N.S. councilors request ethics opinion on hiring of board president’s sister as deputy clerk

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – Members of the North Smithfield Town Council are asking the Rhode Island Ethics Commission to weigh in on the official confirmation of the appointment of Tami Jacques to the position of deputy town clerk.

The request comes following a push on the issue by Town Councilor Paul Vadenais, who said the state code of ethics requires a written opinion on the matter. Jacques is the sister of Town Council President John Beauregard, who recused himself when the appointment was brought before the board this week.

Jaques, who has worked for the town since 2017 when she was hired as an administrative assistant, has been serving in the deputy clerk role in an interim capacity since February. Former Deputy Clerk Joanne Buttie, meanwhile, has served as interim clerk at the appointment of Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski, a position confirmed unanimously by councilors last week.

Buttie replaces former Town Clerk Lillian Silva Scott, who was not reappointed to the role.

But for Jacques, Vadenais said Beauregard needs to request a written advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission.

“We cannot appoint a family member that we supervise,” Vadenais said.

Town Solicitor David Igliozzi said that he believed Beauregard’s recusal on the vote was adequate under state ethics law.

“He recused from the vote and I believe that would be satisfactory,” Igliozzi said. “No other council person has a conflict.”

But Vadenais asserted that council supervises the role jointly with the administrator, pointing to a paragraph on prohibitions in the code’s section on nepotism.

The section states, “No person subject to the Code of Ethics shall participate in the supervision, evaluation, appointment, classification, promotion, transfer or discipline of any person within his or her family or a household member, in the state or municipal agency in which the official or employee is serving or over which he or she exercises fiscal or jurisdictional control, except in accordance with particular instructions and advice received from the Ethics Commission in a written advisory opinion.”

“We need to get a ruling,” Vadenais stated.

“I’m not going to debate ethics,” Igliozzi said. “If you feel you shouldn’t vote, then don’t vote.”

Zwolenski also disputed the need for a written opinion, leading briefly to a somewhat tense exchange between the administrator and the councilor, who was adamant on the issue.

“I don’t think Council President Beauregard is going to personally benefit from this appointment monetarily,” Zwolenski said. “It’s a town administrator position to fill. She’s been elevated and recognized for her skill set to be appointed deputy town clerk.”

“Read the code of ethics,” Vadenais said. “This board supervises the position.”

“I’m not questioning anyone’s ability,” Vadenais added. “I’m trying to follow the Code of Ethics.”

“I don’t think you have as much supervision as you think you do Mr. Vadenais,” Zwolenski said. “The deputy clerk responds to the clerk, the clerk responds to the town administrator.”

Council Vice President Kimberly Alves ultimately relented, moving to table Jacques’ appointment until Beauregard could get something in writting.

“It went a little further than it needed to, because now there’s speculation out there, so we need to put it to rest,” Alves said of the discussion.

According to Beauregard, he has already contacted the Ethics Commission and has received verbal assurance that there is no issue. He is now awaiting a written response.

“Just because the clerk’s job is to assist the council, it doesn’t mean that we’re the boss,” Beauregard said.

Other issues covered at the council’s meeting last week included approval of the terms of the contract with Weston & Sampson, the firm hired to provide assessment and consulting services on the project to find new uses for the property that holds the former Halliwell Elementary School. Councilors awarded a bid for the services to the Reading, Mass.-based firm last year, but had asked the new Halliwell Review Committee to weigh in before the contract was finalized. Councilors unanimously approved the contract last Monday following recommendation of the Halliwell board.

Councilors also tabled a request by restaurant Coffee & Cream to obtain a BV liquor license. The restaurant obtained a partial, BVL license to serve wine and beer last year, but the owner said the upgraded license would allow them to serve drinks such as Bloody Marys.

Beauregard asked if the business has plans to stay open to 2 a.m., as it once did at its prior location before moving to Slatersville Plaza.

“No, never,” said owner Heather Branchaud, noting that the restaurant will continue serving breakfast and lunch, with hours from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. “We’re not looking at trying to recreate that. Times have changed a lot.”

Vadenais said that the upgraded license requires a public hearing, and Igliozzi agreed that at least some notice is required. Councilors opted to postpone the vote.

Branchaud said that after a brief closure and capacity restrictions caused by the pandemic last year, the business is now doing well.

“The weekends have turned back into insanity,” Branchaud said. “It’s exciting.”

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