NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The state’s Superior Court has handed a victory to former Narragansett Town Council President Susan Cicilline Buonanno, who sued the current council in an effort to prevent a sale of the Belmont building, the proposed site of a new town library.
The ruling by Judge Jeffrey A. Lanphear means Cicilline Buonanno will be able to collect signatures in order to place a petition on the November ballot that, if passed, would block a sale.
“It will be on the ballot in November for the people of Narragansett to decide,” Cicilline Buonanno said. “They have that legislative authority and finally will be able to exercise it.”
In March 2019, the Town Council voted to mark the initiative petition as invalid, preventing it from being placed on the ballot.
“The Town then claims that the proposed initiative is not legislative in nature, and therefore beyond the scope of a voter initiative,” Lanphear wrote.
However, the judge wrote, the Town Charter provides for voter initiative for legislative changes. “Hence, it is procedurally proper. It clearly establishes, and is intended to establish, the policy of the Town, even though it pertains to a specific parcel,” Lanphear wrote.
State law requires town legislative approval for selling or transferring a property, Lanphear wrote. “Article XIII of the Rhode Island Constitution provides municipalities with the opportunity to determine its scope of self-governing through a home rule charter. A home rule charter can provide legislative powers to voter initiatives, as Narragansett has done,” he wrote.
The ruling concluded: “It is noteworthy that the language of the charter refers to powers of the Town Manager and charter changes. Clearly, the scope of voter initiative in Narragansett is expansive. As indicated above, legislative acts in the Town can be done by either Town Council action or voter initiative. The voter initiative here is a proper exercise of legislative power.”
Also, there was some movement last week regarding a separate lawsuit against the council brought by Friends of the Narragansett Library and Love Your Library, the groups that support a new library at the Belmont building. Cicilline Buonanno is also a plaintiff in that suit.
Word about a possible “settlement” appeared to be premature or unfounded, however.
That caused Town Solicitor Mark Davis to pull a proposed extension of the Pier Liquors lease agreement from Monday’s agenda. The deal with the town would have given Pier Liquors an additional 1,500 square-foot area of the Belmont building to use as a loading dock area and would have brokered a five-year lease for the business, with a five-year extension option. Pier Liquors would also be dropped from the lawsuit.
In exchange, Pier Liquors would drop its plans to buy the part of the building it leases – plans it agreed to with the town in August of 2019.
The existing town lease to Pier Liquors expired May 31, and owner Debra Manni had put forth the new proposal as a compromise. In exchange for the loading dock area, Pier Liquors was prepared to relinquish any claim to the second floor space above the store, Manni said.
The library news comes as the existing library building will have to contend with a second straight year of reduced funding from the town.
The council on Monday voted 4-1 to approve the 2020-21 budget, which kept the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library’s share of town funding the same as the previous year at about $400,000. But that is down significantly from the more than $800,000 the town gave to the library in 2018-19. Voting against was Jesse Pugh, who said he couldn’t support the budget with the library funded at that level.