Court expected to rule on O’Hara’s Town Council position

Court expected to rule on O’Hara’s Town Council position

NORTH SMITHFIELD – Superior Court Judge Richard Licht is expected to issue an opinion this week on whether or not school teacher Claire O’Hara can legally remain employed by the North Smithfield School Department while serving on the Town Council.

A teacher for more than 36 years, O’Hara won a seat on the five-member board last November when she came in third overall.

The town charter states that “no employee of the town shall hold elective office in the town government while he is in employ of the town.”

But the 5th-grade teacher said she’d prefer to finish out the year with her students before retiring, and that she received a legal opinion that state law might take precedent. She took the oath of office last December, and the board unanimously voted to seek a declaratory court judgment on the issue.

Town Solicitor David Igliozzi is representing the town in the matter and O’Hara has retained Attorney Robert Craven.

A complaint filed on behalf of the town notes that other sections of the charter also prohibit town employees from serving in elected office. Such conflicts are also addressed in the town’s Code of Ordinances, where it states that “no person holding a permanent position in the classified service shall be candidate for any elective office unless he first resigns his position with the service of the town.”

Rhode Island law contains similar provisions, but has a specific exemption for school teachers.

O’Hara, through her attorney, takes the position that the state statute preempts the town from enforcing any law preventing teachers employed by the town from simultaneously serving as members of the council, that the charter language is “unconstitutionally overbroad.” The Town Council does not have the authority to challenge her right to hold office, she maintains.

The complaint, signed by Igliozzi, noted that compelling the council to take a formal position on the issue could have led to a special election that a court could later invalidate. At least one member of the council, it states, has opined that the town charter is valid and enforceable, and has advised O’Hara that as long as she remains a teacher employed by the town she is ineligible to hold the office of council member.

The town filed a motion for summary judgment April 14 and Licht’s opinion is expected by the end of this week. Town Council President John Beauregard noted that while the town is not required to follow the judge’s opinion, board members have agreed that they will.

If O’Hara is found ineligible to serve, the town would have to hold a special election within 30 days to fill her seat.

But with the end of the school year fast approaching, the issue may be moot. The councilor has stated that she plans to retire at the end of the year.

Comments

Thank you for your service to our town!

Most people are unfamiliar with the way Town government works. Let me explain!

In the Town of North Smithfield, we have a “Legislative Branch of Government” who are responsible for making the laws that rules the Town and then we have an “Executive Branch of Government” who are responsible for mandating that the written laws be followed within the Town government.

But only in North Smithfield do we have a third branch of Town government which is called the “Coward Branch of Government”. Not one individual in the two branches of government listed above had the balls to step up to the plate and do the right thing by mandating that the Town Charter be followed at the time of the election.

Ironically, you have a Town Charter and Town Ordinances which were written years ago only to be ignored as well as overlooked by the hierarchy of this Town all due to the fact that people in these two branches of government are incompetent to do the right thing.

My question to those responsible for this debacle working in these two branches of government is this. What good is having a Town Charter or Town Ordinances if they are not going to be enforced or adhered to? The law is the law and the Town Charter clearly states that “no employee of the Town of North Smithfield shall hold elective office in town government while he/she is an employee of the Town.”

In addition, conflicts as such are also addressed in the Town’s Ordinances, where it states that “no person holding a permanent position in the classified service shall be a candidate for any elective office unless he/she first resigns his/her position with the service of the Town.”

The only person with half a brain at the time was the “EX” Town Administrator who stood up and stated in an article in the Valley Breeze that this person was in violation of the Town Charter but yet she did nothing about it.

If by chance the ruling from Judge Richard Licht next week comes in as being that she is in violation, well guess what people, now we have to dig in our pockets once again for yet another Town screw up! And if by chance (a slim chance at that) the ruling comes in with her being able to keep her position as a Town Council member, you matters well use the Town Charter and Town Ordinances as toilet paper because that is all that it will be good for!

Let’s face it, the Town Clerk, the Board of Canvasses as well as the past Town Administrator let this fall through the cracks of Town government. Don’t forget the inevitable here, having a special election is now going to cost the Town and the tax payers money … all because no one did their job or make a decision back in November of last year.

As I end these comments with great disgust, I would highly recommend to everyone reading this rant to take the time to go and read RIGL Title 16 and RIGL Title 17. The law is the law so perhaps it would be a good idea if you now follow those laws.

Get ready to dig into your pockets people because we are all now going to pay for this mistake one way or another!

Once again, Only in North Smithfield!

Keep fighting, Claire. We are all behind you!!

Are separate legal entities according to state law, to my knowledge,.

The fact that the town provides funds to the school district leads many to consider it a town "department". Reality is that the fiscal and personnel matters of the school district operations is solely the purview of the School Committee with the Town Council authority limited to deciding only the amount of funds the town provides to the school district.
Teachers and others are employees of the school district NOT the town so Ms O'Hara is correct in being a legal member of the town council but should recuse herself from any town council decisions/votes regarding school district funding.