She wasn’t charged with any crime or ethics violation and there was no hint of corruption. She just had long-time disagreements, often and not too softly, with the majority of the city’s legislative body.
But with just a month before her uncontested re-election bid, using an archaic provision in its city charter, the Woonsocket City Council over two nights “tried” her and with a 3-2 vote and a couple cute recusals at 1:30 a.m., threw the 10-year veteran mayor out.
Lisa Baldelli-Hunt unceremoniously grabbed her stuff and left the next day. But there’s no need to unpack. She’ll be back sworn into office again on Dec. 6.
It’s not my beat, so I’ll skip the acrimonious details. Suffice to say, I cut my professional teeth on a New Jersey circuit of municipal and county government some four decades ago and it was there I learned that in each jurisdiction there are serious and silly soap operas and a cast of elected and appointed characters to fill the roles.
But this is a horror show.
City Councilor Denise Sierra “worked all summer” to craft nine charges against the mayor, and the case was off and running. Expensive prosecution and defense lawyers, examination and cross of witnesses, an extra paid lawyer to advise the chairperson, who is the council president and just happens to be the heir to the throne.
In the end, they voted no on five counts and yes on four, with the police contract saga the most compelling.
It is standard procedure in municipal government that the executive branch, the mayor, is responsible for negotiating terms of all employees’ contracts and that the legislative branch, the council, ratifies.
In an unprecedented circus move, the council swooped in and without a formal vote crafted its own agreement with the police union, reportedly after three years of prolonged negotiations chiefly led by the city solicitor, who by charter reports to the mayor but whose compensation is controlled by the council.
Baldelli-Hunt refused to acknowledge the contract, claiming that it was illegal and sets bad precedent for the security of mayoral authority. She wouldn’t process the pay increases that came from the pact, while arguing that the agreement she intended to negotiate would actually put more money into the cops’ wallets.
The council could have sought outside mediation from a state agency or the courts. Likely not confident of success that way, they ran a trial against the mayor with a perverted stacked deck. Prosecutor, judge and jury all from their own body.
Rhode Island ACLU Executive Director Steven Brown even felt compelled to weigh in on the weird charter language, asking the council to first, in essence, revise its business model to meet basic democratic standards.
There was of course another civilized option entirely. They could have raised a candidate to run against the mayor.
Instead, this third-world act will cost the taxpayers a likely six-figure bill for the satisfaction of benching her for eight weeks.
Baldelli-Hunt is now using these remaining weeks before the election to go door to door telling her story with her own slate of council candidates in tow.
Notwithstanding the overall other important issues that drive every local election, the people should weigh the severity of this dastardly government act and make a wholesale change, by legitimate means, with their vote.
For this unconscionable political behavior, Councilors Gendron, Cournoyer, Jalette, and Ward are the running bums to rightly throw out.
Dan Yorke is the PM Drive Host on 99.7/AM 630 WPRO, Dan Yorke State of Mind weekends on Fox Providence/WPRI 12 and owns communications/crisis consulting firm DYCOMM LLC.
Ward and Cournoyer, was the contract reviewed and approved for funding by the finance department, or the finance director as required by the charter?
No, it wasn’t. Without this, the city council broke charter by ratifying this contract.
Good try, but you got it backwards.
It is the duty of the Deputy Finance Director to "examine all contracts, purchase orders and other documents which involve financial obligations against the city, and approve the same only upon ascertaining that monies have been appropriated and allotted, and that an unexpended and unencumbered balance is available in such appropriations and allotment to meet the same."
The deputy Finance Director refused to perform her charter mandated obligation prior to the ratification of the contract. So, by your referring to the charter, the Deputy Finance Director should be removed from her position for her willful violation of the city charter.
And a second note, when she finally di prepare her fiscal impact report, it was wrong, and this was not the first time such was the case. So, if you insist on a strict interpretation of the charter, one must assume you want to see the Deputy Finance Director removed, no?
Mr Ward, my respect for you is much greater than what I have for the rest of the council. I know the charter. Unfortunately there is serious disagreement between the council and the mayors office. I honestly hope some truce can be made after the Mayor is sworn into office again.
Methods need to be sought to manage disagreements. The power to remove the mayor is too great a power.
I understand for the most part the charter was followed in the process.
Typically a recall election would be appropriate and I hope it would be part of the next charter reviewed.
If anyone is paying attention, how would it be possible to vote for Cournoyer and Hunt on the upcoming ballot? Seems it needs to be one or the other.
Even with your vote to oust the mayor, I hold you in high regard.
I’ve never heard you use inflammatory language.
Never harass fellow council members.
Never sexist, never demeaning.
You comport yourself in a professional manner and I admire you.
Mr. Cournoyer needs to go. It has been 100% clear that he had no way to be objective.
Mediation or court orders may have been a better way to resolve this disagreement of procedure.
Gonsalves has trouble creating a sentence.
Jalette is comatose.
Cournoyer is a crass, unprofessional bully.
Mr. Ward, once again you will probably have my vote.
If you're looking for a tax increase, Ward's your man. He's proven that over and over again.
Lowering them? Unthinkable for this man. Just ask the multi-family suckers that got slammed by him again.
We don't need mediation or courts. We simply need a mayor who follows the Charter pursuant to their oath.
The seven member elected City Council voted unanimously every step of the way on the police contract, including when they formally ratified it on July 25th following a public hearing.
Pursuant to the City Charter, "The city solicitor shall decide all questions and controversies relative to the legal construction of any and all laws and ordinances affecting the city as well as the city charter and the division of powers and duties created or implied therein."
What that means is that the Solicitor, the individual with the law degree and the license to practice law - not the Mayor, not Jim Cournoyer, not Dan Yorke - decides and determines if a contract is legal.
The City Charter is clear. The mayor has a duty to: “see that all terms and conditions imposed in favor of the city in any contract or franchise are faithfully kept and performed”. It does not say her duty is to "negotiate" a contract.
The former mayor refused to faithfully keep and perform the legal contract between the City and the Police that was unanimously passed by the elected City Council. For that, and more, she was appropriately removed.
The City Charter is not the problem. The problem is a mayor who regularly thumbs her nose at the Charter, Ordinances and the other elected officials in the City. Her removal was self-inflicted and completely avoidable had she simply done her job as clearly prescribed by the Charter and worked collaboratively with the other elected officials in the City.
Regarding your prior comments about the contract not being reviewed by the Finance Dept. Presumably you now understand and know what really happened?
Sorry you consider it "crass" to actually tell the truth.
I tried not to mention your crass comments on the radio.
You like facts?
Does the former mayor have a daughter?
You previously indicated that you try to be impartial.
Unfortunately, you are basing your comments on testimony you heard at the removal hearing. But what you heard were simply LIES.
The Deputy Finance Director testified that she was not provided a copy of the contracts prior to ratification. That was an absolute lie, under oath. She was indeed provided a copy of the contracts on July 6 and was requested to prepare a financial impact analysis. She outright refused. So the Council prepared it - as they are allowed to pursuant to RI General Law. Moreover, she received a copy of the contracts prior to the July 25th Public Hearing in the normal course of the posting of the agenda and docket for the meeting.
She LIED. That is not an empty assertion. It is a verifiable fact, supported by documentary evidence.
Regarding her "October suprise" (i.e. her financial impact analyis wherein she said we'd have a deficit that she never shared with the Council), she was dead wrong - by a lot. It is not the first time she has been wrong, if you actually paid attention.
Credibility matters too. Unfortunately for you, this latest tax fiasco has you bruised and battered. Many people just don't find you believable.
Mr. Yorke, with all due respect, prior to writing your article, did you read/refer to the Woonsocket City Charter, especially those areas which relate to the City Hearing's nine (9) charges? When sworn in, the City Officials [mayor & councilors] take an “Oath” to obey and abide by the Charter requirements.
The time-frame of “just one month before the uncontested re-election bid” had absolutely no bearing on the process. Also, your lack of respect for our City's Charter process by describing it as an “archaic provision” was disrespectful on your part. The mayor had been previously Censured, i. e., she was given a warning, prior to the filing of the Hearing charges, but did not abide by that warning. She continued to maintain the same position regarding her negative activities because she believes in the “Rules for thee and not for me” motto. I guess some officials forget that they work for the people and not the other way around.
You also commented on the City Council's taking two nights to find her guilty and to throw a 10-year veteran mayor out. The mayor's 10-year service has absolutely no bearing on whether it should have affected the 3 to 2 vote results, i. e., in favor of finding her guilty of not abiding the Oath she took when being sworn into office. Of nine (9) charges, she was found guilty of four (4). I also find your comment of “a couple of cute recusals” to be demeaning to the Councilors.
You are correct in your findings that “...in each jurisdiction there are serious and silly soap operas and a cast of elected and appointed characters to fill the roles.” In my Letter to the Editor this week, I wrote... “Public discussions of reform are typically colored only by the latest scandal or political campaign. Reform efforts are best viewed as emotional and reflexive responses to current events, rather than as well-considered policies informed by solid evidence. Arguments for reform appeal to emotion.” I believe that your article is “typically colored by the latest Woonsocket scandal and political campaign”. Your words also reflect “emotional and reflexive responses to current events, rather than as well-considered policies informed by solid evidence.” Yes, you're also correct in that in each jurisdiction there are serious and silly soap operas and a cast of elected and appointed characters to fill the roles because this is exactly what has occurred in our City. Some people have elected to make it a “horror show” vs. accepting the Truth of the matter. I wonder who that could be?
Mr. Yorke, Ms. Sierra's having “worked all summer” to prepare [not craft] the nine (9) charges against the mayor proves just how serious this matter was. The case was not just “off and running”. The mayor had been given a previous warning [Censorship], which she completely disregarded. Regarding the Hearing's expenses, as you already know, the related expenses were needed to follow a proper process. The people who testified also took an “oath”, but it appears that a couple of them committed perjury. If one speaks the Truth, no perjury is involved!
You described the police contract as a saga and to be the most compelling count. Another description for the word, “saga” is “heroic tale”! The police officers had not received an increase since Year 2019 and some people are complaining about the anticipated costs of their contract up to Year 2023. Well, had the contract been signed and approved, as needed, this topic would be mute! Plus, couldn't the contract delay be viewed by some as a sort of having “defunded the police”? The Police Department's staff is usually about 101 vs. their present staff of 80+ police officers. Enough said.
You offered your views regarding the contract negotiating process, the standard procedure in municipal government, etc... However, at the last Council meeting [10/17/22], Atty. DeSimone, Woonsocket's City Solicitor, clearly defined and explained the City's contracts' negotiating and ratifying processes.
You described the agreement with the police union as an “unprecedented circus move”. Mr. Yorke, did you directly speak to any of the Councilors or the City Solicitor regarding the comments you made in your article? In other words, did you get your “facts” before writing your article?
The ex-mayor's comments regarding the Police contract's processes were proven to be false at the 2/17/22 City Council meeting. She inappropriately used her “mayoral authority”, as proven by her not abiding by the City's Charter.
You also wrote that the Council “ran a trial against the mayor with a perverted stacked deck”. The “deck” was stacked all right...it was stacked with the Truth, as described in the Charter.
When I hear that the Councilors “could have raised a candidate to run against the mayor.” That is just a deflection against the evidence itself. What does one have to do with the other? Stick to the point! It's plain and simple...the mayor did not abide by her “mayoral oath”!
You also wrote that the mayor will be “benched for eight weeks”. Although it's not considered much time in politics, it will be very interesting to see what “Acting Mayor Gendron” will accomplish in that eight-week period!
You wrote... “the people should weigh the severity of this dastardly government act and make a wholesale change, by legitimate means, with their vote.” Well, let's hope that Woonsocket's citizens will “weigh the severity” regarding those who may choose to not abide by their “oaths”, and instead, use a “Rules for thee and not for me” concept as the mayor did while in office,
Mr. Yorke, you accused “Councilman Gendron, Cournoyer, Jalette and Ward” of being “running bums”. Your brutal words leave a lot to be desired. They also represent how you would have served, as a Councilman, i. e., the City's Charter would have been completely disregarded! Amen!
Pauline Demers, thank you for your very well written response to Dan's diatribe. Your letter is well written, well researched and very clear on the process of following the charter, rather than spewing from emotion. Dan, this is what news reporters USED to do, report the news. Yes, I realize you are a columnist, but it really would make your column that much stronger if you followed the facts rather than shoot from the hip.
Pauline is still mad Trump lost and like those unhinged councilors are taking it out in Ms Baldelli Hunt. Sad.
Oh! Derrick L.....please "get a life"! No doubt, you're a "FAR LEFT" person because when your group has no "concrete" proof, it ATTACKS Trump. Enough said. "Hold onto your hat" because he and his supporters are coming slowly coming back----beginning on November 8th! AMEN!
Case in point.
I agree with Dan for once.
Without fail, every time Woonsocket City Council is criticized, Ward and Cournoyer respond with the same whiny narrative. Everyone is wrong. Nothing is ever their fault but they'll go on word salad rants taken right from 45's "deflect and project onto anyone but me" playbook.
Uhm ... Yea,
You must be Dan Yorke kind of person - that is, you struggle accepting basic FACTS.
No word salads. No deflection. Just facts and the truth, something you, the former mayor and your ilk struggle with.
While I do believe the former mayor is terrible, I believe even more that you and every other good old boy or girl needs to go. As I've said to you many times, it's glaringly obvious how the same last names in positions of power have been wrecking Woonsocket for as far back as I can remember. Personally, I also find you to be a condescending, major narcissist but who cares what I think? You've probably got nothing to worry about, voters in Woonsocket are so apathetic they'll never vote you and all your cronies out. Carry on wrecking your town.
Like Dan Yorke, you are woefully uninformed and misinformed. Woonsocket is a City, not a Town.
It was incorporated nearly 135 years ago. I have been on the Council less than 6 years. I guess your feeble memory only goes that far back?
Carry on with your anonymous posts.
No Jimmy, you're just upset that you went on Dan's talk show and got pretty much laughed off because you can't rise to the level of your elected position. Stick to WNRI, it seems like they don't hold you accountable for your antics.
Dan Yorke once again proves his utter ignorance.
He wrote: In an unprecedented circus move, the council swooped in and WITHOUT A FORMAL VOTE crafted its own agreement with the police union.
Wrong again, Dan.
The contract that was presented to the Police Union was voted on several times by the City Council, including its ratification vote on July 25th after a Public Hearing. And every step of the way, the contract was approved UNANIMOUSLY by the 7 member Council.
The only individual who had a problem with it was the former mayor, who had proven wholly incapable of getting a contract done.
Dan, stop embarrassing yourself with your usual uninformed and misinformed bloviating.
Woonsocket is and always has been a stain upon RI. That is all.
There WAS a public trial and it took place over two nights. Evidence was presented by both sides and town councilors then voted their conscience. And, the former mayor was charged with violations of the charter, but Mr. Yorke glossed over that fact. It’s knee-slapping humorous to read that the ACLU director weighed in on this situation; I’d be happy to hear what “weird charter” language he decrees to run afoul of civil liberties. There is a process in place to revise charters and Mr. Brown’s opinions is not one of these processes. Lastly, Mr. Yorke exposes his political biases when, first he states “I’ll skip the acrimonious details” but later states that certain councilors are “bums.” He does exactly what he claims they did – engaged in political theater.
He also disregards the law and prefers that government is run by tradition, as he sees it. "It is standard procedure in municipal government that the executive branch, the mayor, is responsible for negotiating terms of all employees’ contracts..." I prefer to operate within the law, contrary to the testimony given by Lisa Baldelli-Hunt who testified under oath that she will ignore the law if she thinks it is wrong, despite the formal opinion of the city solicitor.
What? Do you work for the Police union now? You work for the taxpayers, not the unions. The raises you gave them is like spitting in the face of taxpayers.
Councilman Ward, was this contract reviewed and approved by the finance director prior to ratification?
It’s imperative that the Mayor follows the charter. The council should be required to do so as well.
msoucy...Good try, but you got it backwards. It is the duty of the Deputy Finance Director to "examine all contracts, purchase orders and other documents which involve financial obligations against the city, and approve the same only upon ascertaining that monies have been appropriated and allotted, and that an unexpended and unencumbered balance is available in such appropriations and allotment to meet the same." The deputy Finance Director refused to perform her charter mandated obligation prior to the ratification of the contract. So, by your referring to the charter, the Deputy Finance Director should be removed from her position for her willful violation of the city charter. And a second note, when she finally di prepare her fiscal impact report, it was wrong, and this was not the first time such was the case. So, if you insist on a strict interpretation of the charter, one must assume you want to see the Deputy Finance Director removed, no?
Welcome to the discussion.
Comments that will be deleted include:
What we at The Breeze would truly like to see are comments that add history and context to a story or that use criticism constructively.