Councilor’s offensive word spurs calls for his removal

Councilor’s offensive word spurs calls for his removal

WOONSOCKET – Another offensive comment made by a city councilor during Monday night’s meeting – and his use of a particular word – has spurred public backlash, with some residents calling for his removal from the council.

Councilor Richard Fagnant made the offhand remark after a resolution he proposed failed to gain enough votes to pass. The resolution, intended to restrict recording of council meetings to certain areas of the council chambers, was voted down in the final minutes of the meeting after four other councilors said they did not think the resolution was warranted.

Video of the final minutes, recorded by members of the public and posted to Facebook and YouTube Monday night, clearly records Fagnant scoffing, “They’re clapping” as opponents of the resolution applauded following the vote. As the city clerk begins to read the next item on the agenda, Fagnant can then be heard using the word “retards” about those in the room.

In a letter emailed to local media Tuesday afternoon, Fagnant described his behavior as “extremely inappropriate” and apologized for what he called “embarrassing” behavior.

“I’m not sure what made me think it was OK to say that word. It wasn’t,” he wrote, adding he hopes to put the matter behind him and looks forward to continuing to serve the people of Woonsocket.

Council President Daniel Gendron, reach by phone Tuesday, said that while he did not hear the comment during Monday’s meeting, he has since listened to recordings of the comment and received several emails expressing concern over the issue.

“At that meeting, had I actually heard what he actually said, I would have stopped the meeting and admonished him immediately for saying something so disgusting,” he said.

Gendron said he is currently in talks with the city solicitor to determine if there is any action the council can take in response to public concern over the comments. While members of the public can also follow a recall process to remove a public official from office, Gendron said it is unlikely such a process could be completed prior to the November election.

It’s not the first time Fagnant, elected in 2016, has come under fire for his inflammatory remarks. In 2017, he was accused of berating Zoning Board Chairman Alan Leclaire with vulgar comments following a council meeting, comments corroborated by bystanders, and in 2015 was criticized for a Facebook post depicting a Marine holding a gun to the head of former President Barack Obama. Earlier this year, he got into a widely publicized Facebook spat with WNRI talk show host John Dionne during which he said Dionne was “headed for a horrible death” and that his breathing was “getting shallow lol.”

This was the first time, however, that Fagnant issued an apology for behavior captured on video, an ironic twist given the nature of the resolution sparking the comment. Fagnant had claimed earlier in the meeting that recording equipment used by private citizens posed safety concerns and caused distractions during meetings and should only be allowed within designated areas of the council chamber.

Estelle Bubble, a resident who regularly live-streams City Council meetings to Facebook and thinks the resolution was aimed at her, said she considers her recording a public service and has not received any other complaints from city officials about the location of her equipment, which she normally sets up in the center aisle. Bubble’s live-stream was one of at least two video sources that captured Fagnant’s comments Monday night.

“I’m thinking, how is this going to help me by you saying I can’t sit there, I’ve got to sit somewhere else?” she told The Breeze by phone the following morning.

Bubble said she suspects the action came out of an incident that occurred on July 9 when she attended a Zoning Board meeting in the council chambers. As she entered the room, she said, the meeting clerk told her board members do not always speak audibly into their microphones and recommended she sit closer to the bench, which she did. Later in the meeting, when she was unable to hear the comments of one of the Zoning Board members, she created a noise to catch the attention of Zoning Board Chairman Leclaire, who then reminded members to speak into their microphones.

“I just took my finger and I just rubbed it on the microphone very lightly, and then Mr. Leclaire looked up and he goes, ‘Speak into the mic,’ and I smiled,” she said.

While the meeting was still going on, she said, Fagnant, who was in attendance, approached her where she sat in front of the area normally reserved for members of the public.

“He said to me, you’re not supposed to interrupt their meeting. That’s a violation,” she said.

Rhode Island state law preserves the right of members of the public to record open meetings but allows public bodies to impose “reasonable restrictions” to maintain order or safeguard public facilities from damage. Bubble said she does not feel her live-streaming is intrusive and said it presents an alternative to the broadcasts on local access channels for those who don’t have cable television.

“Everybody loves it. If you go on that site, you’ll see over a hundred people that’s on the site that are amazed,” she said.

Several other councilors objected to Fagnant’s claim that the resolution would preserve safety and meeting order, pointing out the chairman of a meeting body holds the authority to ask members of the public to move their equipment or otherwise maintain order during a meeting. Gendron said he has not found the equipment to be disruptive so far, but would not be afraid to ask a member of the public to move if it became an issue.

“The tools that I need, I already have if this problem presents itself,” he said.

The recordings, Bubble pointed out, serve another function for city residents. While broadcasts on local access television only air at select times of day, Facebook livestreams are recorded for future use, allowing anyone with an internet or data connection to access them for months after the event. Those streams are now available to city residents looking to verify the comments made by Fagnant during the meeting.

“I do it for everybody,” she said about her motivation for recording the meetings.

Comments

An adult has to always consider their behavior to be of a sound mature nature. It sets the tone for future leaders, our youth, to see this as an example to follow.
Clearly there needs to be an attitude change by this man, to rid him of his need to put others down for any activity which he does not agree with. Life is living with differences of opinion as we're all not alike. Respect. Hopefully he has sought a counselor, therapy, to stop this vile behavior and get down to the bottom of WHY he feels a need to behave in this fashion. He needs to make people proud of him, not ashamed, and leave a legacy of good will.

Being a new comer to this city, I have already had to encounter
this Council, which in my opinion there entire bunch seems to forget they are elected to serve at the pleasure of the Citizens of Woonsocket, yet treat and talk down to us. There is no reason for any elected official to use foul language or describe any person with insult name callings. THe Mayor needs to be included in this opinion too!