City Council takes power to hire outside attorney

City Council takes power to hire outside attorney

WOONSOCKET – Saying they’re tired of the city administration acting without their knowledge or authority, members of the City Council have approved an ordinance requiring their approval for the hiring of an outside attorney.

The ordinance, passed for a second time on Monday, Jan. 8, notes that a legal opinion by former City Solicitor Joseph Carroll, issued in 2011, confirmed that by ordinance the City Council can place restrictions on the process of hiring such attorneys.

The City Council allocates funding for such expenses as part of the budget process each year, with the line item for outside legal counsel totaling $100,000 in 2017.

But citing a complaint filed in September on behalf of the city by Warwick-based Attorney Richard Sinapi regarding deed restrictions on Barry Field, council members said the legislation was needed to keep them informed of the administration’s actions.

“I think we all know why we’re doing it,” said Councilor James Cournoyer of the ordinance, noting that board members were not informed of the city’s intent to file the suit. “It’s not a reflection on the solicitor. It’s a reflection on the view that the majority of this council feels that there were actions taken and we were notified after the fact.”

The suit was filed against Woonsocket Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Society, the former owner of the field, a 22-acre lot deeded to the city in 1925 under the restriction that it be used for athletic fields, playgrounds or school buildings.

Currently, Woonsocket High School football, soccer and field hockey teams play home games at Barry Field, but the mayor has indicated that she hopes to sell the property in favor of building an athletic complex closer to the school itself on Cass Avenue.

But several councilors noted that they were never informed of the legal action, which was ultimately withdrawn after School Committee members said they never got the chance to weigh in on the idea.

“It happened in a vacuum. There was no discussion. I look at it, frankly, as a reflection on the administration,” said Cournoyer. “I’m not thrilled that we have to do this.”

The law limiting the administration’s power over outside hiring was sponsored by Councilor Richard Fagnant, and stipulates that no future payments will be made for such expenses without council approval.

When the ordinance was discussed at the council’s Dec. 18 meeting, Councilor Melissa Murray suggested adding an amendment requiring approval only for “any amount in excess of what has been approved in the current year’s budget.”

“Our solicitor has informed us that this ordinance will basically tie his hands and will make his job difficult,” said Murray. “As everyone knows, outside legal counsel is a budgeted line item that was approved by this body. We need to give our solicitor leverage to be able to make those decisions.”

The amendment did not gain traction with the majority of board members, who noted that the issue was not just about money.

“I don’t know that the intent is actually fiscal,” said Councilor Jon Brien, noting that for him it was about “what has occurred in terms of actions being taken without authorization by this body.”

Solicitor John DeSimone said he believes the ordinance conflicts with a provision in the charter, but ultimately lobbied for an exception to be added for cases in which the city is the defendant.

“Many times we get sued, and I’m going to hire an outside attorney to represent our interest in that,” said DeSimone, noting that the city has only 20 days to answer when a complaint is filed. “A lot of cases I handle, but some I may not handle.”

The solicitor’s proposed amendment was approved, and councilors voted 5-2 in favor of the legislation, confirming the vote at Monday’s meeting.

Comments

that the Mayor's refusal to openly communicate with entire City Council has to end up this way.

So the self proclaimed "Lone Ranger" proposes an Ordinance to make sure that every dollar spent by the Legal department is put before the "Fab 5" for approval? NICE, albeit a totally negative response from the city solicitor saying it would handcuff him on future legal matters that require a 20 day response time. Oh well, the “Fab 5” are now legal experts too I guess. Amazing!

This is all due to the fact that LBH was trying to do nothing more than to clear title to Barry Field for future development. That’s it, nothing more.

But gee, go figure, the current "Fab 5" gets their “feelings” hurt for being sidelined in nothing more than what amounts to a legal clearing of title on behalf of the City of Woonsocket.

Poor “Fab 5”, please, LBH is not putting Barry Field up for sale, LBH is not putting Barry Field up for lease, LBH is just trying to remove existing clouds on the title that would restrict the sale of Barry Field in the future. Again, that’s it, nothing more.

So, City Council, Jim, Richard, John, Denise, and Dan, once clear title is obtained, do you actually support the sale of Barry Field going forward to further economic development in the future or not?

This isn’t a hard question, Yes or No?

Inquiring minds and actual voters in Woonsocket want to know your stance?

You're still around? Heck, People thought you and Leo disappeared! It's amazing how the spotlight comes and goes huh? And how the 'passion' for the city and community involvement clearly comes and goes...

Ahhh....September can't come soon enough...