Warren Town Councilor Cathie Tattrie has asked the town’s attorney to determine whether she should vote on or recuse herself from an upcoming vote on whether to grant a funeral home’s request to demolish a 152-year-old home on Main Street.
Ms. Tattrie, who owns Smith Funeral and Memorial Services on Schoolhouse Road, is a direct competitor of the Wilbur-Romano Funeral Home, which has asked the town for permission to tear down a home at 613 Main St. to make way for a small parking lot.
Ms. Tattrie said she sought town solicitor Anthony DeSisto’s advice in the wake of a letter she received Friday morning from resident Steve Thompson, who suggested that she may have an ethical conflict if she votes on the application.
Mr. Thompson, a member of the Warren Preservation Society and the Voluntary Historic District Commission, suggested in his letter that she obtain an advisory opinion on the matter from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission. He referenced a portion of state ethics laws that state that “a conflict of interest may exist if an official or employee can reasonably expect that his or her official conduct will directly result in a financial benefit to the official, his or her family, business associates, employers, or businesses that the official represents. The conflict need not be certain to occur, but the probability must be greater than ‘conceivably.'”
Ms. Tattrie said Friday that she doesn’t believe she needs a state opinion and will not seek one, because she doesn’t believe she has any financial incentive to vote on the proposal either way. However, she said she has asked for Mr. DeSisto’s advice and said she will do what he advises.
“To keep everything on the up and up, I wouldn’t want to be a tie-breaker” when the funeral home’s application comes to a vote, she said.
The possible conflict referenced by Mr. Thompson became an issue after Wilbur-Romano officials appeared before the Warren Town Council last Tuesday in part to help set a date for a public hearing on the demolition, as is required by law. At the meeting, Ms. Tattrie asked that the hearing be held in mid-October and said she felt “badly” for the funeral home, which she said had mistakenly been told more than a month ago that the demolition would be a relatively easy, quick process.
Warren Building Inspector William Nash contested those remarks Tuesday, saying he told the funeral home’s demolition company a month ago that town laws require that the demolition be subject to a public hearing, as it lies in the Warren Waterfront Historic District.
The possible demolition has drawn fire from members of Warren’s preservation community. The house, known as the JD Tuell home, was built between 1850 and 1860 by the owner of a copper foundry at the corner of Wheaton and Water streets. Funeral home members say they need to bring it down for space reasons, and also because it is in ill repair.