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Open Meetings Act Complaint Concerning Intimidation over Fire Chief Raise

On December 9, 2019, the Tiverton Town Council had a closed-door meeting in executive session about whether to give the town’s new fire chief, Joseph Mollo, a mid-year raise.  Along with an innovative firefighter contract and a new rescue vehicle (both resolved under the pre-recall council this past spring), Chief Mollo has been an integral part of a great turnaround in the department that has lifted morale and kept overtime costs down.  Given that he came out of retirement for the job, he had accepted an initial salary below his peers and even below what the town had budgeted.

Returning to open session, the council voted to give the chief the raise.  Council members Donna Cook, Stephen Clarke, Joseph Perry, and John Edwards, the Fifth, voted for the raise.  Council President Patricia Hilton and Vice President Denise deMedeiros voted against.  After the meeting had adjourned and almost everybody other than the council had left, Hilton rounded on her three allies who had gone rogue.  Donna Cook describes the scene in an Open Meetings Act complaint that she filed with the state attorney general on January 10:

After Chief Mollo and the person with him left the building, and only the town council remained, Council President Hilton stood up, and directing her gaze to her right, at Councilors Perry, Edwards, and Clarke, yelled and hollered words to the effect, how could you vote yes, he signed a contract, sets a bad precedent, and there will be problems with ongoing union negotiations.  Then Council Vice President DeMedeiros chimed in, also yelling words to the effect, that this is going to cause big problems, we’re trying to negotiate contracts, and now they are going to want the same thing — this is creating a big problem. Then, DeMedeiros stood up and threatened to quit the negotiation team if something wasn’t done about it.

The next day, Perry put in an agenda request to reconsider the raise, and the issue remained a contentious thorn until Monday, January 27.  Although the chief did not lose the raise, he learned a lesson about Tiverton government and looked discouraged by it, to say the least.

Hopefully, the people of Tiverton started to learn a lesson, too.  Under the leadership of Hilton and deMedeiros, our town stacks the deck against anybody with whom those two disagree, and they believe the law doesn’t apply to them as they intimidate and manipulate people to get their way.

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Justin Katz

Justin Katz is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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