Closed for business. That might as well be the new slogan for Warren’s economic development efforts. After spending taxpayer money to attract business to the town, the council then whimsically rejects efforts to locate a business, without even a public airing of the matter or a reasoned rationale for their decision.
Not having attended the April 8th council meeting, I watched the video (which I urge every Warren resident to do). I could not believe my eyes. In what is typically the most routine of matters, the granting of a food license, the council’s action was little short of appalling and entirely detrimental to its supposed efforts of attracting economic development.
<Editor’s note: If you click on the video, scroll to 33 minutes, 30 seconds in.>
Since the town requires a food license, applicants regularly go to the licensing board (in this case the council), to ask permission to pay an annual fee for operating a business. Why one has to kiss the ring is long based on ordinances to regulate business, but this application process is not a carte-blanche invitation to bring in all matters that may have occurred in one’s life to bear on the grant of a license to operate a business.
As the Rhode Island Supreme Court pointed out in Primiano v. Town of Warren (another case lost by the town), the granting or denial of a food license should be based on the health, safety and general welfare of the town. That said, if the town were rife with restaurants, then it could be argued that the town didn’t need another. Application denied. If there were a history of serving bad food on the part of the applicant, the town would be within its right to deny based on public safety. The issue of a civil matter, even if put on the record, is not related to the issuance and should not be grounds for denial.
But at this council meeting, the applicants were not even granted a hearing, nor were they given any rationale for the decision, other than “on the advice of the town solicitor” who, incidentally, told me personally that he had never discussed the matter. Someone is being less than honest here. There was no determination based on evidence that there was a health, safety or public welfare concern because there wasn’t even a hearing.
While much hay is being made on the streets about civil lawsuits, even if there had been an opportunity to discuss them openly and publicly, what bearing does that have to the legal standard of health, safety or general welfare? None.
By completely ignoring the legal standard which they are charged to apply, the council instead chose to (unanimously, I might add) use the unsubstantiated rumor standard, which apparently allows for a pre-hearing determination based on what the members paternalistically think is in the best interest of the applicants (all independently ascertained I am assured).
As to granted economic development money and taxes, my investigation has led me to believe that no council person had requested either of these records prior to the meeting and, in at least one case, the records do not presently exist.
In short, this brief exchange did not in any manner demonstrate the applicant’s inability to operate a restaurant, but it surely demonstrated that the council may not know how to operate its own business.
My client is Nosh LLC. I became the attorney after the hearing (or whatever it was).
My clients are not interested in politics but in attempting to open a successful business. They had several options but chose Warren, foolishly believing the talk that it was business-friendly.
Since my clients were treated so poorly by the town, and since they have other places to locate, my advice was simple: Go elsewhere and file suit against the town. If successful, not only will the town have lost a potential revenue source but may end up paying for its stupidity (although it too may be broke and file bankruptcy before the judgment — how ironic!).
While I explored the option of putting the matter back on the agenda in hope of fairness, time constraints and other business commitments made this a poor option for my clients. Besides, who could trust the council to give a full and fair hearing after such a fiasco? Would the applicant, if granted the license, then be a walking target? Why take such a chance in business when there are other options available? Good business practice should prevail in making such a decision.
The bottom line is that the embarrassing performance of the council at the behest of a phantom objector has brought little more than disrepute to the business friendly reputation of the town and exposed an ugly under-belly of omnipotent governance.
Over our years of legal battles, the town solicitor and I have often exchanged Shakespearian quotations to make a point. Here, I choose to be Marcellus in Hamlet, Act I, Scene 4. When did Warren become part of Europe?
Robert J. Healey Jr.
Editor’s note: View the town council meeting at which this matter was discussed here. The discussion on this matter begins at 33:30.