WOONSOCKET – Outgoing City Councilor Denise Sierra has followed through on her earlier warning that she might seek the removal of Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt from office, filing an official complaint for removal this week.
Sierra is alleging numerous violations of the city’s charter related to the mayor not following the mandates of the council.
Baldelli-Hunt, meanwhile, is calling the complaint a desperate attempt by the group of five council members who oppose her, knowing that they’re about to lose their five-person majority with Sierra leaving, and could lose their majority entirely.
These five, she said, have continuously “bullied and blocked” good things from happening in the city, showing no respect for the administration, using condescending dialogue, “subliminal childish comments,” and “intentional procrastination on projects just to prove that they have control and aren’t going to let (things) move forward.”
Baldelli-Hunt said she’s happy to see Sierra leave the council, and reiterated her stance that a vote against any of her other four remaining opponents in November is a vote for moving the city forward.
Here are the nine accusations in Sierra’s complaint, summarized in brief:
• That Baldelli-Hunt willfully violated the charter and ordinances by circumventing the council by submitting a different action plan to HUD than the one approved by the council;
• That she willfully neglected her duties by not submitting financial reports as required;
• That she committed a willful violation in not keeping the council informed at all times on the financial condition and needs of the city when she hired outside attorneys without legal services without notification;
• That she violated her duties in paying select employees stipends beyond what they were entitled to in budget ordinances;
• That she willfully neglected the law and her duties in providing health care to a part-time employee, violating ordinances;
• That she willfully violated provisions of the charter requiring her to enforce ordinances on paying members of the New England Police Benevolent Association Local 808 the raises they were entitled to based on the contract approved by the council;
• That she violated the charter and ordinances after the council passes a series of resolutions seeking to get long-awaited improvements made to the Albert G. Brien Memorial Animal Shelter;
• That she committed a willful violation in not meeting deadlines for a request for proposals to make necessary improvements to the shelter after it was found that animals were being housed in Lincoln;
• And that she committed a violation by not submitting a request for proposals for a contract to install new skatepark equipment and landscaping.
“Despite having received a clear, unambiguous warning via a formal censure issued in (September 2021), Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt has continued her pattern of misconduct via willful violations of the charter and failing to enforce and willfully violating city ordinances in a regular effort to circumvent the City Council, the city charter and city ordinances,” concludes the complaint. “Her actions demonstrate a prolonged and ongoing contempt for our form of government that, via our city charter, calls for consensus, collaboration and respect between and amongst all elected officials of the city. Her disdain for the city charter and City Council’s role in government is palpable. It has shown no signs of abating and it is without question a detriment to the city and an injury to public service. For these reasons and more, the mayor should be removed from office pursuant to … the Woonsocket home rule charter.”
The city solicitor previously ruled that the council has the power to remove the mayor from office by a simple majority if, after a hearing where the mayor presents a defense with the aid of an attorney, the council judges that she violated provisions of the charter.
Baldelli-Hunt said she fully expects the council to move forward with this process because members are desperate.
Sierra said Tuesday that a hearing has to be held within 10 days of the filing, with both sides retaining representation. Woonsocket’s charter is easily the most powerful charter in the state, she said. She declined to comment extensively due to this being a legal matter, but said the information about the mayor’s actions should be presented to the full council and the people of the city for their review.
Baldelli-Hunt declined to discuss specific accusations, saying she hadn’t read the complaint yet, but called the complaint “ridiculous” and a waste of taxpayer money. She said she would put her record up against anyone’s, and that record would be even better if this council would stop blocking such positive initiatives as bringing in a new supermarket to the city or developing the new recreation complex.
“The bottom line is this is just another attempt to smear me and administration, and a last-ditch action by Denise Sierra, who I can’t even tell you what she’s brought to the city,” she said. Sierra took $54,000 in pay, she said, while voting against allowing food trucks to come in, against purchasing a blighted property, and against purchasing equipment for public works, all while “following along like a sheep and doing whatever she’s asked to do because of her disdain for me.”
“The five of them, the disdain oozes out of their pores,” she said.
Council President Daniel Gendron could not immediately be reached for comment this week.
Council Vice President John Ward noted that a number of the issues discussed in the complaint have been dealt with before, with the only new item included being the complaint over the mayor not granting retroactive pay and other compensation based on the approved contract.
Asked specifically about the mayor suggesting that certain members be removed by voters, Ward said it doesn’t surprise him based on comments she’s made on local radio.
Conversely, he said, the complaint offers good evidence as to why, if she’s going to turn this into a campaign issue, it’s important to have people on the council will be “paying close attention to what takes place and protecting the city from actions taken without proper legal process, as seems to be occurring.”
Baldelli-Hunt said this council often likes to accuse her of creating a toxic work environment, but she constantly hears from people outside of Woonsocket how unprofessional they are.
“I am so pleased that Denise Sierra did not get her signatures in, because hopefully her seat will be taken by someone who wants to do the work of the people,” she said.
Baldelli-Hunt said she will hire her own legal counsel, exactly as the solicitor said needed to happen.
“Let Denise pay for it,” she said of the legal proceedings.
In Woonsocket’s last nonpartisan election, said Baldelli-Hunt, residents spoke when they gave her 7,000 votes, 2,000 more than the top vote-getter on the council.
“The people spoke, they want me to lead,” she said. “What they don’t want is obstruction from these councilors any longer. They know some of them their time is coming to an end. If they replace at least some of the five, they will see projects move forward that have been stuck in neutral for a long time. Help me in replacing them with people who want to do the work of residents and taxpayers.”