trying to increase awareness even further of brain aneurism, and Hasbro has reached out to me on a number of occasions, so we are trying to figure out how we can help with their needs – very early talks, but we’re trying to figure that out,” she said.
The time off after the dedication of the field house has given the foundation leadership a much-needed energy boost.
“I’m hopeful that that re-group will allow us to come back even stronger and do more diversified good,” Potts said. “You know, this isn’t just about athletics. This is about all the things that were valuable to Maddie as far as art, and, just, community and animals and the elderly, and she just supported every single underdog in every way, and that’s the intention of the foundation.”
Richmond Councilors Double Down with Sign - January 29th 2023
Richmond Councilors Double Down with Sign
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
January 29th, 2023
RICHMOND –Richmond residents hoping to get a weekend break from the recent political skirmishes that have roiled their town were confronted with a large sign that went up on Saturday next to the package store in Wyoming.
The sign is a jab at Democrat Kristen Chambers, who, in a Jan. 22 letter to the editor to The Westerly Sun, described Town Council President Mark Trimmer and councilors Helen Sheehan and Michael Colasante as a “Gang of Three” for their support of conservative activist Clay Johnson over Jessica Purcell for a vacant Chariho School Committee seat.
The Richmond Home Rule Charter states that the council should choose the next highest vote-getter for the seat, but Trimmer, Sheehan and Colasante have said that the Chariho Act, as state law, supersedes the town charter – which was also ratified by the state.
Purcell and the town have both hired attorneys, Jeffrey Levy for Purcell and Joseph Larisa for the town, to argue their cases before the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
(Please see the Jan. 24 story on the BRVCA website.)
The sign, featuring a large photograph of Trimmer, Sheehan and Colasante, reads: “’Gang of 3’ Proudly representing the TAXPAYER! Stand with us, Richmond. We told you it wasn’t going to be business as usual.”
Reached Saturday, Trimmer said the sign had been a response to recent suggestions that the councilors should be recalled.
“There have been multiple sources within the town’s Democratic party that talked about a recall for the Gang of Three,” he said. “In many cases, we’re doing what’s best for the town, and a lot of this has been given nefarious undertones. It’s not. So, we were quoting the Democrat, Kristen Chambers, and the others that have made these statements. We were following the Chariho Act regarding the appointment. The Court should bear [that] out in the end, and I think that we’ll be validated in the end by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.”
Asked who had come up with the idea for the sign, Trimmer said,
“I don’t know. I think we just talked about it and it kind of organically came up. I didn’t like the term ‘Gang of Three,’ because I studied history and the term is a negative, Communist term.”
The sign was paid for by the three council members.
“I think each of us paid $47 apiece,” Trimmer said. “I think I had $42 left in my campaign account. Mike and Helen had a little bit more, and we’re each chipping in and we’re paying for it, because we’re expecting the recall. We can’t just disagree or not agree all the time. We have to go to extremes.”
Democratic Town Committee Chairman Joseph Reddish was seeing the sign for the first time when contacted by BRVCA on Saturday evening.
Reddish said the current situation in the town stemmed from the appointment of Johnson, which amounted to disenfranchisement.
“Taking away the voters’ rights to selection is what they’ve done,” he said. “This is not ‘business as usual’. They disenfranchised the voters, is what they did.”
Chambers said she found the new sign shocking.
“Shame on them for their lack of shame,” she said. “They used that term because I used it in a letter to the editor so my friend sent it to me and I said ‘hmm, maybe I used it the wrong way.’ But I looked up ‘gang’ and the definition of gang is an organized group of criminals, so I did use it the right way.”
Reddish said he does not believe the town is divided over the school committee issue, but he stressed that not enough moderate – leaning residents took the time to vote and express their views.
“What’s taken place is, yes, they [the Republicans] got out the vote of a select group of people,” he said. “If you look at the percentage of voters, 31% of the voters voted. That is not a representation of the opinion of the Town of Richmond.
…People can’t be passive. They have to be engaged.”
Trimmer still hopes that both sides will be able to cooperate for the good of the town.
“The two extremes, left and right, can’t coexist,” he said. “Somebody has to move a little bit. That’s how I feel. I’m hoping that I can convince the two edges of the spectrum to kind of edge towards the center and we can get some things done.”
But Chambers said she felt that the sign had exacerbated the divisions.
“It’s like a slap in the face, not just to Democrats but to Richmond residents. They’re proud of everything that they’re doing that people are getting angry about,” she said.
Work Progresses at Shannock Village - January 28th, 2023
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
January 28th, 2023
RICHMOND – After decades of neglect, the center of Shannock Village is now being cleaned up and brought back to life.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, the village contains important examples of mid-19th Century Greek revival architecture, including homes built for the mill owners, George H. Clark and his son, George P. Clark.
Bordered by the Pawcatuck River and known for the iconic Horseshoe Falls dam, the village spread across the river into Charlestown back when the mill, the Columbia Narrow Fabrics Company, expanded.
The Clarks sold the mills in 1964 and the Columbia Narrow Fabrics mill closed in 1968.
The Shannock Mill Project
The goals of the Shannock Mill Project are ambitious: clean up and repurpose the site, and redevelop the property, which is just under three acres, as mixed - use.
The man behind the Shannock Mill revitalization is the property owner, Jeffrey Marlowe, who, in 2020, received $235,280 from the Brownfield and Economic Development Fund of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. An earlier grant of $429,000, also from RIDEM’s Brownfield and Economic Development program, was already in place to fund the initial remediation work.
In addition to the former mill property, Marlowe owns three nearby buildings. He is also planning to open a café in one of the buildings.
“Nothing fancy,” he said of the café. “We want to use locally grown and milled grains keeping either a flatbread or pizza as our base, it’s possible to do a decent job with a small staff making the dough in-house so that it’s something special – high hydration using a natural leavening that results from a sourdough starter.”
Marlowe lives in Newport, but at one time, he lived in one of the houses that overlook the mill property and he still appreciates the historic qualities of the village.
“I bought some property here in the late ‘80s,” he said. “I was working for a company in Hope Valley and I was living in Newport at the time. I had a junk car, a cheap car, I was in my 20s, and so I needed a place that I could be a little closer to my work in Hope Valley and there was a cheap rental here in the village and I found it and I moved in. About the same time there was a couple of properties for sale down the street.”
Marlowe bought those properties and began rehabbing them.
“…It was a real homesteading mentality here in the village,” he recalled. “People were buying property. It was cheaper than anywhere else in the area, but you had to manage a water system and everything else that went along with that, and the sense of community was really something special. We were trying to keep this whole thing up and going, keeping a water system that was completely put together with plastic well pipe, galvanized steel pipe and some copper tubing. Every time the water pressure would be turned up so people with second floor showers could get some pressure, we’d blow out another leak. Neighbors would have to run around, figure it out, and the sense of community that was developed during that stage was something that I’ve never seen or felt anywhere else.”
The first step in re-developing the village was modernizing the water system, and in 2013, under the guidance of Geoffrey Marchant, the Director of the Community Development Consortium at the time, the Shannock Water District completed a new, $1.7 million water system.
Marlowe purchased the mill property at the center of the village in the spring of 2020. He didn’t know then what he would do with the parcel, but he believed the time was right to get the remediation started.
“I was frustrated nothing was happening with the site, and I was concerned that if DEM reallocated this funding, it would tarnish the community’s standing for any future remediation funding and we’d be stuck with this hole in the middle of the village a site that would remain contaminated and unusable.”
Unfortunately, after sitting vacant for 50 years, the mill building, and several adjacent structures, could not be saved.
“Our history in the village is, we’ve tried to save these structures as much as we could, because an existing building is always the greenest one, but in this case, there wasn’t much savable about them,” he said. “The exterior masonry walls had extensive water damage and if we had tried to reinforce the walls, it would have been like building a new building inside an old one.”
In addition to taking down the crumbling buildings, the team had to remove all the trash that had been dumped on the property; refrigerators, couches, underground storage tanks and 125 tires.
Soil remediation work was the first task to be initiated. Some of the soil had been contaminated with oil, so that had to be dug up and removed. The remaining contaminated soil is scheduled for removal this spring.
The next challenge involved finding a contractor to remove the asbestos and demolish the building ruins.
“The actual physical work takes a matter of days, but the paperwork to get everything in order for the asbestos abatement approval and the demolition permits, those just take months and months,” Marlowe said.
Once the site has been cleared and remediated, Marlowe is proposing to build homes and two commercial spaces.
“Our goal is to create something special right here in the middle of the village,” he said. “And this is what is so common with brownfield sites. Typically, they’re located in important areas. They’re in the center of town or on a waterfront or in this case both. And if you can get them cleaned up and repurposed, they can really have a positive effect on the surrounding community.”
The plan calls for workforce housing, with public, riverfront access. Of the 14 planned housing units, four will be deeded affordable, but Marlowe said even the market-priced units will be reasonably priced.
“What’s needed most in South County is that ‘missing middle,’” he said. “The missing middle is duplexes, maybe townhouses, small cottages, bungalows in the 1,200-square foot range that are still affordable.”
Green space and “village scale” businesses are also planned. Commercial spaces would include small retail and arts and crafts production studios and a coffee shop. The green space would provide public access to the river, and the plans include a pedestrian bridge that would link both sides of the village.
Marlowe has not yet appeared before the Richmond Planning Board, however, Town Planner Shaun Lacey said the town would be considering a comprehensive permit, which requires that 25 % of the housing units on the property be deeded affordable – something the proposed plan already includes.
“Comprehensive permits would need to set aside a minimum of 25% the total number of units to be designated as affordable,” he said. “The remainder of the units themselves would be market rate. I think it is interesting, and maybe notable, to mention that all the units in their entirety, especially the large buildings, they’re not especially large dwelling units individually, so I think Jeff’s belief is that even a market rate home in Shannock Village, would, I think, lend itself to a great starter home opportunity for new home-buyers that live in the region.”
The project has also received support from the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed Association, which, in 2013, built a fish ladder to allow migratory fish to pass over the dam.
WPWA Executive Director Christopher Fox said his experience working in the village had convinced him that its revitalization, while worthwhile, is a complex, long term project.
“Something’s always getting started, work is always being done,” he said. “It’s usually at a slow pace, because of funding, but always continues to push forward. …My understanding is, a handful of people who live in and love the village looked at the whole big picture of the village and said, ‘this is all the things that need to happen to bring this village back to the heart of the community that it once was’.”
What began with Geoffrey Marchant putting together the funding for the water supply has continued to grow with Marlowe’s vision.
“One of the things I really love about the village of Shannock’s overall revitalization is that you have different people championing different aspects of bringing that village back to a gold standard of a revitalized industrial village that could have just completely fallen apart,” Fox said.
Marlowe and the town are currently considering options for a road through the mill property.
“The town of Richmond would like to see the re-development include a drive-through,” he said. “In other words, you would come in maybe right across from North Road and then drive through, versus a cul de sac.”
Amtrak owns the land that would be necessary for the construction of a drive-through. Lacey said he and Marlowe had agreed that the ideal solution would be a second point of access, which would require agreement from Amtrak.
“Considering the proposal and the design concept and the site layout that was presented, two points of access, certainly in my mind, would better serve the site,” he said.
Fox said he respected Marlowe for persisting with his project and overcoming state and municipal roadblocks.
“Any profiteer would have given up long ago,” he said. “It’s just that history is a clear indication that he’s doing this because of his love of the village, not because of his love of the almighty dollar.”
Jeffrey Marlowe at the Shannock Village site.
Richmond School Committee Meeting Update for January 24th 2023
Plenty of Discussion, But Not Budget Cuts at Chariho Budget Workshop
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – With continued controversy over the appointment of Clay Johnson to fill the vacant Richmond seat on the Chariho School Committee, many of the 50 or so residents who came to the middle school auditorium on Tuesday were eager to express their opinions on the issue, even though the meeting was advertised as a budget workshop.
After Board Chair Catherine Giusti opened a public comment period, more than an hour was taken by people telling school committee members, and Chariho solicitor Jon Anderson, how they felt about the district’s initial resistance to seat Johnson, who was appointed by a majority of Richmond Town Council members on Jan. 19. Jessica Purcell, a Democrat received the second-highest number of votes, losing by a margin of just 27.
Supporters of Johnson’s appointment have argued that the district must follow the Chariho Act, which requires council members to vote for a replacement for a school committee seat. The town’s Home Rule Charter states that the council should select the committee replacement with the next-greatest number of votes.
While Johnson supporters, including three of the five Richmond council members, have stated that as state law, the Chariho Act supersedes the town charter, Anderson and others have countered that the two statutes are compatible, because the council would be voting for the replacement member, and also, the replacement would have the second-greatest number of votes.
The Supreme Court
There were several developments before the meeting.
Purcell announced that she had hired attorney Jeffrey Levy to file a writ of “Quo Warranto” in Rhode Island Supreme Court, which asks the court to determine whether Johnson should hold the school committee office.
Soon after the meeting had begun, attorney Joseph Larisa, hired to represent Johnson, appeared briefly before the committee to announce that he, too, had filed a Quo Warranto.
“I just wanted to make the committee aware that the matter is before the Supreme Court, both parties claiming the right to the position are represented,” he said. “There is no injunction whatsoever by the court against anybody, so you should proceed, in my view, exactly as you are with the budget workshop.”
It is not clear who will be paying Larisa’s fees for representing Johnson, but Larisa has previously represented the conservative group, the Gaspee Project, which Johnson chairs.
Purcell said she had received no financial assistance to pay Levy’s fees.
“I asked around, I networked, to see if anyone knew a lawyer for advice, and on Friday night, I finally found someone who would represent me,” she said. “I’m not receiving financial backing from anybody.”
Tuesday’s meeting revealed the extent of the political divide in the three Chariho towns. Supporters of Purcell were far outnumbered Tuesday by school committee critics, who largely focused their attacks on Anderson, for writing a legal opinion opposing Johnson’s appointment without first having obtained the authorization of the school committee to post it.
(See the Jan. 19 post in the BRVCA blog.)
Several members of the public, and school committee members, raised the same argument: that Anderson had acted inappropriately, violating the school committee’s code of conduct, when he submitted a legal opinion to the council on Jan. 17, without first obtaining the approval of the committee.
Anderson’s written opinion stated, in part:
“… the Council need only follow the plain language of the Chariho Act and the Richmond Home Rule Charter and appoint the next highest vote getter. There is no need to explore the rules of statutory construction as suggested elsewhere.”
Hopkinton school committee member Polly Hopkins, representing Hopkinton led the charge and was joined by several others, including former Hopkinton school committee member David Stall, who currently serves as the Hopkinton Town Moderator.
Stall called for both Anderson and committee chair Catherine Giusti to resign.
“What happened is a legal action and a letter on behalf of the entire school committee without any meeting of the school committee,” he said. “That is a violation of this board’s procedures, practices and policy, and I think, the Open Meeting [sic] Act. And I think it’s egregious, and I think it was intentional and strategic, and I give you enough credit to know the rules to believe that you broke them intentionally. Mr. Anderson and Mrs. Giusti, I believe it calls for your immediate resignation.”
Richmond Town Council member Michael Colasante, who, with council President Mark Trimmer and councilor Helen Sheehan, had voted to approve Johnson’s appointment, said he believed having Johnson on the school committee would be beneficial, because the committee would be more balanced, with equal numbers of liberals and conservatives.
“When we look at the next election, when you have six people from each side – whatever you want to say – they’re conservative or liberal, it will give the voters a good chance to see who is pushing what, what agendas and what is actually the best for the Chariho School District as a whole,” he said.
With Johnson now on the school committee, there is a question of what will happen if the Supreme Court rules that his appointment is not valid.
Charlestown member Craig Louzon asked what would become of committee decisions that Johnson had voted on.
“They don’t make a decision on this until, hypothetically, July, or August, or something of that nature, and we made a bunch of decisions involving Mr. Johnson’s participation in those decisions…what do we have to do about those decisions?” he said.
“All those decisions become void, because Mr. Johnson’s vote would not properly count,” Anderson said.
The committee would then have to vote again, with Purcell and without Johnson, on every decision.
The comment period ended and committee members and administrators turned their attention to the Fiscal Year 2024 schools budget. The committee has not yet begun making cuts to the proposed, $60 million spending plan, which represents a 6% increase over the current budget. The towns have asked the district to make reductions that will bring the budget under the 4% tax increase limit set by the state.
Superintendent of Schools Gina Picard will present budget scenarios to the school committee at the next workshop, including an alternative budget that is level-funded.
“We would need about $3,800,000 in cuts to get to level funding, so I’m going to put together what gets to $3,800,000, and they will determine what they want to do, based on what they want to cut,” she said Wednesday.
Picard also told the committee on Tuesday that the proposed state budget, if it passes in June, includes significant increases in state aid to the towns, in addition to the transportation aid they already receive.
Charlestown would receive $60,283, Richmond, $564,248, and Hopkinton, $552,571.
The next budget workshop is open to the public and will take place on Thursday, in the Chariho library, at 6 p.m.
Richmond Town Council Update for January 19th 2023
Council names Clay Johnson to School Committee
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – Amid a chorus of boos, three of the five Town Council members rejected the second-highest vote getter, Jessica Purcell, and quickly moved to appoint Clay Johnson to the vacant seat on the Chariho School Committee.
The meeting was continued from Jan. 17, when an overflow crowd in the council chambers necessitated the postponement.
About 70 people attended the council meeting on Thursday, in the auditorium of Chariho Middle School.
The discussion of the selection of a replacement for departing school committee member, Gary Liguori, has centered on the legal obligations of the town, but it is also evident that politics have played a pivotal role.
The debate has centered on which statute applies in the school committee case; the Chariho Act, which is state law, or the Home Rule Charter.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth has stated that the Chariho Act supersedes the charter, but others, including attorney and Town Moderator Mark Reynolds, and Chariho School Committee attorney, Jon Anderson, have submitted written opinions stating that the Chariho Act and the Home Rule Charter do not conflict and that Purcell, who received the second-highest number of votes, should be appointed.
Purcell out, Johnson in
With most of the audience attending the meeting for the school committee discussion, the school committee item was moved up to the top of the agenda. The ensuing discussion, which continued for nearly an hour and a half, was, at times, rancorous.
Councilor Samantha Wilcox opened the discussion by stating that she had been elected to the council to uphold the town charter and because of that oath, as well as town precedent in following the charter for past appointments, she was making a motion to appoint Purcell, who lost the election by a narrow margin – 28 votes.
“The voters want her,” Wilcox said. “1,469 taxpayers voted for her. We should not ignore their wishes. “
Michael Colasante countered, citing Ellsworth’s memo and then reading an opinion authored by retired justice Robert Flanders that affirms that as state law, the Chariho Act supersedes the town charter.
After reading a list of Flanders’s legal, political and academic accomplishments, Colasante said,
“Mr. Flanders opinion states, ‘yes, I confirmed that state law generally trumps contrary local laws and I do consider these two laws to be contrary, because the council would deprive the council of the discretionary choice that the state law provides as to the selection of the replacement for the resigning member’.”
Council Vice President Richard Nassaney, a Republican, implored the councilors to put aside their personal political opinions and respect the will of Richmond voters.
“You need to do the will of the people and that is, put Ms. Purcell on the seat,” he said. “Yes, I may not have voted for her but that’s irrelevant and quite honestly, it would be quite shameful for us to kind of spat [sic] I the person’s face. I know that some of the councilors here at this table don’t believe that. They think that they need to put in someone with a different political view. This isn’t politics. This is your children. This is their education.”
But Colasante and councilor Helen Sheehan, who, with council President Mark Trimmer are members of the conservative education lobbying group, Parents United R.I., countered that Richmond voters had demonstrated that they wanted to elect more conservatives to the school committee.
“The voters very clearly voted two conservative candidates and there were also four conservative candidates for Town Council , and the voters very clearly voted for the four conservative voices, so I take my responsibilities very seriously so, I would say that the Chariho Act, I follow what Chief Justice Flanders said, that the Chariho Act gives us responsibility to make the best decision that we can for someone to be on an important position of school committee,” Sheehan said.
Colasante said he had heard from residents during the election campaign who told him that they wanted a “more conservative-minded person” on the school committee.
“Many, many of these people brought up the point that the Department of Justice, with the NEA [teachers’ union] drafted a letter stating that anybody – all right? – that pretty much went against a school committee – all right? – in their opinion, was considered a domestic terrorist,” he said.
As his comments were greeted by groans from audience members, Colasante persisted.
“With all these things, we can’t have our heads in the sand,” he said.
Trimmer cited another legal opinion supporting Ellsworth’s memo, this one from attorney Joseph Larisa whose clients include the Town of Charlestown where he is the “Town Solicitor for Indian Affairs.”
Trimmer noted that he had no personal opinions of Purcell.
“I don’t know Jessica Purcell,” he said. “I’ve never spoken to her in my life.”
(He was immediately corrected by Purcell, who noted that the two had spoken.)
During the public forum, former school committee William Day described Purcell as the most qualified person for the committee position and blamed politics for the reluctance of some members to appoint her.
“I’m a registered Republican, but right now, I’m very embarrassed about being a registered Republican, because Jessica is the most qualified individual that I’ve heard out there in the community to be our next school committee representative” he said.
Several residents, including former town officials, urged council members to follow the provisions of the charter.
Former council President Nell Carpenter said,
“…as a Richmond Town Council member, just as I did when I raised my right hand, I swore to uphold and preserve the town charter rule of Richmond, not the Chariho Act.”
Trimmer closed the forum and called for a vote on the motion to appoint Purcell. Wilcox and Nassaney voted in favor and Trimmer, Sheehan and Colasante were opposed, defeating the motion.
Immediately after the vote, Colasante, who, on several occasions has said that he is new to the council and therefore needs additional time to do his due diligence on important matters, quickly and without hesitation made a motion to appoint Clay Johnson to the committee, taking many residents by surprise.
Several people, including Nassaney and Wilcox, objected, arguing that the motion could not be voted on because the Johnson’s appointment was not on the agenda, but the discussion continued.
Clay Johnson and the Gaspee Project
Johnson, who served on the school committee from 2016 to 2020, chairs the conservative group The Gaspee Project, which donated more than $20,000 to the printing of flyers distributed to voters on Oct. 14, before the November election.
The flyers urged voters to reject Purcell, a Democrat, and independents Ryan Callahan and William Day and vote for Republicans Patricia Pouliot and Kathryn Colasante (the wife of Michael Colasante).
The full story on the flyers can be found on in the Nov. 5 edition of the BRVCA blog.
It is also important to note that there is a connection between the Gaspee Project and attorneys Larisa and Flanders, whose opinions Colasante and Trimmer submitted as supporting Ellsworth’s memo. -Link Here- and -Here-
Flanders and Larisa represented the Gaspee Project in a 2019 lawsuit, in which the group challenged the state requirement that required the organization to report expenditures made to support issues or individuals.
The challenge was unsuccessful, both in the U.S. District Court in Providence and later, in the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, in which the Gaspee Project was represented by Larisa.
Council precedent ignored
Several residents, including former council President Joseph Reddish, asked the council to delay Johnson’s appointment and advertise for the position.
“As a former council member, it has been the pattern of this council for many, many years that if we have an opening on a board or commission, that we advertise it for a minimum of at least 30 days,” he said. “It has not been advertised for this position for the school committee, so you’re going out of order with past precedent…Tonight, what’s been displayed, except for a couple of council members, is that we’ve lost our integrity in listening to the people of the town of Richmond…And let it be known, I am sure that there are people in this community that will be suing the Town of Richmond for a poor decision that’s unauthorized. Lastly, you are violating OMA [the state Open Meetings Act]. It was not advertised that you would be selecting anybody else. “
The debate ended and Colasante announced that it was time to vote on the Johnson appointment. With Trimmer, Colasante and Sheehan voting in favor, Nassaney and Wilcox, who voted against the appointment were outvoted and the motion passed, as furious residents shouted “shame,” and “recall.”
Asked how he felt about the hasty and unexpected appointment of Johnson, Nassaney replied,
“For once in my life, I think I’m actually speechless,” he said. “I’m disgusted, actually.”
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for January 17, 2023
Overflow Crowd Forces Postponement of Council Meeting
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – The old adage of crowds packing Town Council meetings when people are angry held true on Tuesday, when the Town Council meeting did not take place because the number of residents packing the council chambers exceeded the 52-person limit.
It appears that two recent developments have struck a chord with residents: the apparent reluctance of some members of the council to elect or appoint Jessica Purcell to the Chariho School Committee, and the decision not to renew the appointment of Nancy Hess to the Planning Board.
The council meeting was re-scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. in a much larger venue, the Chariho Middle School auditorium.
The school committee appointment
Some residents are voicing their collective support for Purcell, who was expected to fill a seat on the School Committee vacated by Gary Liguori.
Purcell, who received the second-highest number of votes, would have filled Liguori’s seat under the terms of the Home Rule Charter. However, council President Mark Trimmer and council member Helen Sheehan asked Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth for a legal opinion, and Ellsworth stated that because it is state law, the Chariho Act supersedes the town charter. The council is not required, therefore, to name Purcell to the position.
Others have publicly disputed Ellsworth’s opinion. Attorney Mark Reynolds, who serves as the Town Moderator, stated in a Jan. 11 letter that the council should appoint Purcell to fill the vacancy.
“The Chariho Act simply states that a vacancy is filled by the Town Council,” he wrote. “The Richmond Home Rule Charter dictates how the Town Council makes the appointment. The Home Rule Charter states that if ‘a school committee seat becomes vacant, the Town Council shall appoint the unelected candidate who received the greatest number of votes for that office in the most recent general or special election.’ So, although the Town Council makes the appointment, it must follow the Home Rule Charter when doing so. The unelected candidate who received the greatest number of votes in the November 2022 election was Jessica Purcell. Therefore, the Town Council must appoint her to fill the vacancy.”
The council also received a dissenting legal opinion from Jon Anderson, the attorney representing the Chariho School committee.
In a letter submitted to the council on Jan. 17, Anderson wrote,
“…I fear that there is some confusion that there is a ‘conflict’ between the Chariho Act, 1958, Pub. L. ch. 55, § 10[c]
[‘Chariho Act’], and the Richmond Home Rule Charter, 2009, R.I. pub. L. ch. 12, §§ 1-2 [‘Richmond Home Rule Charter’]. In fact, there is no conflict whatsoever between the Chariho Act and the Richmond Town Charter when it comes to filling vacancies on the Chariho School Committee. Consequently, the Council need only follow the plain language of the Chariho Act and the Richmond Home Rule Charter and appoint the next highest vote getter. There is no need to explore the rules of statutory construction as suggested elsewhere.”
Anderson warned the council that he would advise the school committee “not to recognize any person putatively appointed to the Chariho School Committee in violation of both the Richmond Home Rule Charter and the Chariho Act because both can be read together. I have no choice in the matter to give such advice. Otherwise, every decision of the Chariho School Committee would be void…The one simple way to avoid any disputes is to read the Richmond Home Rule Charter and the Chariho Act consistently, as this Town Council most recently did in 2016 and appoint/elect the next unelected person who received the most votes.”
The Hess reappointment
Nancy Hess, one of the longest serving volunteers on the Planning Board, was not reappointed to the board, infuriating other Planning Board members, who at their Jan. 10 meeting, voted Hess board President until her term expires on Jan. 31.
The decision not to reappoint Hess was supported by councilors Helen Sheehan, Michael Colasante and council President Mark Trimmer, who just days earlier had assured Hess that he would support her.
The Town Council-Planning Board workshop
Earlier in the evening, council members and members of the Planning Board held a joint workshop to discuss the Planning Board’s proposed amendments to the town’s zoning map, zoning ordinance and the aquifer protection overlay district. (Hess did not attend the meeting.)
“We spent quite a bit of time on it,” Board Chairman Philip Damicis told the council. “We think it’s changes to the ordinance that both protect the value of the aquifer as well as foster our economic development.”
Town Planner Shaun Lacey presented an overview of the proposed amendments. In response to a question from Trimmer about how the amendments might pertain to the special resort district zone that the town created for largest development in town, The Preserve at Boulder Hills, Ellsworth said the board had made special “accommodations” for that property.
“They have a heliport there already and that heliport is in the district of the aquifer,” she said. “The problem with a heliport is not that helicopters land on it, it’s that sometimes, they have gas tanks. We suggested that we change the definition of heliport in the resort section of the zoning ordinance to exclude refueling facilities, and The Preserve agreed to that.”
Ellsworth noted that the brew pub at The Preserve was also an issue, and that The Preserve had agreed to limiting consumption of brew pub beverages to its own property.
“Breweries use an inordinate amount of water, a lot of water, and they agreed to limit that use to their purchases that are manufactured on the premises but not sold for consumption off the premises.”
“We spent quite a bit of time on The Preserve itself, and looking at all their use codes, because we do appreciate them.”
Trimmer said he wanted to solicit further input before advertising for a public hearing.
“I’d still like to get some input, I think, before I go out [to public hearing], he said.
Councilor Samantha Wilcox said the council would receive that input at the hearing itself.
“We’re supposed to offer a public hearing and tonight’s not really the public hearing,” she said.
“So, it would be inappropriate at this time to ask for public comment,” Trimmer said.
While the workshop agenda did not include a period for public comment or a public forum, Preserve Developer Paul Mihailides, accompanied by his attorney, Americo Scungio, rose and asked to speak.
Trimmer recognized Mihailides, who said,
“We were invited to the workshop, to participate, so I brought my lawyers and our engineers. Are they not going to be able to participate?”
It was not clear who had invited the representatives from The Preserve, but Ellsworth said the decision would be up to Trimmer, who said he would have to limit comments to three minutes.
Although earlier, Ellsworth and Damicis had described agreements with The Preserve that had been reached on several aquifer-related issues, Mihailides said he did not agree with most of the amendments.
“I am not in favor of the [aquifer protection] overlay district, and I am not in favor of what we had to acquiesce to, and the changing of our zone, he said. “We really weren’t given a choice. As everybody knows, on our Master Plan, we’ve asked for a gas station. It says that everything that we touch in the overlay district is going to be constrained. That’s already approved on our Master Plan. Helipads, the ability to gas our vehicles is currently in place. We have three tanks currently that are more than 10,000 gallons, that are permitted by the state, that we use to fuel our vehicles. This would be a significant change.”
Several minutes later, Wilcox reminded the council that it would soon be time to close the workshop, since the council meeting was scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
Colasante said he needed more time to consider the changes.
“Being on this council for all of 20 seconds, I cannot – all right? - in good faith, look at this document and say that we should make a decision on this,” he said.
Damicis responded that there would be time to consider the document before the public hearing but Colasante said he wanted to consult business owners.
“It took a lot of time on your part. I have to be given enough time to do my due diligence and be able to say that feel easy sending this off,” he said.
Damicis suggested the council take time to study the document, and Trimmer proposed six weeks.
Wilcox recounted an incident at the start of Tuesday’s soon-to-be adjourned council meeting in which Colasante attempted to silence her. Wilcox said she had asked Trimmer, in his capacity as President, to allow her to speak but he did not intervene.
“I felt that as the minority [Democrat] on council, I wasn’t being heard, and Robert’s Rules is there to make sure that I’m being heard,” she said. “You can hear in the audio that Mr. Colasante and I were trying to talk at the same time, so I went to Robert’s Rules of Order and tried to get the floor from the President, at which time Mr. Colasante told me to stop talking and Mr. President did nothing about it, so it’s disappointing.”
The agenda for Thursday’s Town Council meeting can be found here: https://clerkshq.com/richmond-ri
Crowd Expected at Tomorrow’s Town Council Meeting
January 16, 2023
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND -- Residents angry about the failure to reappoint Nancy Hess to the Planning Board will be joined Tuesday evening by residents demanding that Jessica Purcell fill the school committee seat vacated by Gary Liguori.
The regular Town Council meeting, at 6 p.m., will follow a joint workshop at 5 p.m. during which the council and members of the Planning Board will discuss proposed amendments to the zoning ordinance and zoning map for the aquifer protection overlay district and the planned development resort district.
Jessica Purcell, who, last November, narrowly lost her bid for a seat on the Chariho School Committee, believed that because she had received the next highest number of votes, she would be next in line to fill the seat vacated by Gary Liguori, who is loving out of state.
Reached on Jan. 13, Purcell said she had been contacted on Jan. 5 by Town Clerk Erin Liese, who informed her that according to the town’s Home Rule Charter, she was next in line for the position and that she needed to formally accept or decline the appointment.
Purcell said she told Liese the next day that she would accept the appointment, but a few days later, she was informed that she would not automatically fill the seat.
Town Council President Mark Trimmer and councilor Helen Sheehan had requested a legal opinion from Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth on whether the Chariho Act, which is state law, or the town’s Home Rule Charter, applied to choosing someone to appoint to a vacant school committee seat.
In a Jan. 10 memo, Ellsworth advised the council that state law supersedes the town charter.
“I believe that if a court were asked to decide this issue, the court would find that when the General Assembly ratified the Richmond Home Rule Charter in 2009, the General Assembly did not intend any provision in the charter to supersede the Chariho Act,” the memo states.
The Chariho Act requires that the person filling the vacant seat receive a majority vote of the Town Council. Ellsworth concludes that the council “is not required to appoint the unelected candidate who received the greatest number of votes for that office in the November 8, 2022 election.”
Purcell, who was planning to attend the council meeting, accept her appointment and be sworn in, will now watch as the council discussing the appointment.
Purcell said she emailed Trimmer and Sheehan, both of whom told her that they were following the rule of law.
“I just feel like Erin Liese told them what the agenda item was, and then they enlisted the help of the Town Solicitor to change the agenda item,” Purcell said. “That’s effectively what happened. She told me one thing, they did another thing, and it changed the whole presentation.”
Reached Monday, Liese said that contrary to Purcell’s assertion, she had not had any contact with members of the Town Council regarding the Purcell appointment.
“To this day, I have not had any correspondence with the council on this matter, and the reason why the agenda reflects the way it appears today is because of the legal opinion from Karen Ellsworth, and not influenced by any council member, nor was I aware of any inquiry,” she said.
Purcell’s supporters have submitted letters to the council. Among them is attorney Mark Reynolds, who also serves as Town Moderator.
In a Jan. 11 letter to council members, Reynolds wrote that both the Chariho Act and the town charter should apply.
“The Chariho Act simply states that a vacancy is filled by the Town Council,” he stated. “The Richmond Home Rule Charter dictates how the Town Council makes the appointment. The Home Rule Charter states that if ‘a school committee seat becomes vacant, the Town Council shall appoint the unelected candidate who received the greatest number of votes for that office in the most recent general or special election.’ So, although the Town Council makes the appointment, it must follow the Home Rule Charter when doing so. The unelected candidate who received the greatest number of votes in the November 2022 election was Jessica Purcell. Therefore, the Town Council must appoint her to fill the vacancy.”
There have been suggestions, as yet unconfirmed, that Justin Price, the Republican incumbent who failed in his bid for a fifth term as state Representative in District 39, is interested in filling the school committee seat.
Many residents are still fuming over the council’s decision at the Jan. 3 meeting not to reappoint Nancy Hess to the Planning Board.
Planning Board members, who have also expressed their anger at the council’s decision, voted at their Jan. 10 meeting to name Hess the board chair until her term expires on Jan. 31.
Agendas for the workshop and the Town Council meeting can be found on the town’s website.
To attend the January 17th 5pm meeting, use this link:
To attend the January 17th 6pm meeting, use this link:
Richmond Planning Board Update for January 10th 2023
Board Names Hess Chair
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – At the first Planning Board meeting after the Town Council declined to renew the appointment of Vice Chair, Nancy Hess, board members named Hess Planning Board Chair. It was an act of defiance as well as a show of support for Hess, who has served on the board for 20 years. Her term expires on Jan. 31.
At the Jan. 3 Town Council meeting, council President Mark Trimmer and members Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan voted against Hess’s reappointment and council Vice President Richard Nassaney and councilor Samantha Wilcox supported it.
The vote has generated considerable fallout, since Trimmer had told Hess at a meeting over the holidays that he would support her reappointment. The reason for his change of heart, Trimmer later explained, was Hess’s treatment of developers, which he described as overly harsh at times.
Adding to the controversy, however, was the revelation that Trimmer and fellow councilor Colasante, had accepted campaign contributions from donors connected with the largest developer in town.
Trimmer and Colasante each received three $1,000.00 donations from people connected with The Preserve at Boulder Hills, which has sued the town over what the developer described as inaction on applications. That lawsuit was dismissed, but attorneys for The Preserve have said they will appeal.
Hess elected Planning Board Chair
Hess has not commented on the council vote, but Philip Damicis, who strongly opposed the council decision, opened Tuesday’s meeting with another statement supporting her.
His voice occasionally choked with emotion, Damicis said of Hess,
“She is incredibly knowledgeable. She’s an incredible asset to the board. She’s an incredible asset to the town, and quite honesty, everything she has done has been for this town, for the residents of this town, and for the protection of our town’s regulations, and she has treated everybody fairly, as far as I’m concerned. I’m incredibly disappointed in this council for not reappointing her and I think this town is going to suffer because of that.”
To Hess, Damicis said,
“I’m hoping there’s some way we can get you back, but in the meantime, I’m glad we will pass on the gavel to you tonight, at least. If only symbolically, you deserve it.”
Hess thanked those who had supported her.
“I just want to thank the members of the community, the dozens, and dozens, and dozens that have reached out in various ways and have given me kind words, words of support, words of sympathy and words of disgust – not at me, but the situation of being caught between politics and special interests. This is never good for the community,” she said.
The town has ongoing difficulties in recruiting qualified volunteers to serve on boards and commissions. Hess, who works in the Rhode Island Division of Statewide Planning, played a critical role in the update of the town’s comprehensive plan.
Board member Dan Madnick who agreed that Hess would be difficult, if not impossible to replace, said she had mentored him when he first joined the board.
“For those who don’t know, Nancy does teach all the planning training for the state,” he said. “So, while Nancy is also on this board, she does all that training, and she also trained me, and she’s been an excellent mentor.”
Madnick also noted that the council members who had voted against Hess’s reappointment had not provided specific reasons for their decision.
“The Town Council did not justify with any substantial reasons why she should not be reappointed to the Planning Board,” he said. “I can understand why someone may not be reappointed if they don’t have the background or the skill set to utilize on a board such as this, but Nancy has it all…This board hasn’t been full for a number of years, so, specifically to Nancy and this board, to not reappoint her and opening up another vacancy on the board doesn’t pass the voice of reason for me.”
Madnick then nominated Hess to the position of Chair, which the members voted to approve.
Damicis, who will serve as Vice Chair, then passed the gavel to Hess. With Hess’s appointment expiring in a couple of weeks, Tuesday’s gesture was largely symbolic. Behind the scenes, however, there have been suggestions, as yet unconfirmed, that Hess might apply once again for reappointment, giving council members an opportunity to change their minds.
Town Planner Shaun Lacey presented the Planning Board’s Annual Report for 2022, which lists, by month, the major decisions and activities of the board.
The report included several long-range goals, such as resolving the ongoing challenges posed by the Wyoming commercial district.
Lacey explained that the town’s comprehensive plan points to a need for design guidelines for the district.
“… one way to achieve that is through design elements, and knowing that we don’t have anything in our operating budget that would be able to cover the cost of doing a new design, we would need to hire a consultant that has real design expertise, someone that has design charette type of experience,” he said. “So clearly, it is something that the board might want to start considering for next year. It would be subject to capital appropriations, so, in this year’s capital improvement program, I’ll be requesting $20,000, both for FY ‘24 and FY ’25, totaling $40,000, which would be needed in order to hire a consultant who can help us put together a plan for Wyoming.”
Board members then engaged in a lengthy discussion of Wyoming’s development challenges, including transportation and traffic issues.
Members discussed the 2022 HousingWorksRI Fact Book, which analyses existing housing throughout Rhode Island and provides data on income and housing in all 39 cities and towns, including Richmond.
Hess pointed to a lack of information in the report on rental housing, of which there is little to none in Richmond.
“There’s nothing wrong with rental housing that serves multiple generations, to move them into home ownership, but we are missing that,” she said. “People talk about the ‘missing middle,’ and that’s for middle income people, but there’s the missing rentals and I think, we need to look at, as our population ages, because Rhode Island has a very high elderly population compared to other states, where are our seniors able to go?”
The Planning Board and the Town Council will hold a joint workshop on Jan. 17 to review proposed amendments to the aquifer protection overlay district regulations and ordinances.
The meeting will take place at 5 p.m. in the council chambers. The Town Council meeting will follow the workshop at 6 p.m.
Richmond Town Council Update for January 3rd 2023
Council Nixes Planning Board Reappointment
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – A vote to deny an application by Nancy Hess for reappointment to the Planning Board has exacerbated tensions on the Town Council.
At Tuesday’s meeting, council members also debated the reappointment of Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth before voting to renew her contract.
Hess, who did not attend the meeting, was seeking a three-year reappointment. Her contract expires on Jan. 31. Some council members said they objected to the manner in which Hess sometimes treated applicants, but Planning Board Chair Philip Damicis, who has served on the board for 30 years, about 20 of them with Hess, urged the council to reappoint her.
“I can assure you that every applicant she has treated fairly,” he said. “She has only been looking out for the best interests of our town and our residents. She’s been trying to protect the rural community that we live in. If she comes across as being strong, quite honestly, I feel it’s her passion for what she does.”
Hess, a supervisor in the Rhode Island Division of Statewide planning, has brought considerable knowledge and experience to the board.
Council member Samantha Wilcox, who supported the reappointment, said the town needed volunteers like Hess.
“We’re not in a position to turn down quality volunteers,” she said.
Councilors Michael Colasante and Helen Sheehan voted against Hess’s reappointment, and were joined by council President Mark Trimmer. With only Wilcox and council Vice President Richard Nassaney voting in favor, the motion to reappoint her was defeated.
Reached Wednesday morning, Trimmer said his vote to deny Hess’s reappointment had not been an easy one.
“I was on the fence with it,” he said. “I really, really struggled with it. I lost two nights’ sleep over it, easily. On one hand, she [Hess] brings unrivaled expertise in her field. And on the other hand, she tended to get personal, and sometimes belligerent with applicants, and I felt that if any other volunteer, paid town employee, or Town Council person for that matter, were to approach the public the way she sometimes approached applicants, that we would ask [sic] to step down or we would be terminated, disciplined.”
Nassaney said he had believed Trimmer would support Hess. He recalled how, on Dec. 29, he had stopped at a local coffee shop and had come upon a meeting between Trimmer and Hess. He was invited to join the meeting, which, he said, ended with Trimmer telling Hess that he would support her.
“Nancy asked Mark if he would give her support for reappointment and he confirmed ‘yes,’” Nassaney said. “They shook hands and he said ‘you have my support’ and then they parted ways.”
Nassaney said that witnessing that coffee shop exchange made what happened at the council meeting even more shocking.
“Tuesday, everything came crashing down,” he said. “The internal screaming in my brain was overwhelming. I had to put my hand over my mouth. I had to put my head down. I was in utter disbelief.”
Neither Hess nor Damicis responded to a request for comment, but board member Dan Madnick said he was disappointed in the council’s vote.
“Nancy has been an integral part of the Planning Board for many years and has been instrumental in developing the Comprehensive Community Plan, along with being the town’s subject matter expert on land use,” he said. “Her expertise and knowledge is not easily replaceable. It’s unfortunate that the Town Council, while voting against her reappointment, did not provide any specific reasons or justification for their votes, and ignored all public input that favored her reappointment.”
Trimmer said it was essential that the town attract new businesses to relieve the tax burden on homeowners. In order to do that, he said the council would have to introduce new tax incentives to attract businesses and issue quicker approvals of development applications.
“The council needs to and will come up with a tax incentive plan to encourage business to locate and develop here,” he said. “We need to fast track the planning approvals, fast track the zoning approvals and set up some sort of incentive to bring the business in, because the homeowners are disproportionately burdened with taxes in our town.”
Ellsworth said the perception that Hess and other Planning Board members had delayed or obstructed applications was incorrect, and pointed out that the board has submitted favorable opinions to the council for every application it has received, with the exception of two commercial solar energy proposals.
“We have not missed deadlines for approvals,” she said.
Ellsworth also reminded council members that the board does not have the authority to deny applications.
“They don’t have any discretion not to approve, nor do they have any choice about how long it takes to approve,” she said.
“Those are not discretionary. That’s controlled by state law.”
The Preserve Connection
The Preserve at Boulder Hills is Richmond’s largest commercial taxpayer. Trimmer is not a member of the private sporting club, however, state records posted on the Rhode Island Board of Elections’ website show that he and Colasante each received three, $1,000 campaign contributions from people connected with the club.
“There were residents who contributed money towards flyers,” Trimmer said.
The Preserve has sued the town for its actions and inaction on several projects. That suit, which claimed $100 million in damages, was recently dismissed, but The Preserve has vowed to appeal the decision.
The council discussed the case in executive session after Tuesday’s meeting, but before the regular meeting adjourned, Ellsworth asked if any councilors wanted to recuse themselves from the discussion.
“If anybody needs to recuse themselves, I think this is the time to do it, before the executive session,” she said. “I’m not saying anybody has to.”
None of the councilors recused.
Town Administrator Karen Pinch, who is charged with evaluating the performances of the town solicitors, recommended that the council approve new, one-year contracts for Ellsworth and fellow Town Solicitor Michael Cozzolino. Their current contracts expire at the end of January.
Colasante and Sheehan said they wanted to approve a 90-day contract for Ellsworth rather than a full year, during which they would conduct their own performance review.
“It will give the new council people, there are three of us here, a chance to review her performance and make a better decision,” Colasante said. “Being basically on the council for 17 seconds, you’re asking me to make a decision on something like this.”
After pointing out that Ellsworth had won all the cases in which she had represented the town, Nassaney said he was comfortable leaving the responsibility for her performance review with Pinch.
However, Colasante said he, not Pinch, was accountable to taxpayers.
“I’m the one who is going to hear from the taxpayers,” he said. “Even though Karen Pinch is the administrator, she doesn’t have to really answer to the taxpayers like we do. So, when she makes her recommendations, I appreciate the recommendation and that’s what it is, a recommendation. I still have to do my due diligence and to really look at this, all right? To have clear conscience.”
Sheehan said she also needed more time to evaluate Ellsworth’s performance, however, in the end, the council voted, with Colasante abstaining, to approve Ellsworth’s contract.
Any discomfort that Colasante and Sheehan may have had with Ellsworth’s contract did not appear to apply to Cozzolino, whose new contract was quickly approved with no discussion.
UPDATE: Zoning Board Meeting for Monday, December 19th 2022
Board Approves McDonald’s Drive-through Changes
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – Meeting for the first time since Sept. 2021, the Zoning Board of Review approved an application Monday for a special use permit for the addition of a second drive-throughlane at the McDonald’s restaurant at 12 Kingstown Road.
Appearing virtually at the public hearing on behalf of the applicant was Eric Dubrule of Bolher Engineering, of Southborough, MA, who explained the reasons a second lane was needed.
“This drive-through, today, functions with one order point and one lane, so effectively, if you were using the drive-through, you’d come into the site, however you came in, and circulate around. The drive-through would start,” he told the board, using a plan of the site to illustrate. “There’s one order point at the rear of the building. There’s a drive-through cash window and then you would pick up your order at the second window. What we are proposing to do is to make improvements, just to the drive-through and specifically, just to the drive-through ordering process, by adding on a second ordering point speaker to the site… We are adding a landscaped island, it’s curved, and an order point.”
Drive-through customers would still enter using a single lane, but the lane would split into two ordering points.
The second order lane, Dubrule explained, would address the issue of a line of cars formed by customers waiting to order.
“Some of those car queues can stack up behind the ordering points where you don’t want happening, again, behind the order points,” he said. “By adding the second order point, effectively what you do is, now, customers that would come in and otherwise be stuck behind the single order point under existing conditions, they would come in, recognize that someone may be making a long order, a more complicated order, and recognize that a car or two are stacking there, and they could just use the other lane that is moving.”
The new lane will be 10 feet wide. The existing drive-through lane, which is 12 feet wide, will also be upgraded with new signage and a new canopy over the order point.
Several parking spaces will be lost to the new ordering lane, and the receptacle that houses the trash and recycling bins will be moved. The one-acre site, which is required to have at least 20 parking spaces, will be left with 36 spaces.
“For these improvements, we have removed about eight parking spaces along the rear,” Dubrule said. “We have moved, and proposing to replace the existing trash barrel that is located here, and we propose to rebuild it with a brand new trash barrel with Trex fencing.”
The Planning Board voted on Dec. 13 to recommend that the Zoning Board approve the site plan for the special use permit, after determining that the proposal was consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan. The restaurant is located in the town’s “general business” district.
The Planning Board attached four conditions to the approval of the site plan, which were read at Monday’s hearing by Town Planner Shaun Lacey.
1. The approved plan should be recorded with the Zoning Board decision.
2. The proposed trash enclosure should be located 10 feet from the west and north property lines to comply with the required setback for accessory structures.
3. To discourage drivers from cutting through the access to the ordering lanes by using the northeast entrance, stanchions will be installed along the striping of the new drive-through lane.
4. While the restaurant was built before the town introduced a dark sky ordinance for commercial structures, the Planning Board encouraged the applicant to use dark sky-compliant lighting outdoors.
“What’s the applicant’s position in respect to the conditions recommended by the Planning Board,” board Chair Nicholas Solitro asked Dubrule.
“We’re amenable to addressing all of those,” Dubrule replied.
With no members of the public asking to comment on the application, board members, in a unanimous vote, approved the special use permit.
RICHMOND TOWN COUNCIL MEETING FOR TUESDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2022
Last Council Meeting Before Holidays Reveals Tensions Between Members
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – The five members of the Town Council managed to agree on several agenda items Tuesday, but there were disagreements on important issues that, in two cases, resulted in deferred votes.
Minutes into the three-hour meeting, outgoing Economic Development Commission Chairman William McIntosh resigned from the commission.
Invited to read his resignation letter, McIntosh blamed his departure on council Vice President Richard Nassaney, who has questioned the effectiveness of the commission.
“Vice President of the Town Council [at the time] Richard Nassaney is one of the reasons,” he said. “He has proven that he cannot play well with others on a team and consistently voted against proper growth and [while creating] a tremendous amount of drama for the town for the last four years. I was not sure if Mr. Nassaney actually is capable of acting properly, effectively or ethically as a leader, so I step down to avoid any additional dealings with him.”
As Nassaney listened without commenting, McIntosh, a developer who challenged the Planning Board’s denial of master plan approval for one of his projects, accused Nassaney of wanting to disband the commission and warned the council that unless the town encouraged a considerable expansion of commercial space, it would not have the tax base necessary to fund education and programs for residents.
Council President Mark Trimmer said he was sorry that McIntosh had not tried to work with the new council.
“From what I’ve heard, you guys are doing great work, and I’m really disappointed that you haven’t at least given us a chance, as a new council, to work with us,” he said.
Council members agreed to accept McIntosh’s resignation “with regret.”
The reappointment of Philip Damicis to the Planning Board, where he serves as Chair, was quickly approved, but there was opposition to the reappointment of Vice Chair Nancy Hess.
Hess, a supervisor in the Rhode Island Division of Statewide planning, brings to the board decades of experience and knowledge of state planning priorities and procedures.
Nassaney said that Damicis had told him during a previous conversation about Hess that he would resign from the Planning Board if she left.
“…if you lose Phil and Nancy, you’ve literally put this town at a standstill,” he said, addressing the three newly-elected council members. “Nothing happens without them. Zero. All projects stop.”
Asked for his opinion, Town Planner Shaun Lacey described the current Planning Board as the best he had ever worked with.
“This town has a long, documented history of making informed, good, land use policy decisions, good policy practices,” he told the council. “You have Phil and Nancy, who are very long-standing members of our community, who’ve been on the board for 20 and 25 years. “…I think the current fabric of this Planning Board now, we have one vacancy that isn’t filled. We have six members. I would hate to lose anybody on that Planning Board, including Nancy.”
Trimmer appeared to be on the fence. He agreed that Hess had experience and institutional knowledge, but he added,
“My negative is, it doesn’t seem that she’s always working with our commercial people to develop things and move forward,” he said. “She just seems to me to be very obstructionist at times.”
Councilor Michael Colasante said he was concerned that Hess would hamper commercial growth and cited McIntosh as an example.
“Mr. McIntosh knows what the problem is,” he said. “He tried to initiate commercial growth here, because he knows we need a tax base for the homeowner and it just seems like Nancy, for the amount of years she’s been on, things have not moved fast enough. Her wealth of knowledge can also be used to stifle growth also…We need somebody that’s going to help move our town forward quickly, all right?”
Nassaney asked Colasante which business had been “stifled” by Hess.
Colasante cited “a suit with Mr. McIntosh and the state came back and they really lambasted the Planning Board for their decisions and whatnot because they were trying, again, to stifle his development.”
At this point in the discussion, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth interjected, pointing out that the development Colasante was referring to was residential, not commercial, and that there had been neither a lawsuit nor lambasting.
“That was not a commercial development. That was a very high- density residential development,” she said. “There was no lawsuit. There was an appeal to the State Housing Appeals Board and the State Housing Appeals Board remanded the case back to the Planning Board for additional hearings and at that point, after the additional hearings took place, the project was approved.”
Mark Reynolds, who chairs the town’s Board of Tax Assessment Review, then addressed the council.
Referring to McIntosh, Reynolds said,
“You just begged someone to stay and volunteer, and help, and now you’ve got someone with over 20 years’ experience on the Planning Board and you’re telling her, ‘we don’t want you anymore,’” he said. “It’s not appropriate to not appoint someone that you don’t agree with. Is she following the planning rules? Yes. Is she acting in accordance with the comprehensive plan? Yes. As long as she’s performing those functions in accordance with the law and the rules and regulations, she should be permitted to serve on that board. You should not deny her this appointment because you don’t agree with her.”
Planning Board member Dan Madnick said the board had denied only two applications, both of which were for solar energy installations.
“We’re there to follow the comprehensive plan and not stifle economic development,” he said. “In fact, if you look at our record, the only thing two things that we’ve given negative advisory opinions for had to do with two solar developments. Every other development application that has come in front of our board has been approved, including Mr. Colasante’s Buttonwoods property. In fact, we provided him a waiver for one of his DEM stormwater management permits, and we did that because we wanted to have small businesses benefit from the town. We didn’t have to do that, but we did that because we wanted the economic development.”
Council members agreed to defer the decision on Hess’s reappointment to the next meeting on Jan. 3. In the meantime, councilors said they would speak with Hess.
There was a lengthy discussion regarding the allocation of town funds to the town’s water supply. There are about 300 customers on the town water line. Under an agreement with the Rhode Island Department of Health, the town is required to chlorinate the water to reduce coliform bacteria.
Town Administrator Karen Pinch has requested $300,000 of the town’s American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA funds for the chlorination project, but councilors Colasante and councilor Helen Sheehan have said they are not comfortable using ARPA money. Colasante has proposed allocating $150,000 of the town’s ARPA funds and going out to bond for the remainder.
Trimmer said it was important to invest in the water system.
“Exeter doesn’t have a water system. Hopkinton doesn’t have a water system, but we do,” he said. “That is an economic driver. We should invest in it. We should improve it.”
Councilor Samantha Wilcox said she favored using the ARPA money for the water system but Sheehan said the cost should be borne by the residents who would use town water.
Colasante said that being on a private well, he alone had to bear the costs of repairs and maintenance.
“They can drill a well,” he said.
“They can’t drill a well,” Wilcox countered. “The reason we have a water system is it’s all contaminated.”
(The private wells are contaminated with mercury.)
The decision on funding the chlorination was deferred to the Jan. 17 meeting. Trimmer, whose home is served by the public waterline, said he was awaiting a written decision from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission confirming that he is not required to recuse himself from the discussion.
The wellness committee
The subject of the findings of the wellness committee, on the agenda at the request of Colasante, prompted another long discussion.
Wellness Committee Chairwoman Pamela Rohland provided an overview of the commission’s work and its findings, including the need for some services.
“Richmond has no public transportation at all,” she said. “So, when people who are in social isolation or who, for example, lost their license for whatever reason or who don’t drive, there’s nothing in Richmond to help them get to the resources they need.”
The commission recommended, and the former Town Council approved, the hiring of a human services director on a trial basis, who would obtain grants and coordinate services for residents who need them.
Sheehan said services were available in neighboring towns.
“Westerly and South Kingstown, they’re not far, so to say we don’t have the services, I don’t see that,” she said.
Rohland replied that traveling to other towns required a car, which many residents do not have.
Colasante said the town could not afford a full - time human services director and a new building, which would serve as a community and senior center. Several council members and residents agreed.
Trimmer, who evaluated the community center proposal when he served on the council in 2018, said his group had found that the town could not support a new building on its own.
“What we determined at that time was unless we were a partner, with, say, the YMCA or somebody else, the town could absolutely not afford a community/senior center,” he said.
Despite several more assurances to the contrary, Colasante said he remained concerned that there would be a new building and that taxpayers would be on the hook for it.
Colasante asked for a clarification of who was responsible for plowing the snow at Chariho schools.
Department of Public Works Director Scott Barber explained that this year, Richmond has not been able to secure its usual number of snowplowing vendors.
“It’s gotten to the point where we don’t have the vendors that we used to have,” he told the council. “We used to have seven vendors to supplement our staff. I have one vendor. We would have at least three, maybe four CDL drivers to back us up if we have sickness, injury or whatever. We have zero.”
Barber noted that staff and vendor shortages have made it difficult to service the town.
“They [Chariho schools] should be self-sufficient, take care of what they’re responsible for, meet their own goals,” he said.
Barber noted, and Ellsworth and Town Administrator Karen Pinch confirmed, that there was nothing in the Chariho Act requiring Richmond to provide snow plowing services.
And there was one more thing Barber, who is also the Fire Chief, wanted to say.
“It’s no secret that I have an appointment with the Retirement Board Feb. 15, so we’ll see where I go from there,” he said. “I’ve been working full time for the public for 38 years and I’ve enjoyed working for the public, this town, the other town that I worked for, but I’m no longer young. I’m ready to start cutting back…It’s finally catching up with me, you know? And I don’t want to be that grumpy old person that stays too long.”
The council discussed, but did not decide on time limits for people wishing to speak during the public forum. They also mulled a sign-up sheet for speakers. Ellsworth suggested that rather than adopt a policy, the council could first try using a list and asking speakers to sign it.
Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Against Town
Preserve owner Paul Mihailides (right, holding scissors)
photo from preservesportingclub.com
RICHMOND - A Rhode Island Superior Court judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Preserve at Boulder Hills against the Richmond Town Council.
The lawsuit, filed last December, claimed that the Town’s “wrongful, tortious, discriminatory, arbitrary and capricious actions and omissions have substantially and unnecessarily driven up the cost of the Preserve’s development of its property, slowed down the regulatory approval process, stifled and/or interfered with The Preserve’s use of its property, caused the Preserve to lose a significant financing opportunity and continues to cause the Preserve to unnecessarily and detrimentally alter financing arrangements, conditions and terms.”
In its notice of claim to the Town Council, submitted nine months before the lawsuit was filed, John Tarantino, the Preserve’s lawyer, said that the Preserve was entitled to $100 million in damages. The notice also “reminds the Town of the statutory requirements that may be necessary to hold a Town Council meeting in accordance with § 45-15-6 to levy a tax to pay this demand or otherwise resolve this case.”
The decision by Superior Court Judge Richard Licht, filed on December 12, said the Preserve does not have the right to move forward to a trial because some of the Preserve’s claims were filed too late, and most of the claims in the lawsuit, even if they are true, are either too vague or not substantial enough to support the Preserve’s assertions that its rights have been violated. The judge also found, based on public documents, that some of the allegations in the lawsuit were not correct.
Development of the Preserve began in 2011 with the purchase of the 178-acre Boulder Hills Country Club. The development now encompasses more than 750 acres.
Concerning the Preserve’s allegation that the Town intentionally delayed development approvals, Judge Licht noted that state law sets deadlines for such approvals and there was no evidence the Town exceeded any of them. “Plaintiffs are asking this Court to require local officials to meet a developer's deadlines, and that is the province of the General Assembly, not the Superior Court. To allow Plaintiffs to succeed on this claim would essentially be putting all municipalities at the mercy of developers who come with their own deadlines,” the decision says.
In response to the argument that the Town overcharged the Preserve in application and review fees, Judge Licht found that the Town “acted pursuant to statutory authority and the local municipal regulations in the charging and collection of the application and peer review fees.”
James Marusak, Steven Sypole, and Per Vaage of Gidley, Sarli & Marusak represented the Town in the case. They were retained by the Town’s insurance carrier. Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth declined to represent the Town because of the likelihood that she would have to testify on behalf of the Town in the case. She said Marusak, Sypole and Vaage did an exceptional job representing the Town. “It’s very difficult to get a case like this dismissed before trial,” she said. “Jim, Steve and Per worked extremely hard on this case and this decision is an outstanding achievement.”
Developer Paul Mihailides, the Preserve owner, referred a request for comment to his attorneys, Tarantino and Nicole Benjamin of Adler, Pollock & Sheehan. Tarantino said the Preserve plans to appeal the decision, and that he is confident that his client will prevail in the Supreme Court. “The Preserve believes this case has merit,” he said. “It wants an opportunity to have it heard by a jury and that’s the reason we are taking an appeal. We hope the Supreme Court agrees with us and we get a chance to have a jury decide whether the Town acted inappropriately.”
Ellsworth said she believes the Supreme Court will uphold the Superior Court decision.
Sunday December 18, 2022
Beaver River Valley Community Association
P.O. Box 10, Shannock, RI 02875
UPDATE: Stamp Solar Case Appeal Now Awaiting Judge’s Decision
“Beaver River Road Rainbow at Sunset” Photo by Sherri Stearns
by Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – The attorney representing GD Beaver River I LLC has filed a reply memorandum in the appeal of a Richmond Zoning Board decision to deny an application for a commercial-scale solar energy development.
Filed on Dec. 5 in Washington County Superior Court, the memorandum supports an earlier memorandum, filed last June.
Attorney John Mancini, representing the applicant, William Stamp III, states in the latest memorandum that members of the Richmond Zoning Board and Zoning Official, Russel “Bo” Brown, overstepped their authority in denying the application. The memorandum also argues that the development would be consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan and states that the board misinterpreted a zoning ordinance requiring that a solar energy system be located entirely within a two-mile radius of an electrical utility substation.
Mancini’s memorandum states,
“GD Richmond avers compliance with [Richmond zoning ordinance] § 18.34. based on the solar energy system being “in the range of” of two miles of the utility substation; that § 18.34.030A does not require the solar energy system to be ‘inside of’ two miles of the utility substation. By, applying the definition ‘inside of’ to ‘within’, while applying the definition ‘in range of’ to ‘within’ for other sections of the Richmond Zoning Ordinance, the Town has unfairly prejudiced GD Richmond to the extent of reversible error.”
The legal wrangling began in 2018, when Stamp proposed the construction of a commercial-scale solar array in a field he owns at 172 Beaver River Road.
The developer, GD Beaver River LLC, owned by Green Development of Cranston, applied in May, 2018, for a special use permit to build a 5.3 – megawatt solar energy facility in the residential zone. The array would occupy about 7 acres of the 41-acre property, located in the Beaver River Valley which, in 2021, was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Russel “Bo” Brown, who was Richmond’s zoning official at the time, denied the application because it violated the town zoning ordinance requiring that the solar energy facility be “within two (2) miles of a utility substation.”
The proposed array, comprising 15,896 solar panels, as well as transformers and other equipment, would be located almost entirely outside the two miles required by the town.
In July, 2018, at a public hearing on the developer’s appeal of Brown’s memo, Brown asked the board, before the hearing even began, to deny the application on the grounds that the developer had missed the 30-day deadline to appeal Brown’s decision.
The board continued the hearing to August 1, when it denied the developer’s appeal because it had not been filed within 30 days, as required by the town’s zoning ordinance.
On Aug. 21, the developer appealed the zoning board’s decision on the 30-day window.
The special use application proceeded nonetheless, with the Zoning Board referring the application to the Planning Board for the required advisory development plan review.
In its Dec. 2019 decision, the Planning Board found that in addition to not complying with the substation ordinance, the project would be inconsistent with the town’s comprehensive plan, specifically, policies that protect rural landscapes, cultural resources and the protection of the town’s rural and architectural heritage.
The developer appealed the case to Rhode Island Superior Court, which remanded the case to the Zoning Board.
On Feb.22, the Zoning Board voted to deny the special use permit.
The case now rests with the judge
Richmond Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said she was confident that the Zoning Board’s decision would be upheld.
“There are two reasons why the Zoning Board’s decision is correct,” she said. “The entire solar array is not within two miles of the substation and putting it where they want to put it is not consistent with the comprehensive plan, because it is a state-recognized, and now, federally-recognized historic district.”
John Peixinho, owner of the historic Samuel Clarke Farm on Lewiston Ave., which is itself on the National Register of Historic Places, said he hoped the judge would take into accountthe importance of preserving Richmond’s historic cultural landscapes.
“I am hopeful that the judge will agree with the many residents of Richmond, our Planning and Zoning Boards and our Town Council, who have all consistently voted against and rallied against out of town developers building industrial-scale solar facilities on historic Beaver River Road,” he said. “It should also be noted that the Beaver River Road National Register Historic District determination of eligibility, by the Secretary of the Interior, dates back to the mid-1990s. National awareness of the cultural and historic significance of Beaver River Road and this section of our town is not something new.”
Peixinho also noted that in addition to marring the natural and historic qualities that have made Beaver River Road worthy of national recognition, the solar development would have few tax benefits for the town.
“In the end, the developers make millions at the expense of our farmland and rural character,” he said. “The town makes pennies and isn’t able - legally - to even raise the taxes on the newly developed property.”
It could take many months for Superior Court Justice Sarah Taft-Carter to rule on the appeal.
“An appeal of a Zoning Board decision is an administrative appeal,” Ellsworth said. “The judge does not conduct a trial or hearing. The judge makes a decision based on the record in the case and the memoranda of law filed by the lawyers.”
Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for Tuesday, December 6th, 2022
New Council Sworn In, Two Outgoing Councilors Launch Departing Attack
by Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – The celebratory ritual of swearing in new Town Council members was marred Tuesday evening when defeated council members, their allies and Republican Town Committee officials launched attacks on the highest vote-getter and another newly-elected councilor.
There were two meetings. The first was largely devoted to allowing members of the 2020-2022 council to make closing remarks.
But the jostling for the positions of President and Vice President on the new council began even before departing members had said their good-byes.
During the Public Forum, former Richmond Republican Town Committee Chair Louise Dinsmore read a statement which was signed by herself, outgoing council President, Nell Carpenter, who is unaffiliated and outgoing councilor Lauren Cacciola, a Democrat.
The statement urged councilors to support for Republican Michael Colasante for council President.
“When we examine the past records of the veteran members of the incoming Town Council, that of councilman [Richard] Nassaney and Mr. [Mark] Trimmer, we feel that neither councilman Nassaney nor Mr. Trimer possess the leadership skills or foresight to assume the position of Richmond Town council President or Town Council Vice President, for that matter,” Dinsmore said. “Their actions, and more importantly, inactions, while on the council, have resulted in the status quo, and quite frankly, their records fall short of any major accomplishments for the taxpayers and residents of this town.”
It should be noted that Nassaney, a Republican, received the greatest number of votes in the recent election. Trimmer, also a Republican, did not serve on the last council but has served on past councils.
It should also be noted that Nassaney ran afoul of the Republican Town Committee in the recent campaign and saw his name wiped from the slate and erased from campaign signs and literature.
Patricia Pouliot, who has replaced Dinsmore as Chair of the Republican Town Committee, also urged council members to choose Colasante for President.
“The council has a choice – continue down the path of financial irresponsibility or choose a direction of financial responsibility,” she said. “They can choose Mr. Nassaney or Mr. Trimmer with their record of increasing our taxes every year they served on the council, or choose a candidate that has a record of lowering taxes when he served on the council.”
Former Town Clerk Tracy Nelson also attacked Nassaney, pointing out his recent ethics violation.
“You have been recently found guilty and penalized by the Ethics Commission for violating the Code of Ethics,” she said. “In my opinion, when coupled with your conduct, you are the least worthy of the five candidates to guard Richmond’s future.”
Reached Wednesday, Nassaney said he had paid a $300 fine on Nov. 15, for a single ethics violation. The complaint against him was filed by former councilor and Chair of the Democratic Town Committee, Joseph Reddish.
Eight additional ethics complaints were filed by Carpenter. All of those, Nassaney said, were dismissed.
The creator and owner of “Rich’s Sweet Heat” sauce, Nassaney was cited by the commission for not recusing himself from a vote on a victualling license for the sales of prepared meals at Richmond Market.
“Their view of a relationship, or a partnership was, honestly, different from how I looked at it,” Nassaney said. “How I looked at it, I wasn’t a business owner of their property, but a victualling license has to do with grab and go products – sandwiches, stuff like that. My stuff is a sauce, so I didn’t think that my sauce had anything to do with a victualling license. Well, they perceived it in a different light. We came to an agreement and an understanding. I recuse from everything that has to do with Richmond Market.”
President and Vice President
At the second meeting, which followed almost immediately, the five council members voted for council President and Vice President. Colasante and fellow Republican Helen Sheehan voted for each other for both positions, but lost on both counts.
With Democrat and council newcomer, Samantha Wilcox, casting the deciding vote, Trimmer was elected President and Nassaney, Vice President.
Asked Wednesday about her vote, Wilcox said,
“I do take everyone’s opinion seriously, and last night, a lot of people did speak up against Rich, but also, people do reach out to me via email and people do text me and they say nice things, so there’s both happening, from my perspective.”
Trimmer said both he and Nassaney had been expecting attacks at the meeting.
Referring to Dinsmore, Trimmer said,
“I think the most unprecedented thing would be for the three times-resigned Republican Town Committee Chair, Louise, to craft a letter, with two Democrats that are no longer on the council as of today, against a Republican that she allegedly supported.”
Trimmer said that going forward, he hoped to serve as a uniting force on the new council.
“I may not be their favorite, but I’m on nobody’s poop list – at least nobody on the council’s poop list,” he said. “I can work with Mike, I can work with Rich, I can work with Sam, I can work with Helen, and that’s what I want to do.”
Finally, on to business
As they had promised during the campaign, the newly-elected and reelected council members voted to move up the public forum segment of council meetings so residents would have an opportunity to ask questions about and comment on agenda items before the council voted on them.
The proposal to amend the rules and procedures for the public forum, made by Colasante, met with no opposition.
“…I don’t think any one of us has a right to tell another person, ‘you have to wait. We’ve already decided everything that’s concerning you before you have the opportunity to voice your opinion,’” he said. “So, I would like to see that the public forum be moved up on the agenda, after the consent agenda is listed on the agenda.”
There was also a discussion of allowing residents to comment on agenda items outside of the public forum. Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth warned that allowing that change could lead to violations of the Open Meetings Act and Wilcox agreed.
However, the other council members favored allowing a short public comment period on certain items before each vote.
Ellsworth said she would draft a public forum amendment for councilors to consider at their next meeting.
Another item that generated a lengthy discussion was a request from Town Administrator Karen Pinch for $300,000 of the town’s American Rescue Plan Act funds for a chlorination system that will reduce coliform bacteria in the town’s water supply. The improvement is part of an agreement with the Rhode Island Department of Health.
Colasante, who has promised to lower taxes, said he did not feel comfortable approving a $300,000 payment from the town for a system that serves only 300 customers, arguing that ARPA funds should be used to benefit all residents, not just a small group. He proposed using some of the ARPA money and going out to bond for the rest.
“You’re coming to us for $300,000, right? I don’t want to leave nothing on the table, because something definitely has to be done, and I think putting $150,000 of the ARPA money instead of $300,000 will at least give us a start, and then the other money’s going to come from bonds.”
Sheehan said she was uncomfortable using ARPA money for the water system improvements.
“I’m a little conflicted about giving the ARPA money, which is supposed to be linked to the town, but I understand your desire to not want to make the users pay,” she said. “On the other hand, the majority of us, we have wells. When we have water problems, it’s going to cost us $20,000, $30,000.”
Lack of Quorum Preempts Council Action - December 2nd 2022
Lack of Quorum Preempts Council Action
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – Tuesday’s special Town Council meeting was scheduled to address business matters that could not wait until the next regular meeting, but the lack of a quorum meant that no votes could take place.
The council was expected to vote on holiday sales and victualing licenses for Pasquale Farms, and to authorize Public Works Director Scott Barber to proceed with the purchase of a new plow-equipped dump truck.
The only two council members present were council President Nell Carpenter and councilor Ronnie Newman. Councilors Lauren Cacciola and James Palmisciano, both of whom lost their seats in the Nov. 8 election, and councilor Richard Nassaney, who won reelection, were absent, leaving only two of the three councilors necessary for a quorum.
Carpenter explained that because the licenses required council votes in order to be approved, the Pasquale Farms application would have to wait until the Dec. 6 meeting.
The truck purchase, however, did not require a council vote since it was already in the approved capital improvement plan, so the two councilors could discuss that agenda item.
The price of the new dump truck, a Ford F-750 diesel, will be $124,947.00. It will replace a 2007 vehicle.
Barber told the council that the town is behind by about two years in purchasing the new truck because of shortages resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We basically put everything on hold and the supply chain issues started to happen,” he said. “So, we figured that kink was going to work itself out by now. We knew that we were budgeted to purchase the truck.”
Barber said meetings with several vendors had revealed a worrisome trend that would significantly raise the cost of the new truck.
“…they can’t guarantee to hold the price to the delivery times of between 18 and 24 months,” he said. “So, they’re telling us that January 1, it’s going to be an $8,000 to $10,000 increase in the pricing.”
With inventory low and other cities and towns anxious to purchase vehicles, Barber finally found a dealer, Gervals Ford in Ayer, MA, with three trucks in stock.
But he had to act fast.
“I went ahead and signed the sales agreement to hold the truck and now it’s coming down to where they want to know that they’re going to get paid for it,” he said. “I made a commitment on behalf of the town, knowing that there’s going to be a future price increase and availability is very short.”
Currently, the town has a single spare truck and repairs are slowed by shortages of even the most common parts.
“If we had a storm tomorrow, and we had a breakdown, we’re going to be in trouble,” Barber said. “I know it’s not the ideal way of doing things, but I’m trying to stay afloat and keep the operation so that we can do the job that we need to do.”
Before the meeting adjourned, Carpenter asked Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth to confirm that a vote on the truck purchase was not required.
“That’s correct,” Ellsworth said. “It’s an emergency.”
Barber said he had wanted to make the council aware of the need to act quickly in order to secure a vehicle.
“I felt that we were making a decision in the best interest of the town,” he said. “I’m the one that’s up in the middle of the night trying to figure out how to keep things running. I’m going to sleep a little better tonight, knowing that we’re doing this.”
The new truck is expected to be delivered in the third week of December. The Pasquale Farms license renewals, which will require council votes, will be considered at the Dec. 6 council meeting.
RI House District 39
Cotter Defeats Price in Recount
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – More than a week after the Nov. 8 election, it appears that Democrat Megan Cotter has defeated Republican incumbent Justin Price to become the new State Representative in District 39.
The Rhode Island Board of Elections approved the recount, which had been requested by Price, on Friday morning. When the recount was over, Cotter had a 32-vote lead over Price. The final recount totals were 3,031 votes for Cotter and 2,999 for Price.
This was Cotter’s second attempt at unseating Price, who has served four terms. The first time she challenged Price, she lost by only 321 votes, which, she said, made her want to try again.
Reached Friday, Cotter said she was excited and ready to get to work.
“I will work hard for our community,” she said. “I am excited to represent all the voices in District 39.”
When the polls closed on election night, Cotter was ahead by a razor-thin margin of four votes. Her lead increased in the following days as provisional and overseas military ballots trickled in. By Thursday, she had pulled ahead by 29 and then, by Friday, 32 votes.
Cotter said she had been unable to attend the recount in person, but she believed that it was a worthwhile process.
“It’s killing me that I can’t be there, but I’m happy to let the process play out,” she said. “It’s something else we’re testing to make sure that the process works properly.”
The Board of Elections will certify the recounted votes in District 39 and several other districts next Tuesday. Price said waiting for these election results had been a stressful experience.
“It was roller coaster ride,” he said. “It still is.”
The electoral process, Price added, has become more complicated with early voting and mail ballots.
“The whole system has been altered,” he said. “Now, we’re 20 days before and now, we’re up to 10 days after, to actually find out results that might not be confirmed because you need to be able to go through the data. So yeah, it’s exhausting. Doing the whole campaign, it used to be, show up, show your ID, paper ballot, know the results by 8, 9, 10 o’clock.”
As the Cotter team celebrates, Price’s team will continue to pour over the votes.
“Now that the tech part of my team has the data, the voter data, they’re going to do whatever they have to do to oversee it,” he said. “They’re going to oversee the data that was given to them from the Board of Elections and the Secretary of State.”
As Cotter Pulls Ahead, Price to Request Recount
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
RICHMOND – With Democrat Megan Cotter pulling ahead in the tight race for state Representative in District 39, Republican incumbent Justin Price said on Saturday that he was not prepared to concede.
When polls closed on Nov. 8, Cotter was leading by just four votes, but as provisional and mail ballots have been received and counted, she has pulled ahead by 29 votes; 3,024 to Price’s 2,995.
Cotter said that total could change again.
“From what I understand from the BOE, [Rhode Island Board of Elections] if there’s any provisional ballots from election day, the local Boards of Canvassers have until Monday to drop those off,” she said. “I believe they’ve all been counted, but if something were to happen where they didn’t drop the provisional ballots off, they could still potentially do that.”
With the number of votes separating the two candidates fewer than 200, Price’s team can request a recount, as long as the request is submitted by Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Price said he was planning to ask for the recount and also ask that the signatures on the mail ballots be verified.
“I’m going to request through a registered letter a verified signature recount with the machines set at factory settings,” he said. “They’ll do it, as long as I get it in by Tuesday at 4.”
Cotter said she was confident that her victory would be confirmed.
“I’m very optimistic,” she said. “Being up on election night by four votes, you want to be excited, but you know that there’s other ballots that need to be counted, so you can’t be excited. You have to kind of be like ‘okay, we still don’t know.’ You have to shield yourself from the excitement, but, as the mail ballots started coming in on Thursday, I think it was about 4:30 when the Secretary of State’s website was updated, we couldn’t have been more excited to see that we were up by 29.”
This is Cotter’s second attempt to unseat Price, who has served four terms. The first time she ran, in 2020, she lost by a small margin of 321 votes.
“Being encouraged by such a small number, that’s why I ran a second time,” she said.
Price said he thought the mail ballots were worth looking into, because almost all of those votes had been for Cotter.
“The mail-in ballots, 30 of them came in and 29 were for my opponent,” he said.
Another factor that lowered Price’s vote count was the third candidate, Sean Comella, who ran as an independent but with a conservative platform that had the effect of splitting the conservative vote. Comella received 10% of votes that would likely have gone to Price.
“If Comella wanted to get in the race, he should have gone in as a Republican and primaried,” Price said.
Cotter said she understood why Price was planning to request a recount.
“I don’t see why he wouldn’t. Anybody would,” she said. “If the roles were reversed, I would.”
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