NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The first in-person meeting of Narragansett’s Town Council in more than a year was also the first for its new solicitor, former council president James M. Callaghan.
Town Council President Jesse Pugh swore in Callaghan after a unanimous vote by the council to appoint him. Callaghan’s wife Linsey and their two children, as well as his mother Judy and his father and law partner, former town solicitor Matthew Callaghan Jr., were in council chambers to watch.
As the town’s attorney, Callaghan will handle all legal matters for the town except planning and zoning issues. He is allowed to delegate work to other attorneys in his firm, Callaghan & Callaghan, and they will act as assistant town solicitors on those occasions. He also is required to attend all regular Town Council meetings.
The position of town solicitor pays a flat rate of $100,000 per year. Litigation and other special projects are paid at an $125 per hour rate above the $100,000 annual salary.
The council’s move Monday engages the firm Callaghan & Callaghan, with James Callaghan serving as the town’s solicitor. The firm also currently serves as town solicitors for North Kingstown.
The Callaghan name is a well-known one in Narragansett and several people spoke fondly of Matthew Callaghan Jr. during public comment. A former state senator from Providence, Matthew was Narragansett’s solicitor from 1978 to 1987 and was chairman of the Narragansett Land Trust for 20 years, from 1991 to 2011, according to information on the firm’s website. His wife Judy is a real estate agent for Mott & Chace Sotheby’s International Real Estate in Narragansett.
North Kingstown Town Council President Greg Mancini, an attorney, showed support for the appointment.
“True story, when I got elected three years ago, I didn’t know Callaghan & Callaghan,” he said.
At the time he was thinking of replacing the firm as the town’s solicitors.
“But over a very short period of time, they have grown to gain my trust and I believe the citizens of North Kingstown. “I strongly recommend them.”
From 2004 to 2012, James Callaghan was a special assistant attorney general in the Rhode Island Department of Attorney General. He handled criminal matters statewide and served as chief of the Newport County office from 2011 to 2012.
Like his father, it wasn’t only law that interested the younger Callaghan. He also got into politics.
The Narragansett council in 2012 unanimously chose James Callaghan, then a freshman member, as its president. He served until 2014, when he decided to run for the District 35 State Senate seat being vacated by Republican Dawson Hodgson, who decided to run for attorney general. Callaghan, a Democrat, lost to Republican Mark Gee.
A Narragansett native and lawyer based in North Kingstown, Callaghan takes over the solicitor position from Mark Davis, who parted ways with the council following a testy exchange with Pugh two weeks ago in public comments. Davis criticized the council’s process for choosing its next solicitor.
The council, still meeting on Zoom, cut Davis off just as he vowed to file a complaint alleging the council was violating the state’s Access to Public Records Act by not allowing him to speak.
With the position vacant, it was imperative that the council seat a new solicitor for Monday’s meeting, the agenda of which contained several items requiring legal opinions.
Also Monday, the council voted unanimously to reappoint Stephen H. Marsella as assistant solicitor. Marsella handles planning and zoning legal matters for the town and receives an annual flat rate of $36,000. His hourly rate for litigation and special projects beyond that is $120.