Parking signs removed after mayor, council clash over process

Parking signs removed after mayor, council clash over process

WOONSOCKET – A series of reserved parking signs that went up in Market Square earlier this month have disappeared just as quickly after they were the subject of a rift between the City Council and Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt.

Baldelli-Hunt said she had the idea to reserve parking spaces for customers picking up takeout after speaking with several of the restaurants on Market Square. A resolution submitted to the council in December by the administration said the signs could “help the city’s restaurants recover as quickly as possible from the financial hardship COVID-19 has placed on them.”

However, several of councilors expressed concerns about the signs during a December meeting, with Council President Daniel Gendron saying they could take away parking from other businesses. The meeting left off with the council tabling the resolution until they could look at a parking plan.

In the meantime, 12 reserved parking signs went up around Market Square, sparking frustrated words from Gendron during the Jan. 11 council meeting. Gendron called it “a clear and absolute violation of and circumvention of this council.”

Baldelli-Hunt told The Breeze on Tuesday she never expected the issue to reach the point that it did. She acknowledged the signs went up prior to approval by the council but said she was initially under the impression the authority to install them fell under the statewide executive orders issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Yes, the signs did go up sooner than they should’ve, but in my quest to try to help small business, it was me that had the signs placed there, nobody else,” she said.

After hearing the council’s reaction, Baldelli-Hunt said she asked City Solicitor John DeSimone to send an email to Gendron and Council Vice President John Ward asking if they wanted the signs taken down.

“I said, listen, if they want me to take the signs down, I’ll take the signs down. If they want, I’ll leave them up, they can pass the resolution at the next meeting,” she said.

Gendron told The Breeze he declined to instruct the administration either way because he didn’t feel he could speak for the entire council.

“I am in no position to comment on the ‘wishes of the council’ due to the fact that the City Council has not been able to deliberate on the merit of Resolution 20 R 116,” he wrote in his response to DeSimone.

The signs have since been removed.

Both sides criticized the others’ handling of the issue, with Baldelli-Hunt saying it brought “negative attention” to the city and Gendron saying that “details and process” matter.

Asked whether the issue will appear on a future council agenda, Gendron said he supports the idea of the reserved parking signs but it will depend on whether the administration wants to move forward with the idea.