WARWICK, RI — Monday night, Mayor Joseph Solomon’s Chief of Staff Bill DePasquale ignored questions about whether Solomon would submit a city solicitor for city council review, then left council chambers when Council President Steve Merolla likened the administration’s disregard for the law as dictatorial.
The exchange began as the Warwick City Council discussed a tax abatement for property owned by Citizen’s Bank Monday night, where the city settled on an $18,000 abatement. The property was originally assessed at $3.6, but the assessment was instead set at $3 million, dropping the assessed bill, according to Councilman Ed Ladouceur, reporting on behalf of the Finance Committee. The Finance Committee had voted to settle at the $3 million without consulting a solicitor, he said.
Merolla noted that the settlement was decided based on a legal decision on what they could or could not approve, something the City Council would usually adjourn into executive session to discuss with the city solicitor, usually present for council meetings.. He called DePasquale to answer questions about whether the city had a city solicitor for them to consult.
DePasquale said the city has four city solicitors, one focusing on labor law, another two focusing on city boards and commissions, and a third working in the traffic court.
Merolla asked City Council’s counsel John Harrington to read the section of the charter regarding the city solicitor.
Harrington quoted from City Charter Sect. 8-4 Law Department, which states the solicitor is appointed by mayor with advice and consent of the council. Once the solicitor is appointed and approved, that solicitor has the authority to appoint additional solicitors as needed or hire a law firm.
“Ths council hasn’t approved any city solicitor,” Merolla pointed out.
“And whoever this city solicitor is, is the one who appoints the three ther people that you were talking about,” Merolla said, “So, I don’t understand how we don’t have a City Solicitor. I don’t understand how we can’t address our questions to a City Solicitor, and I don’t understand why, when we’re getting abatements, we’re not going into executive session so we can ask the City Solicitor for the City Solicitor’s designee why or why we shouldn’t follow that person’s advice,” Merolla said before asking DePasquale if the administration planned to follow the charter and submit a solicitor for the council’s approval.
DePasquale argued with Merolla for the next five minutes without ever directly answering Merolla’s question, coming close only near the end of the exchange:
“Mr Depasquale. It’s a simple question. Is this council going to ratify a City Solicitor for the City of Warwick in accordance with the City of Warwick charter or isn’t it?” Merolla asked.
“The Mayor is going to do what he feels best to run this great city,” DePasquale said.
Merolla continued to push DePasquale on whether the administration intended to follow the charter, and the implication of the executive office disregarding the law.
“Maybe we should just become a dictatorship, and we don’t have to follow the charter at all.”
“What are you suggesting? Are you suggesting the mayor, a dictatorship? Is that what you’re saying?” DePasquale said.
“Yeah, that’s what I just said,” Merolla replied.
“A dictatorship?” DePasquale asked again.
“Yeah. Because we’re not approving, and not following the charter,” Merolla said.
“You’re suggesting that Mayor Solomon is running a dictatorship? Is that what you’re doing?” DePasquale repeated.
“I just said, if we’re not going to follow it, that’s what it is,” Merolla said.
Depasquale turned from the podium and walked from the room.
Following is a transcript of the full conversation:
MEROLLA: “Is this Council going to get a city solicitor?”
DEPASQUALE: “We have solicitors working on behalf of the administration, and they’re doing a fine job,” DePasqale said.
MEROLLA: “That’s illegal.”
DEPASQUALE: “If I may finish. And if there’s any question by this honorable body and the president, there’s not an answer that goes unanswered. With the City Solicitors. Mayor Solomon has taken a different approach. He’s gotten the best people in each field to work on behalf of the citizens of the City of Warwick, not one generalist, that’s great at this, but really is not so great at this – the best of each part of law that’s being practiced in your honorable field. I would support him for doing that and I think you should, too.”
MEROLLA: Mr. DePasquale the charter of the City of Warwick requires this council to approve a city solicitor. I’m asking this administration to follow the law, and then have that person appoint whoever the mayor wants. And they could be great people. All I’m saying is, that the law is there and the charter is there for a reason. I don’t think that it’s a great idea to violate the charter because people think that they don’t need to follow it.
DEPASQUALE: “I don’t think that’s the case at all. The charter doesn’t preclude a special service from being rendered. The charter does not preclude the mayor of this fine city hiring a professional. You know that.
MEROLLA: “Bill, we take an oath of office, when we take these offices,”
DEPASQUALE: “As does the mayor,”
MEROLLA: “Right, to uphold the laws and constitution of Rhode Island,”
DEPASQUALE: “As does the mayor,”
MEROLLA: “The state of Rhode Island, The U.S. Constitution, and the charters.
DEPASQUALE: “I take issue with anything that says the mayor is not doing something in conformance with his oath of office.”
MEROLLA: “What I’m saying is…”
DEPASQUALE: “And I take issue with that, Mr. President.”
MEROLLA: “How do you take issue with not following the charter? I don’t get it.”
DEPASQUALE: “That’s not what you said.”
“You said the oath was being incorrectly followed, and I take issue with that.”
MEROLLA:I take issue with someone telling me, a chief of staff, telling me that we should ignore the charter of the City of Warwick.
DEPASQUALE: “You play it back. I did not say that on this floor. You play it back. I did not say that. You will not put words in my mouth.”
MEROLLA: “My question to you was, are we going to follow the charter, and you went off on a dialogue.
DEPASQUALE: “I didn’t go off on a dialogue. I answered the question.”
MEROLLA: “About how wonderful, and how you support the mayor…
DEPASQUALE: “We have city solicitors that are answering the questions of this honorable body.”
MEROLLA: “Mr Depasquale. It’s a simple question. Is this council going to ratify a City Solicitor for the City of Warwick in accordance with the City of Warwick charter or isn’t it?
DEPASQUALE: “The Mayor is going to do what he feels best to run this great city.”
“And if it means getting the best attorneys to fight on behalf of the people, that’s what he’s going to do. No more middling. We’re not settling anymore. We’re going to get the best of the best. We’re criticized for not. We’re going to get the best of the best and we’re going to continue doing what he feels is best for this great city. I don’t know how else I should answer that, Mr. President, but I’m very curious as to the line of questioning, relative to the topic that’s on the agenda right now.
MEROLLA: “We don’t have a city solicitor to provide us answers. Mr. DePasquale, that’s how we got on the subject.
DEPASQUALE: “If you have a question,”
MEROLLA: “I just asked it,”
DEPASQUALE: “I stipulate that we have a city solicitor to answer the questions.”
MEROLLA: “I just asked my question.”
DEPASQUALE: “And I answered it.”
MEROLLA: “Yeah, we’re not going to follow the charter.”
DEPASQUALE: “I did not say that. Please do not put words in my mouth.”
MEROLLA: “Mr. DePasquale…”
DEPASQUALE: “Please don’t.”
MEROLLA: “I asked. Are we going to follow the charter? And you said, we’re going do whatever the mayor… it’s not a…”
DEPASQUALE: “You can ask the question 15 times if you’d like. In fact we’ve got a couple hours, maybe you can call the rule, you know, that you…
MEROLLA: “Maybe we should just become a dictatorship, and we don’t have to follow the charter at all.”
DEPASQUALE: “What are you suggesting? Are you suggesting the mayor, a dictatorship? Is that what you’re saying?
MEROLLA: “Yeah, that’s what I just said.”
DEPASQUALE: “A dictatorship?”
MEROLLA: “Yeah. Because we’re not approving, and not following the charter.”
DEPASQUALE: “You’re suggesting that Mayor Solomon is running a dictatorship? Is that what you’re doing?
MEROLLA: “I just said, if we’re not going to follow it, that’s what it is.”
DEPASQUALE: [Turns from the podium and walks from the room.]
MEROLLA: “Thank you Mr. DePasquale. You can walk away from the mic anytime you want.
Maybe we should get a list of the other provisions of the charter we’re not upholding. ‘Cause we only took an oath of office to uphold them.”