WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The Woonsocket City Council met for the first time following the sudden resignation of former Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt earlier this month.
Baldelli-Hunt, who had been in office for a decade, attributed her abrupt resignation to health concerns that have impacted her ability “to continue to move the city forward.”
Her decision came days after Target 12 first revealed a controversial land deal that she struck with a former business associate.
Though she wasn’t in the room, the worsening scandal and her sudden resignation were top of mind for those who attended Monday night’s meeting.
“I’m hopeful there’s a new era in the city … of progress and policy over politics,” said Rep. Jon Brien, who’s also a former city councilor.
Dan Gendron, who temporarily served as the city’s acting mayor when Baldelli-Hunt was ousted from office last year, told the council her departure should be looked as as a “great opportunity.”
“But with great opportunity comes great responsibility,” he warned.
Baldelli-Hunt was removed from office last year after a councilor claimed she wasn’t performing her duties as mayor by refusing to enforce ordinances and measures passed by the city council. She ran unopposed in the mayoral election and regained her seat a few weeks later.
“This mayor has had a history of not working together and collaboratively with the city council,” noted James Cournoyer. “You guys just got a dose of it with this secret land deal.”
Woonsocket City Council President Christopher Beauchamp was sworn in as mayor shortly after Baldelli-Hunt stepped down. Beauchamp will stay in office until the next regularly scheduled mayoral election takes place in November 2024.
Following Beauchamp’s elevation to mayor, the Woonsocket City Council selected John Ward to take his place.
Ward assured the former councilors that, while the investigation into the land deal is ongoing, the council is limited in its abilities.
“It is not for us to decide about charging someone criminally,” he explained. “Our job is to collect information and make sure our citizens are fully informed.”
Ward is also mulling whether changes should be made to the city charter, which was a point of contention throughout Baldelli-Hunt’s tenure.
He is seeking to create a Charter Review Commission, which is required every 10 years. The commission would be tasked with examining the city charter and recommending potential changes.
Ward is advocating for a special mayoral election in the event of a vacancy, rather than requiring the council president to step in and finish the remainder of the term.
Those proposed changes must go before voters before taking effect, however, meaning the earliest the charter can be formally revised is after the November 2024 election.