standing Richmond Town Hall NEW

RICHMOND — Members of the Richmond Town Council on Tuesday evening will discuss and potentially appoint a new member to the Chariho School Committee after the committee’s vice president stepped down last week after accepting a job offer in Florida.

Gary Liguori, who had just started serving his third year as a member of the committee and was appointed as its vice president a month ago, announced in a letter to the committee and Richmond Town Council dated Jan. 4 that he is stepping down immediately. He indicated that he had accepted a new job and would need to focus on relocating during the next two weeks.

“It has been one of my greatest pleasures and honors to serve on this committee, alongside so many amazing colleagues including, of course, Superintendent Picard,” Liguori said in an email. “The past few years have been a challenge for school committees nationwide, and I hope that the Chariho committee, and of course its schools, continues to rise above the irrelevant noise that seems intended to distract our teachers and administrators from keeping Chariho a highly ranked and coveted district.

“I will watch from afar with hopes of nothing but the best for everyone in the district,” he continued.

Elected to the Chariho School Committee in 2020, Liguori was a write-in candidate for the second Richmond seat and earned election as a Democrat. Liguori had previously served as the Dean of the College of Health Sciences at the University of Rhode Island prior to accepting the new job.

Liguori’s family had moved to Richmond from Tennessee in 2016 and he had been active as a parent and community member prior to his election.

Under the Chariho Act, the state law that governs and regulates how the school district is to operate in the communities of Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton, the Richmond Town Council is charged with determining the best candidate and appointing a town resident to serve on the district committee.

Due to differences between the state law and town charter, which states that when an elected official in Richmond steps down it would then go to the next highest vote-getter — Democratic candidate Jessica Purcell was the next top vote-getter — there has been confusion into how the next school committee member would be appointed. Rhode Island state laws would supersede local regulations and, as a result, the Richmond Town Council would remain accountable for selecting, voting and appointing Liguori’s replacement.

It is a precedent that has been set in Hopkinton in recent years as well. In 2020, Hopkinton selected the Rev. David Stall to the committee after the resignation of Sylvia Stanley, but Stall resigned after expressing concerns regarding the committee in September 2021. Democrat endawnis Spears was selected to replace Stall, but did not earn enough votes to gain reelection in November.

Richmond Town Council President Mark Trimmer said Monday that after seeking a legal review from town attorneys, the council will proceed with accepting Liguori’s resignation on Tuesday evening and will then appoint or otherwise proceed in selecting a replacement.

“The answer I had gotten from the town attorneys was what I expected, even if it wasn’t what I had hoped for,” Trimmer said.

The advice returned from attorneys was that the process used in Hopkinton is that the town council appoints the replacement and that that state law would in fact supersede local law.

Trimmer said the issue has led to many contentious calls — he simply stated some were polite and others were not, but did not discuss who had called — and said he would prefer to resolve the matter as efficiently as possible.

It will involve addressing the matter in two steps, with the first being to replace Liguori’s open seat in a timely manner to give the new member a chance to get acquainted with the recently proposed budget before it advances too far along in the process. The second matter, Trimmer said, will be the need to make important amendments to the town charter so that the Chariho Act’s requirements are clear and the town’s ordinances and charter align with state laws.

“My goal here is rather simple. I do not want to expose the town to any sort of lawsuit,” Trimmer said in a phone interview. “I want to follow the procedure as it is written, to follow the rules set forth by the state and then to review local laws so that there are no conflicts like this in the future.”

Purcell, however, said she was already contacted by the Richmond Town Clerk and expressed concerns in an email that she should be appointed to the seat. In November, there were five Richmond candidates vying for two seats and Purcell finished as the third-place candidate by a margin of 28 votes.

“Upon receiving written confirmation that I would accept the appointment, the clerk informed the Richmond Town Council Members, the Chariho School District superintendent, and the School Committee chair that due to the resignation of Mr. Ligouri, and in following the procedure of the charter, I would be appointed to the School Committee,” she said.

Purcell said that in 2016, Richmond accepted the resignation of Kevin McGreevy from the Chariho School Committee and the actions at that time led the town to get an opinion from the solicitor. In minutes from those meetings, Purcell notes that legal review at the time determined that “the council should vote to fill the vacancy, but in the manner instructed in the charter.”

“The charter goes one step further by instructing council how they should go about filling the vacancy,” Purcell said.

Trimmer said based on more recent precedent, however, he will open discussion and the council will, as the governing body charged with doing so under state law, determine how to and who will fill the seat.

In the meantime, he asked that residents and interested candidates let the process play out as detailed in the Chariho Act.

“There is a lot of tension, and it doesn’t need to be that way,” Trimmer said. “My hope is that, at the end of the day, we will be able to properly appoint someone and go through the process of making changes to the charter and make sure this type of issue doesn’t happen again.”

jvallee@thewesterlysun.com

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