On stimulus fund, Baldelli-Hunt says Ward wants control



He warns she could be fired for breaking the law

WOONSOCKET – Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt accuses Councilor John Ward of making an unauthorized takeover by trying to give council its final approval on spending federal stimulus funds.

Ward’s approach, “whatever the subject,” is that he “must have control over everything,” she said. “It’s his nature, his DNA, to be a controlling person,” she said. “He is using the ordinances route to try to declare that they are in control.”

Ward responded this week that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the legal opinion of city attorney John DeSimone that the council should have final approval for the use of the $ 36.4 million. Woonsocket’s dollars in American Rescue Plan Act funds speaks for itself, and has “nothing to do with wanting to control everything.” If that was the case, he said, he wouldn’t have such broad support from the rest of the board.

If Baldelli-Hunt continues his momentum, refusing to recognize an order from legal counsel even after obtaining a second legal opinion affirming what DeSimone said, it is possible that a council member would table a resolution for his removal for a ” willful violation of the city ordinance or the charter, ”Ward said.

“I don’t want to handle it that way,” he said, saying such a process would be messy and unnecessary “for something that I don’t think should be a problem.”

The mayor said she is not seeking to exclude anyone from the process and continues to welcome comments from council and the public after investigating the city’s website into the use of the funds.

“I think it is important that there is a contribution regarding these funds,” she said, adding that she had told board members that she would meet with them to share their ideas.

Baldelli-Hunt said DeSimone missed the mark in his legal opinion “because he can count and the council has a stronghold of five votes, and if his opinion doesn’t tilt that way,” they can dismiss him.

The mayor said her name is the only name on the bid for federal funds and that she will not allow another agency to tell her what to do. No one will intimidate her and no one will intimidate her, she said, adding that she has always done what was in the best interest of the city and its taxpayers, by not allowing politics to enter the mixture. She said it is “extremely important” to get feedback from the community.

The council can submit legislation to remove DeSimone, requiring five votes to do so, noted Baldelli-Hunt.

“It is a terrible situation for a lawyer,” she said, adding that the law giving the council this authority is not the right one for this reason.

Ward responded that Baldelli-Hunt is appointing the lawyer and that he does not understand why the council would withdraw him just for giving an opinion that does not support the council or the mayor, but respects the law.

Ward said he was encouraging Baldelli-Hunt to hire another lawyer “as quickly as possible to sort this out.” He said he had no fear that a lawyer might find something different from what the lawyer found.

In its July 28 legal opinion, DeSimone determined:

• That the mayor is obligated to comply with council orders relating to block grants for community development and American Rescue Plan Act funds. There is no provision in federal or state law or guidelines that contradict the orders or prevent required compliance, he said.

• That the mayor signing the CDBG program application each year, representing a five-year contract with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, constitute a multi-year contract and require council approval as outlined in the charter. Such contracts over $ 100,000 may only be awarded after approval by resolution of the council.

• And that any contract entered into by the city for more than $ 100,000, or for a term of more than one year, requires the approval of the city council, regardless of the source of funding.

Under the charter, noted DeSimone, “the city’s lawyer will decide all questions and controversies relating to the legal interpretation of all laws and ordinances affecting the city as well as the city’s charter and the division of powers. and duties created or involved here.

The city’s rules are pretty straightforward, Baldelli-Hunt said. The council, regardless of the mayor, has basic authority over the municipal budget, retaining the ability to reduce money once the administration presents the budget. If there is a request for a state or federal grant and no matching funds are needed to be budgeted, she said, the council has no authority.

If the charter says something, it will say it, she said, and if it does not say it, it is not a mandate.

“It doesn’t say anything about the federal government’s cash flow,” she said.

Ward is now “warm on this subject,” she said, after years of receiving grants from the EPA, DEM, DOJ and others, “but because he this is a unique situation, he wants to take control. funds.

Ward says he’s unsure how the mayor thinks she can just spend the money however she sees fit after council passes ordinances requiring their monitoring of ARPA and CDBG funds. He and councilor Jim Cournoyer have provided information on dozens of communities across the country, including Providence, where the council has oversight, he said.

“It’s a common practice. It’s not universal, but it’s common practice, ”he said, including a common practice in the past on CDBG funds at Woonsocket.

“Only this mayor got the council out,” he said.

Ordinances previously passed by council require not only final council approval, but also monthly spending status updates, he said. He said there is flexibility, as the board can approve individual items as a spending plan changes over time.

“I don’t see it as having to be all or nothing,” he said.

If the mayor wants to develop his mini-parks in Fairmount to provide more recreational space, and council thinks this is meaningful and can put a price on it, then members would approve the spending, Ward said.

Baldelli-Hunt said if something were to go wrong with a board-controlled bid for the funds, Ward would be the first person to point out that it’s his name on it.

“If something goes wrong he will hide in his basement cupboard” saying “not me, she signed it,” she said. “I will respect the law. “

She gave as an example a situation where advisers could say, under their order, to buy four new police cars that are not ARPA-eligible.

“I will not follow the dictatorial ordinance they adopted,” she said.

Baldelli-Hunt acknowledged that there was a time when CDBG’s spending plans were presented to the board for consideration as a whole and that the board would pass a resolution supporting disbursements, but with the “control factor” now on the table. advice, it cannot members risk making changes when “restrictions are severe”, compromising them. She said she wanted everyone’s input, but if “I start allowing people like John Ward to tinker,” the city could be in trouble. She said she was not afraid of a document indicating where funds should be distributed to the public at a board meeting or any other forum, “we just can’t start to make a difference.”

Baldelli-Hunt said she would follow federal law, noting that there is a difference between rights communities such as Woonsocket, which receive formula-based grants, and others. Jurisdiction in a community of law rests with the highest office of that community, she said.

She said there had been rights communities that had started the council approval process, but elected leaders in many of these towns were “trading horses and playing politics” with the expenses. , which she refuses to do.

Ward said the large and small communities he has found that require council approval, including Providence, are communities of law. He said he hopes the mayor will get a lawyer who will tell him that what is being done across the country is both legal and appropriate and does not violate federal regulations.

As for the next step, he said, “let’s just say that I hope she doesn’t go down that road.”

Baldelli-Hunt said she hopes to have a list of finalized projects for federal funds later this month.

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