Baldelli-Hunt names DeSimone as solicitor
Baldelli-Hunt names DeSimone as solicitor
WOONSOCKET – The mayor has tapped former House Majority Leader John DeSimone to serve as Woonsocket solicitor, a move that may have come just soon enough to avoid further battles over the city’s legal budget following a council decision not to retain solicitor Michael Marcello.
DeSimone, a Democrat who served in the state legislature from 1992 until he was defeated in a primary last year, will need confirmation from the City Council. Although ratification of the appointment has not yet been scheduled, some councilors gave early indications of support for the mayor’s pick.
“I think that the overall consensus was of approval based on the conversations I’ve heard,” said City Council President Daniel Gendron. “It seems most people are supportive.”
The announcement comes on the heels of a council decision to seize the majority of the city’s legal budget, a cautionary move directed at preventing the mayor from expending funds without council authority, according to Gendron.
“Just as a safeguard, we took control of the money,” Gendron said.
That money, roughly $490,000, will return to the city’s legal fund once a new solicitor is confirmed, according to an ordinance passed Tuesday night. The move follows tense dialog between Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt and members of the council over how the legal department should move forward in the city leader’s second term.
After an inauguration that saw four new members seated on the board in early December, the council’s first act of business was to vote against extending Marcello’s service, despite urging from the mayor.
In the month that’s followed, the council has attempted to retain Marcello on a temporary basis, passing an ordinance offering him $85 an hour for work on an as-needed basis. The former solicitor, who also lost his seat in the General Assembly in November, reportedly refused the offer.
Baldelli-Hunt sent out a memo to council members Dec. 22 stating that in light of the situation, she would “continue to seek out and retain the necessary legal guidance for the city,” and has been critical of councilors for leaving Woonsocket without legal help.
On Tuesday, Councilor Jon Brien responded to a statement the mayor recently made to the media asserting that the council “does not understand the day-to-day actions of what happens in a city or town.”
“It’s something I took great umbrage to,” Brien said. “I find it insulting, not only to me but to the council people on this dais. I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think you believe that to be true.”
Baldelli-Hunt said that according to the city charter, the solicitor was supposed to review all ordinances and resolutions before they come before this council.
“The reality is we’re in a bit of an unusual position this evening in regard to ordinances,” Baldelli-Hunt said. “I am not going to put this city in a precarious position in regard to lawsuits because it became a political football in regard to appointing a solicitor.”
Quoting the charter, Brien noted that a solicitor was only needed to “decide all questions or controversies relative to legal construction.”
In the vote that followed, only Councilor Melissa Murray was against a resolution to seize some 70 percent of the budget set aside for the city’s legal services.
But little will actually happen if DeSimone is confirmed this month. Gendron said that councilors interviewed the appointee individually at the start of the week.
DeSimone, a 56-year-old Providence resident and graduate from Our Lady of Providence High School and Providence College, lost his seat in the state House of Representatives by just 21 votes last September. His opponent, new state Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, was sworn in when the General Assembly began its 2017 session earlier this week. He obtained his law degree from Suffolk Law School in 1985.
But the choice is not without controversy.
Resident John Reynolds noted that DeSimone was the House majority leader in 2014 when former House Speaker Gordon Fox went to prison for public corruption.
“Is this the same John DeSimone who, this past August, had a complaint filed against him by the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of all people with the state Ethics Commission based on him not listing delinquent state and property tax debts and liens totaling $18,000 on his financial disclosure form?” Reynolds asked. “If that’s what he considers financial management while in the public trust, I can only imagine what he would consider as a method of legal management in the public trust.”
The Providence Journal reported on DeSimone’s tax problems last May after the representative found his property on Providence’s tax sale list.
Asked if he was concerned about the lawyer’s past tax problems, Gendron said he would have to look into the issue.
“It does warrant further investigation. The results of that could make a difference, absolutely,” Gendron said.
In a statement on the appointment, Baldelli-Hunt said, “John brings to the position, decades of legal experience and a strong background in government service. Under his direction, our legal department will continue to be appropriately equipped to address our community’s pressing legal needs.”
The mayor could not be reached for comment regarding the tax issues.