Carpenter Tries Again to Oust Solicitor - JANUARY 4, 2022
RICHMOND TOWN COUNCIL
Carpenter Tries Again to Oust Solicitor
JANUARY 4, 2022
By Cynthia Drummond for the BRVCA
RICHMOND — Town Council President Nell Carpenter, supported by councilor Lauren Cacciola, made a third attempt at Tuesday’s council meeting to oust Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, whose contract expires on Jan. 31, 2021.
The agenda item was a request, submitted by Ellsworth, for reappointment to the position for a term expiring on Jan. 31, 2023. With Cacciola and Carpenter opposed to a motion to reappoint Ellsworth, made by councilor Ronnie Newman and seconded by council Vice President James Palmisciano, and the fifth council member, Richard Nassaney, absent from the meeting, there was a tie vote, which generated some confusion.
During the ensuing discussion, Palmisciano reiterated his earlier proposal to introduce an employee assessment protocol, but said he did not yet have the particulars.
“I wasn’t prepared for this meeting, I didn’t realize that this would be here,…but one of the things that I had done was to create an assent based on a template that’s used for cities and towns that would allow council members to objectively use this matrix to provide their individual feedback,” he said.
Carpenter said she would not consider Palmisciano’s protocol at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I don’t think we can do that right now,” she said.
After the tie vote, Newman wanted to know where the motion stood and Carpenter responded that the motion to reappoint Ellsworth had been defeated.
“It’s a no vote,” she said. “It didn’t pass.”
Newman disagreed, saying, “It’s not a no vote. It’s a tie, right?”
It was up to Ellsworth to settle the matter.
“Yes, a tie,” she said.
Palmisciano asked what the tie meant and Ellsworth explained,
“It means that you have to vote on it again,” she said. “It wouldn’t do any good to vote on it tonight, because the vote would be the same. You would have to put it on the agenda for the next meeting.”
After a brief discussion of how and when Palmisciano would be able to present his employee assessment matrix, Cacciola quickly moved to deny Ellsworth’s request for reappointment.
“I motion to request to not reappoint Karen Ellsworth,” she said.
After being told that she could not make the motion, since a vote had already taken place, Cacciola withdrew it.
Palmisciano moved to continue the item to the next council meeting, on Jan. 18. Once again, the vote was a tie, with Newman supporting the motion and Carpenter and Cacciola opposed.
Carpenter first questioned Ellsworth’s performance in Aug. 2021 and again in October, when she proposed that the town solicit bids for solicitor for the Town Council as well as municipal boards. Both motions were defeated with Cacciola and Carpenter supporting the motion and Palmisciano, Newman and Nassaney opposed.
During the public forum at Tuesday’s meeting, attorney Mark Reynolds, who chairs the town’s Board of Tax Assessment Review, lambasted the council for not reappointing Ellsworth.
“I fear that decision is driven more by ego than any kind of performance,” he said. “You want a solicitor who’s going to tell you when you’re doing things right and when you’re doing things wrong. That’s who you want. And I fear that the members of the council don’t like to be told that they’re doing things incorrectly or could be doing things incorrectly, and, therefore, don’t support the solicitor.”
The council will revisit Ellsworth’s reappointment at the Jan. 18 meeting.
Potts Foundation Funding Request
Council members discussed, and declined the request from the Maddie Potts Foundation to reimburse the foundation for the full $5,120 building permit fee that the foundation has paid to the town.
Maddie Potts died suddenly on the Chariho soccer field in 2017. Her parents, Dan and Stephanie Potts, started the Maddie Potts Foundation to raise funds for a new field house at Chariho to honor Maddie’s legacy, and construction has begun.
The foundation has requested that the town reimburse the building permit fees, and Nassaney proposed, at the Nov. 16 council meeting, that the three Chariho towns share the reimbursement, each paying $1,540 to the foundation. However, both Charlestown and Hopkinton declined to contribute.
Carpenter asked Town Planner Shaun Lacey to calculate the cost to Richmond taxpayers of receiving and approving building permits.
“I would like to ask our Town Planner, Shaun Lacey, a very specific question in regards to this total that we have given a third back for,” she said. “What is the actual cost to taxpayers, meaning manpower, women power, mileage, inspections, the quantitive [sic] actual costs of this permit, if we’re able to have that number?”
Lacey said he had calculated that such work would take about 30 hours and would cost the town $4,300.
Carpenter said the town should have considered an alternative procedure that could have been used to exempt non-profit groups from paying building permit fees.
“We are a tri-town community that will benefit from this, so yes, I am disappointed in my sister communities,” she said. “I’m also disappointed that there is a procedure in place that could have been utilized to exempt these and I’m disappointed that this wasn’t explored further, and that’s to no fault of anyone’s, but there is a procedure in place to exempt these fees for non-profit organizations.”
Like Carpenter, Cacciola said she thought Charlestown and Hopkinton should have contributed.
“If it’s for the kids, I’m just saying, if it’s for the kids, then they should do it,” she said.
But Palmisciano pointed out that he had watched the Charlestown council meeting during which the request had been discussed, and he believed that town’s decision had been the correct one.
“Richmond has the money,” he said. “Charlestown, Hopkinton do not have the money. We collected this money. So, my concern with this, in the first place, was we were asking them to give back money that they never collected, so that’s why they were a little confused. They don’t have the money. We have the money.”
The discussion concluded with a motion, made by Palmisciano, that the town refund the remaining $3,080 in permit fees to the foundation. The motion did not receive a second. Palmisciano then proposed exploring the possibility of raising the funds privately and was told by Ellsworth that members of the council were not prohibited from doing so.
Reynolds scolded the council during the public forum for the way it had handled the matter.
“I wanted to express my disappointment in the council for failing to support the Maddie Potts [Foundation] request for refunding money that they’ve already paid to the town,” he said. “We have two members of the council who made lip service to the foundation during tonight’s meeting but were unwilling to put their money where their mouth is, and give back a couple of thousand dollars to a worthy foundation that many residents of this community had dug into their own pockets to support. The least the town could have done is refund back to the foundation what they paid, especially when there was a sentiment expressed they could have exempted from paying any fees whatsoever. If you supported that proposition, then you should have voted to refund the monies.”
In other business, the council deferred action on amendments to the town’s marijuana growing ordinance pertaining to odor mitigation, and also deferred taking action on a request by The Nature Conservancy for a property tax exemption on a newly-acquired piece of land.
Palmisciano asked town staff to provide “information on the current number of properties that are tax exempt in the town and the value the town is not getting for this properties, as well as other information that could be gained from other Nature Conservancy properties in the state and whether they are tax exempt.”
The matter was scheduled for the agenda of the first council meeting in February.
The council also declined to consider a request by Wood River Health Services for a contribution of $196,077 from the town’s federally-funded Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, saying it was premature to discuss the matter since the town had, so far, received only one half of the expected funds and had not decided how to allocate the money.
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