I’d like to thank Gary Liguori, Chariho School Committee vice chair, for his service to our schools and community. I wish you well on your new job opportunity outside of Richmond.
The Richmond Charter, put in place many years ago by the voters of Richmond, anticipated these types of situations and states: “If a Town Council seat or a School Committee seat becomes vacant, the Town Council shall appoint the unelected candidate who received the greatest number of votes for that office in the most recent general or special election.”
In the November 2022 election, there were five candidates vying for two seats. Jessica Purcell was the third-place candidate by a margin of 28 votes.
Ms. Purcell was contacted by the town clerk, who relayed the specific situation and, upon receiving written confirmation that Ms. Purcell 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, Ms. Purcell would be appointed to the School Committee.
This information prompted councilors Trimmer and Sheehan to request a legal opinion from the town solicitor as to whether a conflict exists between the Richmond Charter and the Chariho Act, and if one of these provisions should supercede the other. The Chariho Act states: “The town council of the member town in which such vacancy occurs shall fill such vacancy by election by a majority vote of the town council of said town.”
The Chariho Act is a compilation of the 1958 Rhode Island statute that created the Chariho Regional School District. Maybe this was the reason that the solicitor focused her memo on legal precedent at the state level. However, there is a local precedent that is especially pertinent to this discussion, in which the solicitor states that the council should follow the Richmond Charter to appoint a replacement member of the School Committee.
On April 19, 2016, Kevin McGreevy resigned from the School Committee. A council member questioned the conflict between the Charter and the Act. The meeting minutes read, “Atty. Ellsworth does not believe there is a conflict. The two are compatible. 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.”
I would encourage the current council to be consistent with precedent that has been set by the previous councils and by the solicitor. I would encourage the residents of Richmond to demand that the most current election results be utilized as the selector of the next School Committee member representing our town.
And lastly, if the council wants to act within the guidelines of the Chariho Act, the act only states that the council shall vote to select and it does not define the process. The council can vote to follow the Town Charter as its guide to selection.
B. Joe Reddish III