Richmond Town Council Meeting Update for February 15th 2022
PVD Food Truck Gets Nod After Contentious Council Discussion
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
February 15th 2022
Editor's Note: This story is longer than usual, but we felt that because of the nature of the protracted discussion on the food truck contract, it would be beneficial to provide a more detailed account of what was said and what was decided.
RICHMOND — PVD Food Truck Events will be returning for a third season. The Town Council approved a contract at the Tuesday February 15th meeting which will bring the popular event back to Richmond, beginning in mid-April and ending in October.
The process of selecting a food truck event provider has been prolonged and contentious. At the previous council meeting on Feb. 1, council President Nell Carpenter said she favored a new company, Ocean State Food Truck Festivals and she and councilor Lauren Cacciola opposed the renewal of the PVD Food Trucks contract. With councilor Richard Nassaney absent from that meeting and council Vice President James Palmisciano and council member Ronald Newman in favor of approving the PVD contract, the vote was a tie and the motion to renew the contract failed.
Nassaney was present, however, at Tuesday’s meeting, and had requested that the 2022 PVD Food Truck Events contract be added to the agenda for “discussion and adoption.”
The company’s outdoor entertainment license renewal was also on the agenda, listed as a separate item at a public hearing which would take place before the discussion of the food truck contract.
Carpenter and Cacciola argued that the entertainment license should be discussed only after the council had resolved the matter of the company’s food truck contract.
“I stand by that, like President Carpenter said, we’re doing the cart before the horse,” Cacciola said. “We haven’t seen anything. We don’t know what this entertainment license is going to be.”
The other councilors, however, said the license could be approved contingent upon the resolution of the contract.
“We could approve this contingent upon the decision of council when we get to the other agenda item,” Palmisciano said.
Palmisciano, Nassaney and Ronald Newman voted to approve the entertainment license, with Carpenter and Cacciola opposed.
When the council came to the item involving Nassaney’s proposed approval of PVD Food Trucks for 2022, Carpenter and Cacciola raised several objections, from traffic concerns, to Weiner’s business practices, to the terms of the contract itself.
Carpenter then announced that she had learned that, unbeknownst to council members, the contract for consideration at Tuesday’s meeting was not the same document that the council had discussed at the Feb. 1 meeting. She asked council members if they were aware that Nassaney’s agenda item included a contract that contained several significant revisions.
“Were you aware that there was a contract on Mr. Nassaney’s request for this item? There were three pages attached,” she said, brandishing a handful of papers.
When other council members said they were not aware of the contract, Carpenter said she had compared the Feb. 1 and Feb. 15 documents and had found important differences between the two.
Nassaney, who was out of town and did not attend the Feb. 1 council meeting, had emailed a proposed PVD Food Trucks agreement during that council meeting. Carpenter went through the proposed contract, pointing out the differences between Nassaney’s submitted document and the previous agreement.
“We had a contract before us on February 1,” she said. “This is a completely different contract. This contract was submitted while we were still in session as council on February 1. I would like to have an understanding as to how councilman Nassaney can a) submit a request for an upcoming agenda while we’re currently in session for the meeting he’s not in attendance of, and b) how is councilman Nassaney privy to a contract that council wasn’t and how did he receive it? How was councilman Nassaney made aware that PVD Food Trucks wasn’t even approved when he wasn’t at the meeting and how did he get a new contract? Those are my questions. I have an obligation to point out the inconsistencies here to council, so I would like an explanation.”
Nassaney said he had simply made a mistake.
“When I put forth the agenda item to be on this evening’s agenda, I accidentally put the incorrect link in,” he said. “Imagine that. I made a human error. Two, I had the opportunity, because I was working in Las Vegas - three-hour [time] difference - and I knew that I would not be able to make a vote, talk or anything else, so I did the best that I possibly could to try to at least listen. I got onto the livestream, and I caught the very tail end of the discussion of the food truck events.”
Nassaney said he watched as the motion to renew the PVD Food Truck agreement was defeated, so he had asked that the topic be added to the Feb. 15 council agenda.
“Do you think that I’m trying to do something mischievous? No, I’m not, so kindly take a back step,” he said. “Do you think I would try to go back and try to put a contract, for the town, that goes backwards, when we had a contract that everybody agreed on, that everybody was fine with?” Nassaney asked that the council discuss the Feb. 1 agreement, but Carpenter said the agenda item contained the newer version, and therefore, that was the only version before the council.
Then, in yet another in a series of twists, in response to a request from Carpenter for clarification, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth said the contract attached to the agenda item was drafted only last week.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about when you’re saying that you thought that Rich drafted this on February 1,” she said.
Carpenter said council members had acknowledged that they had not seen the contract linked to in Nassaney’s Feb. 1 email.
In response to Carpenter’s question, posed several times, asking who had linked the revised contract, Ellsworth said she and Town Administrator Karen Pinch, working with PVD Food Trucks owner Eric Weiner, had drafted a new contract and attached it to the agenda.
“As I said at the last meeting when this was considered, the contract that Mr. Weiner submitted was not something that I would recommend that you sign, because the language was very vague and it needed to be clarified,” Ellsworth said. “We tried to clarify it, and the underlined sections are the differences between this contract and the one last year. That’s why the underlined sections are there, so you can see what’s different and change it if you want to.”
Carpenter maintained that the existence of a revised contract that the council had not seen was an important issue, but Palmisciano disagreed. “I don’t see that as an effort to skirt around doing what we’ve done successfully in the past,” he said. “It didn’t raise a red flag with me. Now, I applaud you for reading it in such detail, but I’ll just say that I don’t have the same concerns.”
Cacciola raised the issue of increased traffic during food truck events, which, under the provisions of the new contract, would begin at 2 p.m. while school was still in session.
“You having kids there, there’s an accident, do you know what trauma that’s going to put to them? I hope that doesn’t happen but we are in a society where these kids have been through a pandemic. I don’t think we’re seeing the bigger picture, so I can’t approve this contract with that stipend [sic] of two o’clock,” she said.
Nassaney said he did not believe that vehicles pulled off the road for the event would pose traffic hazards.
“Stop trying to, literally, drive a wedge into this event,” he said. “You brought it to a level of of absurdity...You guys had a contract on February 1. Look at it. All I wanted to do was have PVD Food Trucks on this agenda to approve it. That’s it.”
Palmisciano agreed that concerns about traffic were unfounded.
“There is never a danger,” he said. “There is never a threat to a child’s life. Our safety teams have taken precautions. We’ve addressed the lighting. We’ve talked about the past. I think we need to put to bed the concern about the kids.”
Cacciola said she had spoken with Police Chief Elwood Johnson about her concerns.
“I talked to him and I talked to him, I believe it was October...about the concern about the traffic flow, so I have brought that up in the past,” she said.
Johnson, who was sitting in the council chambers, responded, “I think the event was held on a Friday night. It deviated from Thursday because there was a conflict with the schedule. That’s my recollection. That’s a much more complicated night, because people are leaving work earlier and there’s greater congestion. 138 is a busy corridor for us, but if we have police and fire there, it does help smooth things out.”
Carpenter returned to the issue of whether the contract could be amended at the meeting.
“It is what it is and it’s the one dated 2-15 that’s part of the attachment,” she said.
Ellsworth said Nassaney had asked that an item to consider a contract with PVD Food Trucks be added to the Feb. 15 council a meeting agenda, but he had not specified which agreement. After asking Weiner to clarify some of the provisions in the proposed contract, Ellsworth and Pinch had drafted an amended contract.
“If you want to change it, you can change it,” she said. “There’s no rule that says you have to adopt a document the way it’s written when it comes before you for discussion.”
Carpenter asked why an agreement with a second vendor, Ocean State Food Truck Festivals, was not on the agenda.
Ellsworth replied, “My understanding is that the other vendor, Ocean State, is not on the agenda because nobody requested it,” she said.
Cacciola said she wanted the town to do a traffic study before the contract was renewed.
“Is there a way that we can have a study, a traffic study done just to see what kind of things and that would be the approval of the contract?” she said.
Palmisciano said a study would be a waste of money, since the Rhode Island Department of Transportation’s plan to add a roundabout at the corner of Routes 138 and 112 was progressing, with construction expected to begin in the spring of 2023.
“We know that there’s a roundabout that’s going to change the situation entirely,” he said. “The traffic study’s going to cost thousands of dollars.” Palmisciano and Newman said they had both been told by residents that they had enjoyed the PVD Food Trucks events.
“I do know that PVD is well-liked by the people in town. I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews. They love it, and that’s one of the reasons I want it back again,” Newman said.
After nearly an hour of discussion, the council voted, with Carpenter and Cacciola opposed, to approve the contract with PVD Food Truck Events. Reached the day after the vote, Weiner said he was relieved that the contract had been approved but disappointed that the process had been so contentious.
“It seems like every step of the way, for the small minority that’s very vocal, they keep shifting what seems to bother them, and so for whatever reason, they just don’t want this event to occur in town,” he said.
Weiner also noted that the pandemic restrictions of the first two seasons had placed limits on the food truck experience. He predicted that residents would have an even better time this year and added that the event had been worth fighting for.
“They still haven’t gotten to come out and not have pandemic concerns and hug their neighbors and stand in line without face coverings, and to not put in the time and effort to continue on with what we started in a location that we think is wonderful, with a community that we think is great, it was unfortunate to have to go through this fight, but we’d just rather build on what we’ve started, than walk away and start again.”
During a public hearing, the council, with Cacciola casting the only dissenting vote, approved the amended comprehensive community plan, which will now be submitted to the state for approval. The amendments reflect changes to sections that the state had flagged when the new plan was first submitted.
At a second public hearing, the council approved an amendment to the code of ordinances reducing the speed limit on Whitetail Trail to 15 miles per hour.
Amendments to the ordinance governing the cultivation of marijuana were also discussed. With odor from growers a concern, (there is only one grower currently operating in the town) the council agreed to leave the matter of enforcement to the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation, which is responsible for such matters.
In response to a request from the Maddie Potts Foundation for just over $83,000 from the Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, established under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, council members said they preferred to hear from the newly-formed Wellness Committee before making decisions about donations to the many non-profit groups that are expected to apply for funds.
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