NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — A new Town Council president and president pro tempore were elected, following contentious conversation among council members and residents Monday night, the first council meeting since the election. Following the debate, incumbent Matthew Mannix was elected as the new Town Council president, and fellow incumbent Jill Lawler became the new Town Council president pro tempore.
The new Narragansett Town Council is composed of incumbents Patrick Murray, Mannix, and Lawler, plus two new council members – Richard Lema and Jesse Pugh, with Pugh having been the highest vote-getter in the election. Pugh was absent from Monday’s meeting, due to a previously planned family vacation. Pugh left a message regarding his absence, which was read by Narragansett Town Manager James Manni.
“I regret that I am unable to attend this important first meeting of the newly elected council as I am currently out of the country on a vacation planned before my campaign for Town Council began,” read Pugh’s statement. “I want to make sure my fellow councilors and constituents know this is not reflection of my dedication to the town of Narragansett and welfare of its residents. I look forward to serving with this council as a united and productive team.”
Many residents in attendance expressed their opinions that the council should delay the leadership vote until Pugh could be there. Some residents held up handwritten signs reading “Delay the Vote” and “Respect Tradition.”
Murray agreed, calling it professional courtesy for the council to allow Pugh a voice in the panel’s leadership.
“Jesse Pugh, the top vote-getter is not here,” said Murray. “I don’t remember the Town Council ever appointing officers, committees or judgeships when all five members were not present. Maybe we can wait two weeks until December.”
While Murray’s sentiment was met with applause from some in attendance, fellow council members and others from the public did not share the same view. The assembly room at town hall was filled and clearly divided.
Murray played a tape of a Town Council meeting following the 2014 elections, when Mannix was elected by the council to serve as president for that term. In the recording Mannix says “It’s a tradition that the top two vote-getters are elected to the two leadership roles. This tradition respects the voters wishes, and we strengthen that here tonight.”
“I don’t think there is anyone out there in the room or at home who thinks that if I was the top vote-getter, and the four people on the Gilbane library sign were elected with me that I would even try to be the president under those circumstances,” said Mannix.
While voting when all members are in attendance may be unwritten tradition, the Narragansett Town Charter states that a president and pro tempore shall be elected at the first meeting after elections.
“The bottom line is we have to move forward,” Mannix said. “I’m the person who is the most senior on the council, I understand Robert’s rules, I’m the only attorney and I’ve done the job before. I think I’m qualified to do it.”
Murray continued to ask for a delayed vote, saying it was a bad way for the new Town Council to start their term. At this point, audience members yelled out, both calling for a delay and immediate vote. “Stop grandstanding,” yelled one person.
Following debate, Lema called for a vote to elect Mannix as council president. The vote passed 3-0, with Pugh absent and Murray abstaining. Lema then nominated Lawler to be president pro tempore. This vote passed with the same 3-0 result.
Residents spoke during open forum, expressing their displeasure with the vote. Some believed that it was a lack of professional courtesy to hold this vote with Pugh in attendance and others were discouraged by the divided council, noting how often votes were cast with a 3-2 result last term. The previous council saw disagreements over several issues, specifically regarding the purchase of the former Belmont Market/IGA building for a new town library space.