CRANSTON — The transcript of a June 1 meeting held by the City Council’s finance committee brings greater context to a series of exchanges that led to the abrupt resignation of Councilman Paul McAuley on Monday night.
McAuley announced his resignation after he asserted that a council lawyer, Evan Kirshenbaum, owed him an apology for accusing him of “possible felony conduct” during the online meeting.
Kirshenbaum refused to apologize and has emphasized that he never leveled such an allegation against McAuley.
In one exchange with the council’s chairman, Michael Farina, Kirshenbaum told Farina that if someone took “something of value or a promise in lieu of their honor of services to this council … that would be a crime,” according to the transcript.
Kirshenbaum also stated he wasn’t accusing anyone of a crime, according to the transcript by Allied Court Reporters.
On June 1, both Kirshenbaum and a city lawyer, John Verdecchia, had strongly advised the committee members that they would risk violating state ethics laws by repealing salary raises scheduled for council members and the city’s mayor in 2021.
This guidance clearly surprised McAuley and others who had embraced his proposed ordinance for repealing the salary hikes, citing fresh concerns about the city’s finances in the era of the coronavirus pandemic.
In May, Kirshenbaum told them that salary reductions needed to be pursued via an ordinance rather than through budget cuts.
Then came the June 1 meeting and McAuley’s ordinance proposing a repeal of the raises. At the outset, Verdecchia told the committee members that the election was now too close at hand for them to vote on either increasing or decreasing salaries.
“… if you have an intention to run …” he says in the transcript, “ … you’re voting on something that potentially has an effect on you or an opponent. … that’s a violation.”
Three members of the council — Chairman Michael Farina, Councilman Steven Stycos and Councilman Kenneth Hopkins — were running for mayor at the time. McAuley was not seeking reelection to the council, according to Verdecchia.
The period for declaring candidacies, starting on June 22, was too close, according to Verdecchia and Kirshenbaum.
In the dialogue on June 1, Kirshenbaum, who had sought guidance from a lawyer at the state Ethics Commission, said: “It’s impossible to vote on this if you are going to run for office next year.”
“The timing of this stinks, the ethics of this stink and I don’t like it one bit,” Kirshenbaum told the committee, according to the transcript.
His tone was noticed by the city’s director of administration, Daniel Parrillo, who would later call it “adversarial.”
During the same June 1 exchange, Farina directed a stream of comments and questions that would be fielded by Kirshenbaum.
Farina wanted to know, for example, if it was a breach of the Ethics Code for a council member to vote on the salary of the next mayor while actively supporting a particular candidate for that office.
Kirshenbaum said Thursday he had basically taken Farina’s concerns as a “laundry list” of potential issues and so he responded by going through his own list of concerns.
One of those concerns involved something Farina had not specifically mentioned.
Kirshenbaum had said if “someone took something of value or a promise in lieu of their honor of services to this … committee, that would be a crime.”
Kirshenbaum’s mention of a crime — what he said he thought was a “federal crime” — had provoked a laugh from McAuley.
“I’m sorry was it funny?” Kirshenbaum asked.
“So what you’re trying to accuse me of is funny, yes,” McAuley said.
Said Kirshenbaum: “I’m not accusing you of anything.”
Councilman Kenneth Hopkins, another mayoral candidate who has won outgoing Mayor Allan W. Fung’s endorsement, jumped in.
“I don’t see an accusation Mr. Chairman,” Hopkins said. “I see scare tactics right now.”
Kirshenbaum is a supporter of Farina’s campaign for mayor but stresses he was giving his best legal guidance independent of politics.
If he wins, Farina would leave a private sector management job at CVS to take over the mayor’s office. Last fall, he supported raising the salary from about $80,000 to $105,000.
In the Republican primary, he faces Hopkins, who is a retired teacher and athletic director.
The finance committee voted down (5-2) the proposed repeal of raises for the mayor and council members.
McAuley stewed. Then, he abruptly announced his resignation from the council on Monday.
Kirshenbaum said he paid hundreds of dollars for Allied’s expedited transcript.
The document says he clearly stated he was not accusing McAuley of any crime.
Kirshenbaum acknowledged Wednesday that earlier in the session some officials had angered him by questioning his legal guidance.
On Tuesday, immediately after McAuley’s resignation, Verdecchia told The Providence Journal he had not heard Kirshenbaum accuse McAuley of a crime.
Parrillo was concerned about Verdecchia’s comment, saying that Kirshenbaum’s “tone” is important additional context.
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