At Woonsocket inauguration, city leaders emphasize cooperation

At Woonsocket inauguration, city leaders emphasize cooperation

Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt delivers her inaugural address at the Stadium Theatre on Tuesday night. (Breeze photos by Robert Emerson)

WOONSOCKET – In a festive ceremony including celebratory remarks and performances by local schools, Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and members of the newly elected City Council and School Committee were sworn in at a formal inauguration at the Stadium Theatre Tuesday night.

The evening focused largely on the city’s advances in recent years, including improvements in infrastructure, the elimination of a budget deficit and lowering of tax rates cited by Baldelli-Hunt in her inaugural address. Looking to the future, Baldelli-Hunt also referred to several ongoing or upcoming city projects, including development of a bike path through downtown Woonsocket, the establishment of a state higher education center, and the reconstruction of Worrall Street outside the Stadium Theatre.

“Collectively, we have the ability to make these practical advances to attract what is necessary for our city to thrive and not be left behind,” she said. “There is no benefit in letting the grass grow under our feet.”

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio administered the oaths of office, swearing in Baldelli-Hunt for her third term as mayor and incumbent council members Jon Brien, James Cournoyer, Daniel Gendron and Denise Sierra for another term. Also taking their seats on the council were former Council President John Ward and city businessman David Soucy, along with Julia Brown, a substitute teacher whose 15-vote win over former Councilor Roger Jalette Sr. was lauded as “the biggest surprise of the year” by former Mayor Charles Baldelli.

Leaving the council are Melissa Murray, who will take her seat in the State Senate, and Richard Fagnant, who did not win re-election. Christopher Beauchamp, an 11-year councilor who did not seek another term, also served his final City Council meeting Monday night, earning sendoffs from fellow councilors and speakers.

On the school side of government, Ruggerio swore in the city’s first elected School Committee since 2013 after voters approved a return to an elected board in July. Paul Bourget and Donald Burke, both of whom served on the appointed committee, reclaimed their seats, as did Eleanor Nadeau, who served on the committee in previous years. Rebecca Capwell and Lynn Kapiskas were also elected.

The evening featured appearances by several of the state’s elected officials, including a video message from Gov. Gina Raimondo and remarks by U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, who told local officials it was up to them to restore the faith of residents in the democratic system.

“I think more than ever we’re living in a time when people really need to see elected officials working on their behalf,” he said. “Government really needs to work for the people, and we need to all work together to restore the public’s faith in our institutions.”

Cicilline also urged local officials to take a conciliatory approach and work together during their upcoming term, a theme repeated throughout the evening. Speaking to The Breeze after the ceremony, Gendron said improving the relationship between Baldelli-Hunt and a majority of the council is his “biggest dream” for the upcoming term following some years of hostility. He also named the next city budget as one of the largest challenges facing councilors.

“We know that we have a monumental task ahead of us with the new upcoming budget that will be challenging to keep Woonsocket on a path forward, but with the dedication and the intellect of the new council, I believe that we can achieve,” he said.

Following the remarks, councilors held a brief reorganizational meeting, re-electing Gendron as council president and Brien as council vice president by unanimous votes. Councilors also reappointed Howard Portney as city probate judge, Thomas Dickinson as municipal court judge and Lloyd Gariepy as alternate municipal court judge.

Bourget, who served as vice chairman of the previous School Committee, told The Breeze the committee will select a chair and vice chair at its upcoming meeting on Dec. 19. He added the board is looking to reform the negotiating committee for the ongoing teacher contract dispute, as the negotiations are now the responsibility of the newly elected School Committee.

“The biggest thing we’re tackling is the contract, and we want to settle that as soon as possible because we want to get our teachers back on track to do what they normally do, which is teach the children,” he said.

Bourget added the district’s ongoing struggles with attendance rates are also high on the new committee’s list of priorities, and members will look to work cooperatively with each other and members of the council and administration.

Noticeably absent from the evening were performances by any of the city’s traditional public schools. Also absent was a vote on the reappointment of City Solicitor John DeSimone, a position that has been announced at previous inaugurations. Reached for comment earlier in the week, Gendron declined to comment on whether DeSimone will have the votes necessary to be reinstated to another term, saying only that the council will take up the question of a solicitor at a future meeting.

State Senate President Dominick Ruggerio swears in the Woonsocket City Council during ceremonies Tuesday night at the Stadium Theatre. From left, are Ruggerio, John Ward, David Soucy. Denise Sierra, Daniel Gendron, Jon Brien, Julia Brown and James Cournoyer.