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Monday night’s Narragansett Town Council meeting, held over Zoom, took a contentious turn as Council President Jesse Pugh, top right, removed town solicitor Mark Davis from the virtual meeting after a disagreement involving the town’s search for a new solicitor.

NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The Narragansett Town Council booted its solicitor from its regular meeting Monday night after he objected to how the council is conducting its search for the person that will be Narragansett’s lawyer in the future.

A heated exchange between attorney Mark Davis, a town resident and the solicitor since October 2017 and Council President Jesse Pugh during public comments preceded Pugh’s decision to remove Davis from the Zoom meeting.

“Jesse, I have the right in public comment to speak,” a visibly upset Davis said. “It’s my own issue.”

Davis said a review of his work by the council had been disclosed and was public, which Pugh disputed.

“You can leave this meeting now if you’d like. It’s not going to turn into a clown show,” Pugh responded.

Davis said he plans to file a complaint over a possible Access to Public Records Act violation, the state law that governs public records and meetings.

“I’ll tell you what Jesse, I’m going to file a complaint tomorrow and your new solicitor is not going to beat it,” Davis said angrily before Pugh had him cut off from the meeting.

Davis said he disagreed with written reviews of him that the council completed, and said he didn’t have the chance to talk face to face with members to discuss the issues they have.

Specifically, he took umbrage at Council President Pro Tem Susan Cicilline Buonanno’s response to a question asking if Davis represented the town ethically and professionally.

Davis said that on a 1 to 5 scale, she gave him a one – the lowest ranking.

“As unprofessional and unethical as you can rank somebody,” he said.

He went on to say that the only possible explanation he could come up with was that Buonanno was evaluating herself with the answer to the question.

Buonanno did not respond Monday to Davis’s comments.

At that point, Pugh cut him off.

“Mark, we’re not going to do this in public. It’s a personnel matter,” Pugh said.

It was unclear Tuesday if Davis had followed through on filing an APRA complaint with the Attorney General’s Office. Davis could not be reached.

Davis was brought on as solicitor during the 2017 council headed by Buonanno, and has continued to serve through the council headed by Matthew Mannix and then the current body.

Monday’s clash appeared to leave any thought that he would continue in that position in tatters.

Changing key non-elected personnel – especially town solicitors and town administrators – typically occurs when there’s a changeover in the political priorities of the governing body. Such a switch took place last November, when a faction of candidates that supports building a new library in the former Belmont market gained full control of the council.

Previously, the council was dominated by three members, including Mannix, who did not want to see a library at the Belmont building.

Several times in 2019 and 2020, Councilor Pugh and other pro-Belmont supporters clashed with Davis over his library-related opinions and findings.  Specifically, they criticized moves the previous council made, with legal assistance from Davis, in 2019 to sell part of the Belmont to Pier Liquors and the rest to an out-of-state commercial developer. Both deals failed to materialize, and Pier Liquors now has a long-term lease there.

The council has been in a search process for a solicitor for several months. It’s a mostly closed-door process conducted in executive session.

The council interviewed potential candidates in executive session on July 14 and then discussed those candidates privately Monday night. It made no decision on the solicitor position.

Davis acknowledged the council has the authority to appoint the solicitor of its choice.

“The issue has never been with the authority, it’s been with the process,” he said. “The process was disrespectful and unprofessional.”

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