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Chariho budget vote exposes council rift

RICHMOND — Some members of the Richmond Town Council said they were surprised and angry to learn that after supporting a council resolution to support the 2014-15 Chariho school budget, Councilor Paul Michaud later sent a letter to residents urging them to reject it.

The $55 million spending plan was approved 912 to 622 by voters in a referendum on Tuesday. Richmond, with a vote of 294 to 315, was the only one of the three Chariho towns to vote against it.

Michaud, who is chairman of the Richmond Republican Town Committee, wrote a letter titled “Stop the Budget Games!” in which he urged voters to reject the budget because it did not include meaningful spending cuts to provide relief to overburdened taxpayers. The letter, signed by Michaud, was mailed to 1,000 residents a few days before the vote.

“The Superintendent and Chariho officials continue to ignore the will of the people for substantial meaningful cuts in the budget that do not sacrifice important school/student and teacher positions. It can be done!” the letter read.

“I was shocked to read the letter from Paul Michaud regarding the Chariho budget vote, especially since, at the Town Council meeting on March 18, he voted to approve the drafting of a resolution in support of the budget proposal and he never voiced an objection to the budget. Again, at the council meeting on April 1, there was never a mention of any issue with the budget,” council member Erick Davis said.

Town Council President B. Joseph Reddish called Michaud’s action “unprofessional.”

“I am pleased that overall the voters approved the budget. I was disappointed that one of our council members worked behind the scenes to derail the school budget. As a council, we openly discussed our concerns and feelings about the budget, and gave feedback to the school committee. As a council, we unanimously voted to present a resolution in support of the budget to the community. I found it unprofessional and deceitful to our community for a council member to then send a letter out urging non-support of the budget. It is my hope that in the future, we express our honest opinions with all the constituents in public session as opposed to how the recent action was facilitated,” he said.

Michaud said that after voting with the rest of the council to support the budget, he began to have second thoughts. He said felt he had been misinformed about the consequences of rejecting it.

“I was hearing out in the community about people being told there was going to be a $500,000 increase if we don’t vote ‘yes’ on this budget. I was led to believe that at the very beginning. After thinking about it, when I called my meeting with the [Republican] committee, I did a mea culpa. I voted for this as a Town Council member. I have to live with that. But as chairman of the Republican Town Committee, I don’t have to, because I wear two hats,” he said.

Michaud said he also took exception to the warning that there would be further cuts if the budget didn’t pass.

“The message coming out of the superintendent’s office and the School Committee was this: ‘To the concerned parents, pass the budget or there’ll definitely be more severe cuts.’ That’s not really true because of the simple fact that if they looked at the expense column, there were things in there where they over-budgeted. So therefore, to say automatically that if we don’t pass the budget there’s going to be severe cuts is disingenuous,” he said.

Davis said council members would discuss Michaud’s change of heart and his letter at the next council meeting on April 15.

“People have the right to change their minds. However, it takes me aback that a vote cast during a council meeting is so contrary to a letter sent less than four weeks later. I have an issue with this because I feel, if you object to something, say it on the record in an open meeting. Don’t say one thing on the record and camera then contradict yourself off the record. On the surface this seems really out of sorts and I look forward to a discussion at the next council meeting regarding this contradiction,” he said.

Asked if he was sorry that the budget had passed, Michaud was philosophical.

“I’m not angry or upset or losing any sleep over it,” he said. “The will of the people has taken place. We live in a democracy.”

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