More Drama at the RICHMOND Town Council: Internal Spy?

This column was originally published on February 12 by Laurie Gaddis Barrett, head of #ParentsUnitedRI, on her “According to Laurie” Substack page, as:

Spy vs Spy on Richmond Town Council

Councilor Wilcox tattletales to Attorney General with outlandish claims against colleagues

Newly elected Councilor Samantha Wilcox apparently finds it difficult to get along. A frequent critic of her fellow Councilors on social media channels accusing them being misogynistic and corrupt, this aspiring parliamentarian actually filed an Open Meetings Act (OMA) complaint against…the very public body she is a part of.

Her complaint begins:

“I am a Richmond Town Councilor and I am obligated to file an OMA Complaint against my colleagues, President Mark Trimmer, Councilor Helen Sheehan, and Councilor Michael Colasante.”

Obligated. Interesting.

She goes on to reveal she’s got three different allegations: rolling quorum, agenda item notices, and off-topic conversation during Executive Session. What follows are 4 pages of gossip, innuendo, and sheer idiocy plus a smattering of “pick me” moments over 4 separate Town Council meetings.

The December 6th Whisper

The next few paragraphs of Samantha’s complaint deal with a meeting on December 6, 2022 where Samantha objects to Colasante whispering in Trimmer’s ear. She STILL doesn’t know what he said, but it’s ON VIDEO. She also describes a scene later in that same meeting where Colasante asked a question about pending litigation and it wasn’t discussed but rather deferred to the next agenda. Oh my, high crimes during December 6th meeting.

The Real Problem is…Manners?

What happened in the next few days? Well, Trimmer exhibited basic manners.

“After this meeting, we were sent some onboarding information by the town clerk and Council President Trimmer replied all to say ‘Thank you’”.

Which prompted the Town Clerk to start using BCC function of email in her communications, so no one could ever be polite to her again via Reply All.

That’s not Samantha’s only attention to Trimmer’s etiquette. Consider this gem:

“On December 20, 2022, our council had a reappointment on the agenda. When this item came before council, President Trimmer moved from the ‘Yes’ votes to the ‘No’ votes so quickly that I barely was able to get my yes vote out before all three moved on to their ‘Nos’ in unison. They offered no discussion or reasonings for their actions.”

We don’t have to take Samantha’s word for it, though. She submitted VIDEO EVIDENCE that…she got to vote and her vote was appropriately recorded. Except, a few moments later, she also voted to rescind her prior vote and table the item until the next meeting. What is wrong here? Absolutely nothing. The very voting action she claimed happened “too fast” was the same voting action she voted to overturn.

December 20th – Samantha’s Sprint

Samantha’s next paragraph is where the real story is told:

“Additionally at this [December 20] meeting, President Trimmer allowed a discussion about a town project not on the agenda, twice. It was first raised under agenda item H2, I asked them to stop but they brought it up again again under item H4. The minutes read ‘Councilor Sheehan shared concern with the McIntosh project. It was noted that the McIntosh project was not on the agenda and the subject needs to be germane to Ms. Hess appointment.’”

What’s all this about? Well, volunteer in-fighting on between Boards and Commissions is the main idea. Item H2 was a volunteer named McIntosh who quit, and Item H4 was a volunteer named Hess who was at risk of not getting reappointed. Basically, Hess’ volunteer performance re: McIntosh was in question, but shush now, because Samantha didn’t want to hear why as it didn’t suit HER agenda. Councilors Sheehan, Trimmer, and Colasante were actually asked what their concerns were with the appointment, and they tried to give a transparent answer but their concerns were NOT ON THE AGENDA. The actual reason the appointment was at risk is NOT GERMANE to the discussion.

Samantha can’t stop there, though. She has to further let the Attorney General know:

“After this controversial meeting on December 20, 2022, President Mark Trimmer, Councilor Helen Sheehan, and Councilor Michael Colasante were outside talking. Myself, the Town Administrator, and a few residents… were witness to this as we were talking further down the walkway. I believe Vice President Nassany (sic) and the Town Planner may have been witness to this as they were talking by their cars. Vice President Nassaney alerted us of the quorum and what was happening and I asked them to stop.”

This is insanity. Three people were outside talking. No one actually knows about what (although we later find out it’s about Christmas plans) but it’s Samantha to the rescue to make it stop. I’m actually surprised she did not include a sketch diagram, at scale, documenting the distance she had to sprint to STOP THOSE MONSTERS FROM DISCUSSING CHRISTMAS. What she did do, however, was convince the Town Clerk to send an email about it two days later.

So far, this has been 2 1/2 pages of whining and nothing else. It’s a disgrace of a complaint, really.

January 3rd – Imaginary Microagressions

This is the part where Samantha attempted to create her own evidence out of thin air, via an email that she sent to the Town Clerk and Town Administrator talking about events that never existed in reality. Namely, that Colasante made a motion to appoint himself Liaison. Only, he didn’t do that, and the video shows this. Conveniently, this is the only allegation that Samantha doesn’t point to the video and a timestamp, instead pointing to her own made-up fantasy she documented in an email.

“During the January 3, 2023 meeting, under Item K3, Councilor Colasante attempted to assign liaisons to our boards and commissions. He was advised this was not on the agenda.”

Item K3 was a discussion about two Boards and Commissions and how they were going to communicate what they were working on to the Town Council. Basically, Town Council wanted the Chairs to come and present, but the Planning Board didn’t want to do that. Colasante then volunteered to go to their meetings instead, and act as a liaison. Quelle horreur! Colasante volunteered to do extra work! Samantha’s proof of this allegation? Meeting minutes show discussion and an attempted resolution to this one Board/Commission reporting concern, and in my own opinion, was a reasonable and properly noticed action to take after discussion. The meeting minutes do not prove her allegation. Her complaints are becoming more farcical.

Next up for January 3 is Executive Session.

Some portions of this part of her complaint are redacted, but enough remains to hypothesize that Samantha is just as off base on this allegation as the others.

“Towards the end of the January 3, 2023 meeting, I made a motion to enter executive session for “Discussion of possible filing of cross-appeals in Preserve at Boulder Hills v. Kenyon et als, pursuant to RIGL § 42-46-5(a)(2), litigation”.  [redacted]

We entered executive session to discuss “possible filing of cross-appeals” in a case that has not yet been filed. The case possibly being appealed is CA No WC-2021-0568, which is an issue surrounding zoning not taxes. See attached memo from the Solicitor regarding a Superior Court Decision. This memo is public record. We were not in executive session to discuss this case in Superior Court…” (Emphasis added)

Since I don’t know what was redacted, this may be the reason that the Attorney General actually took the complaint up. Based on the previous paragraphs which appears to be much ado about nothing; however, I suspect that this is just a matter where Samantha can’t understand that changing the zoning can impact taxes for a commercial property, and that might be why cross-filing a legal action might be considered.

January 17 – Samantha’s Last Straw

You may have heard on local talk radio the controversy surrounding how appointments are made by the Richmond Town Council to the Chariho Regional School Committee. What follows below references the Jon Anderson legal opinion, ostensibly on behalf of the Chariho School Committee.

“Further, on January 17, 2023, the town clerk had emailed us shortly before the meeting to let us know there was a new legal memo and this could be found at our seats in chambers…. I arrived at the Town Council Chambers at about 4:40pm. Councilor Sheehan and the town clerk were also already there. Soon after my arrival, Councilor Colasante arrived and asked to speak with Councilor Sheehan in the hallway. I could hear the entire conversation due to echoing, he asked her if she was still going to vote the same way given the memo. The town clerk and I made small talk to drown out the noise. Council President Trimmer arrived next. Councilor Colasante asked President Trimmer if he had read the new legal memo regarding the school committee appointment. I told them what they were doing was an OMA violation because Councilor Colasante just spoke with someone else about it and even so Councilor Sheehan and I were here and we should not be discussing anything. The Solicitor then arrived and discussed the memo from the School Committee Attorney with Council President Trimmer while we were all sitting waiting for the meeting to begin. As she began to defend her legal memo attached to our agenda, I excused myself from the room and read the newest memo outside town hall. I do not believe Councilor Nassaney was a witness to this. He was arriving as I was getting space. There was one person in the audience at this time and the town clerk was present.” (Emphasis added)

So basically, Samantha was eavesdropping and thought she overheard something. Then the Town Solicitor showed up and forced an OMA violation. I think it’s worth noting here that mere discussion of a memo may not automatically result in a violation. The violation is complete only if said discussion results in a determination of a course of action. The Attorney General has issued multiple findings on this in multiple complaints. Three elements must be met, and the language used in prior decisions is always the same:

“For the OMA to apply, …All three of these elements—a quorum, a meeting, and a public body—must be present in order for the OMA to apply; the OMA is not applicable when one or more of these elements is absent.” [Emphasis added]

Additionally, the mere presence of a quorum of a public body prior to the commencement of a public meeting, even when seeking the advice of the Town Solicitor, is not automatically a violation. Nerds can go read more at Schuler vs Johnston School Committee (like I did). Again, I’d expect this allegation to fail.

Samantha rounds out her OMA complaint by talking about something Councilor Nassaney did (asking people to leave the public meeting due to fire capacity issues) and then trying to blame Councilor Colasante for it.

She ends her 4 page (!) missive with the final dire warning:

“My colleagues, President Mark Trimmer, Councilor Helen Sheehan, and Councilor Michael Colasante, have conversations outside of the public eye and this needs to stop.” [Emphasis hers}

News flash, Samantha: IMO, you aren’t as smart as you think you are, you didn’t prove what you thought you did, and your complaint is a colossal waste of resources that are better spent elsewhere. Just because you have nothing better to do than eavesdrop, gossip, and have imaginary slights consume your every waking thought is not a reason to waste taxpayer money proving yourself a fool.

I can’t wait to read the Attorney General’s final decision on this.

XO, L.

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