PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In an afternoon hearing inside R.I. Superior Court, the private attorney representing the Providence City Council argued for a judge to let him intervene in a 2021 tax deal he says was made without the council’s approval.
Attorney Max Wistow claims city officials — namely solicitor Jeff Dana — of knowingly breaking the law when the deal was struck as part of a court-ordered consent agreement in 2021. It effectively gave developer Arnold “Buff” Chace a 30-year tax break on 10 downtown properties in exchange for him making some units affordable under a state law known as “8 Law.”
Wistow spoke for an hour and a half in court on Wednesday, referencing arguments made in hundreds of pages of memos he’s submitted to the court since he was hired by the council back in August.
Wistow said that Dana’s actions deprived city councilors of their right to approve or reject the agreement that he says saved Chace, of Cornish Associates, more than $42 million.
The developer’s lawyers argued otherwise last month, saying in a memo the deal was known publicly “to all members” of the previous council.
Wistow explained at length the point of the hearing was to intervene, and he wasn’t asking the judge to vacate the consent order.
“We’re not asking you to determine who’s right and who’s wrong. We’re asking for an opportunity to show that we are right,” he said.
Wistow said if the judge allows him to intervene, he hopes to hold an evidentiary hearing.
“These were corrupt transactions,” Wistow added. “I believe everything I say is not only based on reasonable belief but overwhelming evidence that that’s the case.”
Mayor Brett Smiley was asked about the allegations during Wednesday’s during a live interview on 12 News at 4.
“It would alarm me if it’s true, but it’s not,” Smiley said.
“The tax agreement that was struck with this developer is legal. It was overseen by a court and approved by a court,” he added. “The current council seems to not like the deal.”
Smiley reiterated he was also “not wild about” the deal either and explained his administration was trying to renegotiate the deal with the developer and had brought forth a proposal to do so.
“The city council rejected that option, they’ve chosen to go to court, and now it’s going to play out through the legal system,” he added.
On Tuesday, a day prior to the hearing, the city filed a supplemental memo, signed by Dana and two assistant city solicitors, requesting the motion to intervene be denied.
“If the petitioner feels the need to bring suit against the city solicitor, intervention in this matter, which has been resolved for years, is not the process by which the council should proceed,” the memo stated. “Doing so would be a waste of municipal and judicial resources.”
Dana declined to comment to reporters at the end of Wednesday’s hearing since the matter is ongoing.
Patti Doyle, a spokesperson for Cornish Associates, told reporters in a statement that the real estate developer continues to “regret the actions of the city council” to try and reverse the 2021 consent order.
“We underscore again today that Cornish Associates participated in a highly transparent, legal process with the prior council and administration that was subsequently validated by a court order,” the statement continued.
The hearing was scheduled to continue on Friday afternoon, when the developer’s lawyer, Nick Hemond, will present their argument.