WESTERLY — Tunes on the Dunes, the municipal summer concert series at Town Beach, will look and sound a bit different when it resumes in a few weeks, as its long-time master of ceremonies, Mark J. Sullivan Jr., is likely to be absent.
The Town Council voted 4-3 on May 10 not to reappoint Sullivan to the municipal Concerts on the Beach Committee, which organizes the live-music series that includes Monday Night Jams and Blues on the Beach. In addition to serving on the committee, Sullivan was paid $800 per year to serve as master of ceremonies and performance manager, find and book the musical acts, design t-shirts for the series, and other related duties.
Sullivan, during an interview Tuesday, said the councilors who voted against his reappointment did so because he was arrested in 2019 in Groton, Conn. and charged with patronizing a prostitute, a Class A misdemeanor. Sullivan said the charge against him was dismissed after he successfully completed a form of probation called accelerated pre-trial rehabilitation. He noted that he was not convicted of any charge and that records of the arrest were expunged from the Connecticut judicial public records system.
A check of the online system on Wednesday revealed the state has no public record of the arrest. Accelerated pre-trial rehabilitation is available for certain criminal offenses and motor vehicle violations for those who have never been convicted of a crime.
"An arrest is not a conviction. I was not convicted. I did nothing improper, let alone illegal," Sullivan said.
A former on-air personality at radio station WBLQ and other stations in the region and in San Francisco, Nashville, and Buffalo, Sullivan said he has served as master of ceremonies many times in his career.
"I showed up early and stayed late. I've done everything I can do to go above and beyond my job duties, and the public seems to like what I do. I just can't understand why there wouldn't be a continuation of what has been the norm for nearly the past decade," Sullivan said.
The Town Council conducted an executive session soon after Sullivan's arrest in 2019 and discussed removing him from the committee at that time. Sullivan participated in part of the closed-door session. Eventually the council, which had one different member at the time, took no action, but now Sullivan said the four councilors who voted against his reappointment were motivated by "spite."
"It's a personal slight on the part of some members of the council. I don't think that is what the people of Westerly want from their Town Council — to get involved in what was a trivial matter. For people to be spiteful, I guess for the sport of it, I think is outrageous and childish," Sullivan said.
Councilor Christopher Duhamel, who voted against Sullivan's reappointment, said the arrest was a factor in his decision-making. Councilors are free, Duhamel said, to use their own discretion when filling boards, commissions, and committees.
"I won't say anything negative about Mark. I appreciate what he has done in the past, but I looked at the committee in light of that arrest. I know he wasn’t convicted and the charge was dropped, but given our discretion I thought it was best to go forward in a different direction," Duhamel said.
Councilor Karen Cioffi disagreed with Sullivan's characterization of the council's vote.
"The vote was to not offer him the position ... we thank him for his service, but it was decided that he was not to be the face of the concerts on the beach. I disagree that it was out of spite. I think it was in the best interest of the town," Cioffi said.
Council President Sharon Ahern, who voted against Sullivan's reappointment, said she harbors no "personal animus" toward Sullivan.
"I do not want to make negative personal comments against Mark Sullivan. I have no interest in that. It was just the majority vote of the council that his application not be renewed," Ahern said.
Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr., who serves as chairman of the Concerts on the Beach Committee, said he was disappointed the council took a vote during a public meeting rather than having the appointments committee inform Sullivan that he was unlikely to be reappointed.
"It's disappointing the council would blindside a volunteer at a meeting like that," Cooke said. "I thought it could have been done in a better fashion."
Sullivan, Cooke said, has done good work on the committee. Cooke also noted that the council discussed Sullivan's arrest in executive session shortly after it occurred.
"I thought this whole thing was talked about and vetted and put to rest two years ago, so I don't understand why all of a sudden, two years later, this is coming up again," Cooke said.
Councilor Brian McCuin, who voted in favor of Sullivan being reappointed to the committee, said he believed Sullivan was liked by other members of the committee.
"He's been on that committee a long time. I think he's probably a good guy and he's got everything done," McCuin said.
Councilor Suzanne Giorno, who also voted to reappoint Sullivan, did not a return a message seeking comment for this article. She is chairwoman of the council's Appointments Subcommittee.