Baldelli-Hunt facing questions over police assignment

Baldelli-Hunt facing questions over police assignment

WOONSOCKET – Does the mayor of the city need a uniformed officer accompanying her to local and statewide events, and if so, who should foot the bill?

That’s the question a political rival is asking Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt over the role of a member of the Woonsocket Police Department who serves part-time at City Hall.

The officer in question is Lt. Edward Doura, a longtime city police officer who currently serves as supervisor of the department’s day platoon. In addition to his day platoon duties, Doura is often seen at city events alongside Baldelli-Hunt, sometimes taking or participating in photo opportunities that later appear on social media.

That dual role is raising questions from Jon Brien, a member of the City Council who’s running against Baldelli-Hunt for mayor. Brien first raised the issue during a work session about public safety in February and again in an email to city officials last week.

The issue, according to Brien, comes down to the misuse of taxpayer funds. While Public Safety Director Eugene Jalette said during the February meeting the assignment was for security purposes and to answer questions from residents who might come into City Hall asking about police matters, Brien claims otherwise, pointing out that Doura often accompanies the mayor to events around the city and state.

In recent months, those events have included ribbon cuttings for new businesses and the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns annual convention on Feb. 6, an event for which Doura put in for seven hours of overtime.

Brien also contested Jalette’s explanation that Doura’s role was part of a “community policing” approach, describing him instead as a personal security officer and chauffeur. Doura, he pointed out, is one of two police officers assigned to City Hall.

“It’s ridiculous. First of all, it’s a misuse of public safety and second of all, here’s my question. Is the mayor of Woonsocket such a high value target that she needs constant protection from the people that employ her? And the answer is no,” he told The Breeze.

Brien has also accused Doura of taking photos of Baldelli-Hunt during city events and posting them to the mayor’s personal Facebook page, an act he said amounts to serving as an unofficial campaign manager.

“They’re running this campaign out of City Hall on the taxpayers’ money, and that’s a problem. And that should be a problem for everybody,” he said.

Both Baldelli-Hunt and Jalette when reached for comment portrayed the complaints as coming from a disgruntled political rival rather than legitimate concerns.

“While I am busy leading a city, Jon Brien continues to do what he does best causing trouble for our city,” Baldelli-Hunt said in an email.

Jalette added that the responsibility for all law enforcement decisions, including the mayor’s safety, lie with him and the chief of police. Those decisions, he said, will continue to be made without interference from others.

“Jon Brien clearly is looking for political headlines. If he wasn’t, he would have picked up the telephone and called me, as he has done many times before when looking for answers to his questions or an issue to be addressed. This behavior by Jon is unprofessional and undiplomatic,” he said.

The debate offers a look ahead at the fierce rivalry that will likely be on full display during the upcoming election season. Once political allies who served in the General Assembly together, Brien and Baldelli-Hunt have since found themselves on opposite sides of a rift among city politicians and often butt heads on matters of policy and public relations.

In a statement to The Breeze, Jalette said the taking of photos by city employees during events is part of a “community-based approach.”

“The administration encourages its employees to be involved within the community, and sharing of photos of progress is encouraged by any and all staff,” he said.

He also addressed questions about Doura’s participation in the League of Cities and Towns convention, saying overtime at the department is by seniority and that he personally oversees overtime decisions, taking into account the benefits and ramifications to taxpayers.

Jalette confirmed that a second police officer has been assigned to City Hall to serve as a security person/liaison, a position that also handles VIN checks and parking issues related to Main Street.

“As long as I am charged with the duties of the public safety director, I will continue to work on behalf of our citizens and pray that we can move on and handle government business in a professional manner,” he said.

The Valley Breeze also reached out to Police Chief Thomas Oates, who declined to comment and referred all questions on the matter to Jalette.

Doura did not respond to a request for comment.

Comments

Woonsocket would have benefited more from an extra officer on the street during this last month of nightly fireworks making neighborhoods sound like a warzone depriving residents of sleep... :(

I'm not sure that Woonsocket is best served by assigning two officers to City Hall. Would the citizens be better served by having these officers on the street, protecting life and ensuring peace? We used to see officers walking the beat, but it appears they have the staffing to pay a lieutenant to take pictures of the mayor, but not the staffing to have an officer interacting with the people.

She is the mayor of a small city in the smallest state. Does she REALLY need a uniformed officer as a driver and escort to local and state activities? Can she not drive herself? Here's another question - when Lt. Doura is out of the station with the mayor, is someone filling his role? Are they also getting paid extra or overtime for filling in on his duties? This is an absurd waste of taxpayer money.