NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The Narragansett Town Council has hit the pause button on a move to hire noted Providence labor attorney Vincent F. Ragosta Jr. to assist the town in contract negotiations and labor issues.
The council voted 4-0 on Aug. 5 to table the measure for two months, in order to gather more information and meet with Ragosta.
The motion’s sponsor, Councilor Patrick Murray, abstained from the vote.
“(Ragosta) is a contract attorney. He’s worked for the State of Rhode Island, the Narragansett Bay Commission,” and several municipalities, Murray said.
“I believe that since we have rotating town managers ,” Murray said. “I don’t believe anyone’s watching the store. This guy, especially with the new ‘evergreen’ contract laws, where you have perpetual contracts, we need to bring in a contract attorney to look out for the best interests of our taxpayers.”
Murray said that Town Solicitor Mark Davis and former Town Manager James Manni both requested the town hire a labor attorney a year ago.
Manni, as superintendent of the State Police, uses Ragosta’s law firm for contract issues, Murray said.
“This is a no-brainer,” he said. “This guy looks over everything. We have contracts that contradict themselves in the contract. We need this badly.”
Council President Pro Tem Jill Lawler agreed the town should hire Ragosta, but doesn’t want to do so when the town has already finished contract negotiations for the year.
“Let’s just wait until this time next year and go for it,” she said.
But Murray said it may be too late by then, and that Ragosta might be hired by other towns.
“Even the most liberal mayors in the state are looking to hire this guy. He may not be available,” Murray said. “We need to get him on retainer and start looking at our contracts now.”
He also criticized the town’s contract negotiations in recent years, calling them “mismatched” and “fast-tracked” in some cases.
Council President Matthew Mannix said that was a mis-characterization of the negotiations.
“With Jim Manni we had two sets of negotiations with Councils 94 and 1033 and we got major reforms,” Mannix said, including a provision that the town would not have to pay for health care for employees after age 65.
“I think we’ve made some real reforms in the last three or four years. I think it’s been planned out, we’ve strategized. We need his expertise, but we don’t have anything in front of us right now,” Mannix said. “We may want to meet with him.”
Murray said he was willing to spend up to $25,000 to hire Ragosta on a retainer.
Councilor Jesse Pugh called himself a strong supporter of unions and labor rights.
“To me this is not an attempt to weaken unions. It’s a basic responsibility of the town to have a qualified person in these negotiations,” he said. “Ragosta specializes in it. This is what he does.”
Councilor Richard Lema also supports the move to hire Ragosta, but said that it made more sense to wait until the town had hired a new permanent town manager.
“I don’t think for another month or month-and-a-half, that Vin’s going to get booked up to where he’s not going to come to Narragansett,” Lema said.
“We need to meet with him and talk with him,” Mannix said.