Does Warren councilor have a conflict of interest?

Note: The following letter was sent to Warren Town Council member Cathie Tattrie by Steve Thompson, a member of the Warren Preservation Society and Voluntary Historic District Commission:

Dear Councilwoman Tattrie,

Are you planning on participating and voting in the October 15th hearing regarding the demolition waiver request for the JD Tuell House at 613 Main St.?

I ask if you are planning on participating because if the answer is yes, I have some concerns regarding your participation; as you are a public official I felt it was important to convey my concerns to you.

I attended the Town Council meeting on September 25th and was present for the discussion regarding the scheduling of this hearing.

My concerns are:

1) As director of the Smith Funeral Home in Warren the demolition wavier request before the Council involves your primary competitor in town, the Wilbur-Romano Funeral home.   Based on this fact there may be a conflict of interest:

“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.” See R.I. Gen. Laws §36-14-6, and Regulations 36-14-5002 and 36-14-6001.”

2) On September 25th there were several times when you seemed to be advocating a speedy resolution to this matter and that the pending public hearing and Council vote are just a formality.

a) You stated, “My concern is they had applied quite a while ago and they made their intentions quite well known and they were very shocked – to not be able to demolish it so we got them on tonight’s docket so they could come before us in October and not wait a full month.”   This statement concerned me because as you know a property owner must comply with town ordinances (sections 4-32 to 4-35), which requires owners who want to demolish a property in the historic district to obtain a demolition waiver from the Town Council at a public hearing. The property at 613 Main St, part of the Wilbur-Romano funeral home is in the historic district, and thus deserves the full protections of town ordinances (sections 4-32 to 4-35) over a rapid resolution.

b) You singled out the building official, Mr. Nash, and accused him of delaying the resolution of this application through misinformation. This accusation was then drawn into question after the town manager, Mr. Gordon, insisted the building official be given the chance to clear the record.   How did you know about these alleged delays?  You indicated representatives of the Wilbur Romano Funeral Home had “applied quite a while ago and they made their intentions quite well known.” To whom did they apply, and was the application official or unofficial?  According to Mr. Nash the paperwork was only dropped off at his office Wednesday, September 19th.  Were there prior discussions regarding this matter off the record with the operators of this funeral home?  If so it seems there could be a conflict of interest given your professional work as director of the Smith Funeral Home in Warren.

If you do plan on participating, it may be wise to seek an advisory opinion from the Rhode Island Ethics Commission.

Sincerely,

Steven Thompson

Warren

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