NARRAGANSETT — Tensions between the town solicitor and town council reached a boiling point last week in a confrontation that ended with the attorney for Narragansett being muted and kicked out of a virtual public meeting. The town council, since February, has been in the process of reviewing the position and interviewing candidates to potentially replace the current solicitor, Mark Davis.
During the meeting’s public comment, Davis, who said he was speaking as a resident, addressed recent reviews of his performance conducted by the council. Davis has been on a six-month probationary period approved by the council in February as the governing body looked to consider its options for alternative solicitors. On Monday, prior to the public meeting, the council unanimously voted to enter into an executive session to discuss candidates for the position of town solicitor.
“The issue has been with the process and I think all reasonable people now understand that the process was disrespectful and unprofessional,” said Davis. “Subsequently to the last time we spoke, I read the reviews. I disagree with much of what was written. It would have been nice to look you in the face and have the opportunity to discuss those issues.”
Davis said he took particular issue with town council president pro tem Susan Cicilline’s review of the position. On a question that asked “does the town solicitor represent the town in a professional and ethical manner?” Cicilline Buonanno gave Davis the lowest score possible.
“I would be remiss if I did not address Susan Cicilline Buonanno’s review,” he began. “I thought long and hard about what could have given rise to such a rating? In my opinion, the only possible explanation is psychological projection. Susan, you are reviewing yourself in the way you answered that question.”
Before Davis could continue, town council president Jesse Pugh interjected in the Zoom meeting, stating “we’re not going to do this in public. It’s a personnel matter.” Davis contested, claiming he had the right to speak during public comment.
“Why would I stop speaking as a resident?” said Davis.
As the two began attempting to talk over one another, arguing about Davis’ right to speak during the public forum, Pugh muted Davis’ microphone. Just prior to being muted, Davis said he would be filing a complaint. Davis’ video feed was then cut from the meeting, though it is unclear if Davis did this himself.
“I think Mark had a right to speak,” said councilman Patrick Murray, a frequent ally of Pugh. “I think he had every right to speak tonight and you should have let him go. Your process wasn’t perfect, I think he had a right to get his three minutes in. That’s all I have to say. It’s unfortunate, it’s time to move on.”
“It is that kind of behavior that is part of the reason why we’re moving onto a new solicitor,” said Pugh.
Tensions between the solicitor and council have been brewing since the November 2020 election, when the council make up shifted to one that unanimously supported the town’s controversial new public library project in the Pier Marketplace. As town solicitor since 2017, Davis represented the town and the previous council, which opposed the library project, in multiple lawsuits from library advocates. In this capacity, Davis, and the East Greenwich-based law firm of which he is a part, Martineau, Davis & Associates, often found themselves in court and at council meetings arguing against the merits of the plans to build a new, state-of-the-art public library in the Pier Plaza, a vision which is largely approved by residents and now enjoys the full support of the current council. Also under the previous council, Davis was negotiating to sell the Pier Plaza space envisioned for the library in executive sessions with minimal to no public input. Only candidates who openly supported the library project were elected in November, and Davis was put on a probationary period a few months after the new council took the helm.
Municipal administrations and governing bodies frequently change out staff after an election.
Throughout the interaction during the Zoom town council meeting, Cicilline Buonanno did not speak.
Davis is Narragansett’s third solicitor since 2015.