Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt was removed from her position by the City Council around 1:30 a.m. Thursday after a bizarre hearing that aired out some longstanding political grievances in Rhode Island’s sixth-largest city.
The removal will be short-lived.
Baldelli-Hunt, a Democrat, is running unopposed in the Nov. 8 general election, and will be sworn in as mayor again in early December. For the time being, City Council President Daniel Gendron will be the acting mayor.
City Councilwoman Denise Sierra filed a nine-count complaint against Baldelli-Hunt earlier this month accusing the mayor of willfully violating the city charter. Baldelli-Hunt wasn’t accused of any criminal activity, but the complaint claimed she wasn’t enforcing ordinances approved by the council or listening to the city solicitor.
Sierra had to recuse herself from the vote, but the council ultimately sustained four of the charges that:
- Baldelli-Hunt didn’t follow the federal Community Development Block Grant ordinance approved by the council.
- She didn’t listen to the solicitor.
- She paid stipends to certain city workers that weren’t approved by the council.
- She didn’t give the police pay raises the council approved.
The hearings, which aired live and at one point had nearly 1,000 viewers last night, were both thoroughly entertaining and painfully inside baseball. You can watch the seven-hour hearing from last night/this morning here.
The case was made extra juicy because lots of familiar names were involved.
The city solicitor is former House majority leader John DeSimone, a one-time Baldelli-Hunt ally (she appointed him) who the mayor claimed is too conflicted since he reports to both the mayor and the council.
Baldelli-Hunt also engaged former US attorney Robert Corrente to offer guidance on a number of issues, including a proposal to build a baseball stadium for an Atlantic League franchise in Woonsocket (that’s an independent professional league).
The mayor was represented at the council hearing by Michael Lepizzera and Anthony Traini, two of the most prominent defense attorneys in the state.
So what happens now?
Woonsocket’s removal/recall petition for politicians is a bit strange, especially since the council gets to function as the judicial branch even though one of its members filed the complaint and the president stands to benefit when a mayor is removed. It’s possible that Baldelli-Hunt could appeal the decision to an actual judge.
As mentioned above, Baldelli-Hunt is definitely going to be reelected next month. That raises the question about whether the council will attempt to again remove the mayor immediately after the voters returned her to City Hall.
This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.