PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As Lisa Baldelli-Hunt faced the Woonsocket City Council for a special hearing that ultimately led to her being removed from the city’s top seat, behind her sat a handful of mayors from other Rhode Island cities, including Warwick, North Providence and Cranston, all of whom were there to support her.
Now, they’re raising concerns with those proceedings.
“It’s a laughing stock,” North Providence Mayor Charlie Lombardi told 12 News. “It was a great show, if you want to say great, but to me it was a show.”
Lombardi attended both of this week’s hearings and watched early Thursday morning as the council voted 3-2 to oust Baldelli-Hunt.
The council’s decision stems from a complaint submitted by Councilor Denise Sierra in September, in which she accused Baldelli-Hunt of repeatedly ignoring and refusing to enforce ordinances and measures passed by the city council.
“To me, and I’m not an elected official there, but I personally feel that the council has chosen to put this fire out with gas instead of water,” Lombardi said.
Lombardi said he respects the council, but questions why none of them chose to run against her, especially if this has been a longstanding issue.
“I’ll tell you this: the city charter in Woonsocket definitely needs a revision,” Lombardi said. “You can’t have it where one council person could draft a complaint, bring it to the council, the council votes to support that complaint, and now you can remove the mayor. That’s not good for the elected officials or for the taxpayers of that community.”
John Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, described the proceedings as unusual.
“Woonsocket allows the council to remove the mayor, which is unlike any of the other cities in Rhode Island,” he explained.
Marion said many Rhode Island cities have a recall process to remove an elected official, but that involves a petition and public vote.
“In this case, just a single councilor can make a motion to do this,” Marion said of Woonsocket’s system. “It triggers a hearing and a vote, and that’s a really low bar to basically overturn the results of an election.”
Marion also noted with a recall, there’s a blackout period in most cases when it comes to how close it can happen to an election.
“There is no blackout period here. We’re a little over a month before an election, in which the mayor is unopposed on the ballot,” Marion said. “It seems like a tremendous waste of resources given that she’s going to be back in office in a little over a month.”
The ACLU of Rhode Island sent a letter to the Woonsocket City Council, urging them to revise the charter provision that deals with removing an elected official from office, calling it a dangerous tool with “an extremely low threshold for overruling the will of the public determined through the elected process.”
“We encourage this action to ensure that the removal process is fair and will not be
misused,” the ACLU wrote.