As the Sun reported last week, “Town Attorney William Conley Jr., in a Nov. 15 letter to the council, outlined the manner in which he would handle responding to questions from councilors, explaining that he plans to provide answers to all councilors when a single councilor asks a question.”
In his letter, Conley wrote: “It has come to my attention that my practice of responding to Councilors’ inquires on an individual basis via oral conversation or email has . . . resulted in what I perceive as a level of distrust and . . . a perception of secrecy among the Town Council members.”
The Sun followed up with an editorial stating, “It’s too bad so much time had to be consumed on this issue before and during Monday’s meeting.”
A level of distrust would not have been reached, a perception of secrecy would not have been raised, and time would not have been consumed, if Conley had abided by the Westerly Town Charter.
Section 13-1-5 of the Charter applies to the Town Solicitor: “Opinions. All written legal opinions furnished to the Council, the Manager and all departments, offices and agencies of the Town together with the resolution, letter, or other memorandum requesting the opinion, shall be filed with the Town Clerk in accordance with prescribed procedures.”
If one were to check with the Town Clerk, one would find that a file exists where solicitors’ legal opinions are available to the public. However, Conley does not file his legal opinions with the Town Clerk as the Charter mandates. Likewise, former town solicitor Matthew Oliverio filed no legal opinions with the Town Clerk during his tenure.
That provision of the Charter requiring the solicitors to make their opinions public is included to promote openness and transparency. If town solicitors may ignore the rule of law, distrust and secrecy take root. When Conley thumbs his nose at the Charter, not only should wary councilors distrust Conley, the citizens of Westerly should also distrust Conley.
Robert L. Lombardo