Richmond’s Chariho Regional School Committee Representative Appointment

The following is what I read at the 1/19/2023 TC Meeting regarding the SC Appointment. Shortened to 500 words:

I take my oath to office seriously which stated in part that, “I do solemnly swear… …that I will observe the Charter and the ordinances of the Town of Richmond, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of my office.”

The town charter states if “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.” Article 2 Section 5(b).

On April 19, 2016 Kevin McGreevy resigned from the SC.  Mr. Oppenheimer questioned the conflict between the charter and the act. “Atty. Ellsworth said she 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.” 

At the next meeting Mr. Oppenheimer “explained the seat was offered to the next declared candidate. Bob Cardozo declined. Now Council can make an appointment.”

In the November 2016, 2018, and 2020 elections there were no unelected candidates.

I would like to recognize that of the many letters submitted in favor of Ms. Purcell, two were from Charter Review Commission Members, Mrs. Tracy Nelson and Attorney Mark Reynolds. They support the Council following the Charter as does the legal memo by Attorney Anderson.

I believe we need to follow the precedent set at the time of the last relevant vacancy which was in 2016 when the next candidate in line was given the opportunity to serve. Should Ms. Purcell decline, Mr. Callahan should be appointed, should he decline, I’ll happily appoint Mr. Day and if he should decline, I will continue to honor my oath and the Charter and consider other applicants.

Atty Ellsworth’s memo last week did not state we cannot follow the Charter. This is only one person’s opinion of what a court may do if a lawsuit is filed. Respectfully, this opinion is not a ruling. It’s important to remember we can follow the Charter should we believe it is the right thing to do in order to comply with the oath we took on Day 1.

That said, It’s no secret I support Ms. Purcell for SC. She’s the obvious candidate because she is an active parent in our school through her volunteer work and consistent attendance at SC meetings. After coming only 28 votes shy she remained active in the schools and continues to attend the all meetings. Regardless of my responsibilities as a councilor and my oath to observe the Charter, the voters want her, 1469 taxpayers voted for her. We should not ignore their voices.  I am happy and excited to appoint a qualified candidate such as Jess Purcell to our SC. Richmond would be lucky to have her.


During discussions, President Trimmer stated this is a Chariho issue so we should follow the Chariho Act. I reminded him we are the Richmond Town Council. Accordingly, we should follow the Charter.

I was handed two new legal memos by other councilors during the meeting. Unlike the other legal memos by the Solicitor and SC Attorney, I did not have an opportunity to review these prior to the meeting. I did first notice Atty Flander’s short paragraph stated “state law generally trumps contrary local laws”.

Vice President Nassaney, Republican, also agreed with following the Charter and asked what would happen if the shoe was on the other foot and the next candidate in line was conservative.

After my motion failed, Councilor Sheehan made a motion to appoint Clay Johnson to the School Committee. Unlike the Purcell appointment, which was included in packet materials, this came as a surprise to myself and the public. The public in attendance shouted “Open Meeting Violation, we weren’t notified”. I felt torn between abstaining from vote due to it not being properly noticed and voting no and participating in the same. Ultimately, I wanted my opposition to be clear and voted no.

My concerns for this quick appointment go beyond the Charter and my Oath. I stated I was not given the opportunity to learn anything about Mr. Johnson. All I new about him was the letter he sent around town prior to the election that at littered with misinformation.

During the Planning Board Workshop two days earlier, I allowed the delay of a Public Hearing on the APOD because some Council members wanted more time with the material. I can respect wanting more time if needed and afforded my fellow councilors that opportunity without countering.

In the end, 3 councilors voted to ignore the Charter and appoint Clay Johnson as Richmond’s SC representative.

The School Committee is meeting on Jan 24, 2023. The Agenda was updated to add the following agenda item: “Authorize the Chariho Regional School Committee’s Attorney to Bring a Quo Warranto proceeding Before the Rhode Island Supreme Court in Regards to the Appointment by the Richmond Town Council of Clay Johnson to the Chariho Regional School Committee”

After the Thursday Evening Meeting

Upon further review of the memos I was handed during the meeting, I noticed they have no additional case law or research cited but simply refer to the prior two legal memos and agree with one. Larisa Law did quote Henry Ford. “Henry Ford once said about the Model T, that the customer could have it ‘painted any color he wants, as long as it is black.” But did not make reference to any of the “additional Supreme Court Caselaw germane to the question” they reviewed.

There is no rebuttal to Attorney Anderson’s opinion.

These new opinions have not been made publicly available, however they are not confidential, please find them below:

The opinion of Attorney Anderson was also not publicly available as we received it after the agenda was posted but before the meeting. During the meeting I requested it to be added to the minutes. It can be found here:

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