Pavilion project prompts Woonsocket city councilors to censure mayor

Blackstone Valley

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The Woonsocket City Council voted 5-2 Monday night to censure Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt for violating the city’s Home Rule Charter, a move that lays the groundwork for a potential removal from office in the future.

“It’s really gotten to the point where we can’t take it any more,” Councilwoman Denise Sierra said. “There has to be consequences.”

At the center of the issue is a shade pavilion that the council approved to be built at the Woonsocket animal shelter on Cumberland Hill Road, which will cost $11,000 in taxpayer money.

But documents show the Baldelli-Hunt administration instead had the pavilion built at River’s Edge Park without council approval for the new location or funding for the project.

“It was an 11th hour decision, that was not brought before the city council, and it has to be, per our home rule charter,” Sierra said.

Sierra called the move a bait-and-switch.

“She has a duty to keep the council informed. Even though she is the CEO, she doesn’t get to arbitrarily make decisions on her own,” Sierra said. “It’s taxpayer money funding all these. She’s accountable.”

12 News reached out to Baldelli-Hunt regarding the censure, but a city spokesperson said she has no comment at this time.

Sierra, who’s in her third term on the council, tells 12 News there’s been ongoing friction between the city council and the mayor, who has been in office since 2013, over what she calls a lack of transparency or communication between the branches of government.

The pavilion, according to Sierra, is “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“We’ve pulled out every tool in our belt, every soft tool in our belt, the screw driver, the wrench,” Sierra said. “Eventually all the tools in your belt are gone, and all that’s left is the hammer. Who likes to swing a hammer? Not me, but if that’s the only tool in my belt, I’m going to use it, because that’s what I’ve been elected to do.”

Sierra brought the issue before the council back in August when she asked the city solicitor to look into whether they had legal ground to move towards removing the mayor from office over the pavilion issue.

The solicitor ruled the council “has the power to remove the mayor from office if, after submitting specific charges and holding a hearing in which the mayor is able to present a defense, with the aid of counsel, the council judges that the mayor violated provisions of the charter,” according to city documents.

The censure vote puts the mayor on notice, and if there are any further violations, Sierra said the next step would be impeachment.

“Obviously we wanted to give her ample notice, and one more shot across the bow, like ‘hey we really want to work with you, we want this to go away, but we can’t keep sitting in the same position we’ve been sitting in, and being ignored,'” Sierra said.

Baldelli-Hunt is up for re-election next year.

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