Council, Baldelli-Hunt clash over parking spaces in Market Square

Council, Baldelli-Hunt clash over parking spaces in Market Square

The mayor and the City Council found themselves at odds over a recent effort to reserve parking spaces for takeout pickups at restaurants in Market Square. (Breeze photo by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – The mayor and the City Council are once again at odds over parking spaces, this time, over a series of reserved spaces in the municipal lot at Market Square.

On Monday, Council President Daniel Gendron said during a City Council meeting he was disappointed to see signage go up on 12 parking spaces, reserving them for takeout pickups at restaurants around Market Square. While he wasn’t against the merit of the signs, he said, he had a problem with the procedure surrounding their installation on city property.

“It may be a small item, but this is a clear and absolute violation of and circumvention of this council,” he said.

In December, the administration requested the council pass a resolution designating takeout parking spots to help the restaurants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The council tabled the resolution, with some councilors at the time expressing concerns the designated spots could create parking problems for other businesses in the area.

Gendron said he expected the administration to return to the council with a more detailed parking plan and was surprised to notice the 12 signs had already gone up.

“I don’t know if every other councilor was aware of this, but I think each of you should be just as upset as I am that the M.O. seems to be we ask for permission and if we don’t get it, we do it anyways,” he said.

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt on Tuesday told The Breeze she was unaware of the issues surrounding the signs until after the council meeting. The measure, she said, came at the request of one of the local restaurants.

“We had gotten a call from one of these three restaurants expressing interest in seeing if there’s any way that the city could help them through the cold, potentially snowy, rainy season of winter through the pandemic,” she said.

Baldelli-Hunt said she spoke with City Solicitor John DeSimone about ordering the signs. DeSimone, she said, agreed it was a nice thing to do, and also said he would draft a resolution to put on the council docket.

Baldelli-Hunt said she did not know the exact timing of when the signs went up, but she expected the council to be pleased by the effort to help small businesses.

“Quite frankly, this is a nice thing to do and I’m hopeful that it helped the small business community,” she said. “If the signs went up prior to the council passing the resolution, I apologize for that, but at the end of the day, the goal was to help the small business community.”

The comments came less than a month after members of the City Council voted to override the mayor’s veto on their attempt to secure a parking space for City Clerk Christina Harmon-Duarte. According to Councilor John Ward, who spoke on the matter during the Dec. 21 meeting, that issue goes back to July of 2019, when the clerk “all of a sudden” didn’t have a parking space behind City Hall. Ward said city clerks have traditionally had the privilege of a dedicated city parking space going back to the 1960s.

“I’m amazed we’ve come to this point. Frankly, I don’t understand why it ever happened to begin with,” he said.

Gendron called the removal of the clerk’s parking space “out of the policy playbook of the Providence politicians, where lack of obedience loses you a parking space.”

Harmon-Duarte and Baldelli-Hunt have reportedly had a tense relationship in recent years. In September of 2019, The Providence Journal published an article describing a recording where another employee allegedly told Harmon-Duarte the mayor wanted to “get rid of the clerk.”

Only Councilors Valerie Gonzalez and David Soucy supported the veto, questioning the council’s authority to oversee matters such as employee parking spaces.

Baldelli-Hunt on Tuesday declined to comment on the employee parking issue, telling The Breeze she had more important things to spend her time on, but in her veto message she described the measure as “an apparent attempt by the City Council to meddle in the minutia of the day-to-day operations of city government.”

“The City Council should legislate on policy issues and not meddle in employee administrative matters,” she wrote at the time.

On Monday, the issue appeared once again on the council agenda, but it was passed over with little comment after Gendron said the matter had been resolved.

The two clashes are among the first of the new term for both the mayor and City Council. In October, Gendron said he planned to “extend an olive branch” in what has recently been a contentious relationship, but so far, the two sides have continued to disagree regularly on city matters.

Residents can expect to see those disagreements emerge again within the next few days, as the two sides are expected to hold a work session to discuss their priorities for the next two years this coming Tuesday, Jan. 19.

Comments

People do not park in that parking lot unless they are going to one of the many businesses in that location ...Why should one business be given special treatment over the rest ? LBH is no stranger to NEPOTISM as we all know ... Should be NO special treatment (or parking) for ANYONE ... Lets put a stop to the FRIENDS & FAMILY NEPOTISM!!!

Baldelli-Hunt on Tuesday declined to comment on the employee parking issue, telling The Breeze she had more important things to spend her time on.

But she had time to take the parking space away and time to draft a two-page veto message?

So the signs are now gone. They mayor, who is incapable of writing an email, tasked the solicitor to send an email to the council president. In it, she claims that the signs were "inadvertently put up prior to council approval"! This, despite the fact that they were put up under her direct order to the highway superintendent.

She goes on to ask "...if the council wishes her to have the signs in the municipal lot removed pending the next council meeting. If so, she will accommodate the council."

The council president recognized the trap. If he took a poll he would be violating the open meetings law, so he didn't. Because the council could not say to keep them up without breaking the law, the signs came down because they were never approved as required by law.

So, the mayor violated the law and now she might attempt to blame the council for having the signs taken away and harming local business. This is what we call dirty politics. She is expert at it.

Fortunately, there is plenty of parking available in the parking lot and I hope customers will visit the great restaurants, even if they have to walk a little further for a take-out order. The problem should be resolved soon enough.