CENTRAL FALLS --- City Council President William Benson Jr. admitted being stunned when he discovered early Monday morning that Judge Mark Pfeiffer, the city's receiver, had “laid off” four council members, including himself.
In a letter delivered by police officers to council members Benson, Eunice DeLaHoz, Richard G. Aubin Jr. and Patrick Szlashta, one dated Nov. 8, Pfeiffer wrote, “I am disappointed by the City Council's decision not to cooperate and work closely with our efforts to return fiscal stability to the City of Central Falls and to advance the interests of its businesses and residents.
“As the City Council is unwilling to cooperate in these efforts, I have no choice but to immediately exercise my power under the 'Act Relating to Cities and Towns – Providing Financial Stability, Rhode Island General Laws 45-9-7(c)' to relegate the City Council and its members to an advisory capacity.
“I will let you know if and when the advice of the City Council and/or its members is needed.”
In the following paragraph, Pfeiffer wrote, “You are further instructed not to take any actions on behalf of the City of Central Falls, and not to conduct any official meetings without my prior written authorization.”
The lone council member not to receive such a letter/packet was James Diossa, who is a defendant with Pfeiffer and Director of the Department of Revenue Rosemary Booth Gallogly in a lawsuit against Mayor Charles D. Moreau (who was stripped of most of his powers, and kept on in an advisory capacity) and the aforementioned city councilors.
“I got a phone call from our town clerk, Marie Twohey, (Monday) morning, and she said that the judge had canceled the council meeting for (Monday night), and that he would notify council members as well as those businesses who had business before the council,” Benson stated Monday afternoon.
“I called our attorney, Lawrence Goldberg, and he said he already had received a copy … The judge (Pfeiffer) wanted us to do some things and not others. He expected us to do the licensing for the city. He wanted to be able to pick and choose what we'd work on, and that's not the way we feel.”
Benson indicated Pfeiffer's letter had been in response to a City Council executive session held Friday night with their lawyer, Goldberg. He said he could not reveal the subjects of items discussed at that meeting, as they were private.
However, Pfeiffer explained in his letter he had learned from his attorney, Theodore Orson, via Goldberg that the City Council had rejected a policy statement issued to them on Friday night.
“Evidently, Judge Pfeiffer is not happy with our decision not to do certain things,” he said. “I was elected to serve as a city councilman seven years ago. I wasn't elected to have someone (else) tell me what I can or cannot work on … Rick, Pat and I talk off and on, and we all agree. The way we look at it, we're either council members or we're not.
“Our decision (during that Friday session) was that we're either council members or not, and (Pfeiffer) decided, 'OK, you're not.'”
Benson mentioned he and the other councilors had been attempting to make appointments to different city boards, and Pfeiffer told them they no longer had that power.
City Hall already had closed Monday afternoon, so Pfeiffer was unavailable for comment, and Goldberg didn't immediately return a telephone message from The Times.
“Now that it's licensing time, he wanted us to do that,” Benson said. “He wants to pick and choose what he wants us to do; that's not what we were elected for. All of us are incumbents, except for James Diossa, who – by the way – didn't get one of these packets. The judge, I think, is going to form an advisory committee to issue those licenses to the restaurants, bars, liquor stores, every business (who needs one) in the city.”
Aubin, who runs the Quality Auto garage on Dexter Street, noted a Central Falls Police officer delivered his packet at Aubin's workplace at about 10-11 a.m., Monday.
“I was surprised that he went to this length of relegating the City Council to an advisory capacity,” he offered. “(The judge) gave us a statement of policy about a week ago; we (as a council) met Friday night with Mr. Goldberg in executive session, so I can't discuss what we spoke of, but obviously Judge Pfeiffer took offense to it.
“This upsets me,” he added. “He has effectively taken the voice of Central Falls residents away from them by laying off the council … Pretty much what he's saying is, 'You're no longer city councilors. If we need you, we'll call you.' We're no longer an active City Council, and, yes, that upsets me a great deal.”
As for the receiver canceling Monday night's council session, Benson said he was shocked at the move.
“We have to give a three-day notice when we're going to hold a meeting, and he just canceled it (Monday morning),” he mentioned. “Everyone who had business before the council was called and told, 'Don't come.'
“When I contacted our attorney (Goldberg), he just said, 'Sit back, and I'll handle it from here.'”