Council Declines to Take Action on Solicitor - October 19, 2021
BRVCA Town Council Meeting
October 19, 2021
Council Declines to Take Action on Solicitor
Richmond Town Council President Nell Carpenter failed to garner the necessary support at the October 19 council meeting for her proposal to open the Town Solicitor position to outside bids.
The only council member to support Carpenter’s proposal was Lauren Cacciola. The three other councillors, Vice President James Palmisciano, Richard Nassaney and Ronald Newman, were opposed.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth, whose term will expire in Feb. 2022, has served the town since 2005, advising the Richmond Town Council, the town’s boards and commissions, the town Administrator and the town’s various departments.
Carpenter has publicly questioned Ellsworth’s job performance since last August, when she raised the matter at a council meeting. At that time, the council also declined to act.
At Tuesday’s meeting Carpenter’s issues with Ellsworth were framed differently. This time Carpenter proposed an agenda item which, had it been approved, would have required the town to solicit bids for solicitor for the Town council as well as municipal boards.
Describing one of the earlier issues that led her to make her proposal, Carpenter alleged that council members had concerns relating to a lack of oversight of the Richmond Rural Preservation Land Trust, which, she said, were never addressed. “I speak to these examples simply to point out conflict,” Carpenter said.
Questioning the wisdom of having a single attorney represent more than one municipal body, Carpenter cited the October 18 joint Town Council - Planning Board workshop in which the board would not support the council’s proposal to draft zoning amendments prohibiting all new medical marijuana - growing operations everywhere in town.
Carpenter did not indicate that she had contacted Ellsworth, or Town Clerk Erin Liese, before the joint meeting for advice on how it should be conducted. However, she implied at Tuesday’s meeting that in the absence of legal guidance, and in order to alleviate her confusion regarding how the joint meeting should be conducted, she had made the decision to contact an unnamed “parliamentarian” to determine how to conduct the meeting. “…in order to conduct this meeting appropriately and with some form of order and standard, because there was no direction, I felt it necessary to obtain a professional opinion from a certified parliamentarian,” she said.
Carpenter’s statements indicated that she had apparently made a unilateral decision to consult the expert, whom she did not identify, and had engaged that individual for consultation outside of a public forum and without the involvement or approval of the other members of the town council.
Cacciola was, once again, the only council member who supported Carpenter’s proposal, although her reasons for doing so remain unclear.
“Everyone has their specialities,” Cacciola said. “I look at it as a help, not so much a personal thing.”
The three remaining council members were skeptical of the proposal.
Palmisciano said he could not support advertising for positions that are not even open. “My personal perspective is that we should be moving forward and waiting until we do have those instances and then take action at that time,” he said. “The other piece would be that we have other members of this municipal government that are also up for renewal and if we start putting people under the impression that we are actively looking to fill the position, I don’t believe it sends the right signal to the individuals…. I’m uncomfortable doing that while we have no open position.”
Nassaney was blunt, likening the opening of the solicitor’s position to bids as a “slap in the face.” “If somebody said ‘hey I’m going to post your position just in case,’ I’d tell you where to go and what to do when you got there,” he said. “It’s not fair and it’s not right. It’s a slap in that person’s face.”
Newman also opposed soliciting outside applications for the positions.
“I don’t see the need for it, and both those solicitors have done an incredible job for the town,” he said, adding that he hoped Carpenter and Cacciola would “reconsider” their positions.
Carpenter reiterated that she had been prompted to discuss the issue of legal representation after what she described as “contention and conflict” at Monday's joint meeting. “This was, again, something I wanted to put before council, because we just are on the heels where the contention and conflict existed so it’s something that I believed was pertinent to raise at council,” she said.
It is also worth noting that the item relating to Ellsworth’s position, which Carpenter said was placed on the council agenda as a result of these issues at the joint meeting, was really placed on the agenda several days before that joint meeting took place.
Contrary to Carpenter’s assertion, the joint meeting was conducted without procedural issues and concluded amicably. In the end, it was Planning Board Chair Philip Damicis who proposed a compromise for all new marijuana growers that both bodies voted unanimously to approve.
With Cacciola the only councilor supporting Carpenter’s proposal, Town Council members approved a motion to table the item.