By DANIEL KITTREDGE Since his recent announcement that he would not seek reelection this fall, it has been known that Ward 2 Councilman Paul McAuley's time on the City Council was drawing to an end. But his departure from the body has come much more
Since his recent announcement that he would not seek reelection this fall, it has been known that Ward 2 Councilman Paul McAuley’s time on the City Council was drawing to an end.
But his departure from the body has come much more abruptly than anyone anticipated – and amid the kind of controversy with which he has rarely been associated.
McAuley confirmed during a phone call late Tuesday morning that he is resigning from his seat on the council, which he had said he intended to do during Monday’s regular meeting of the council.
“I’m not a rich man … But my name, I think, is gold,” McAuley said.
In terms of a successor, he added: “I’m not endorsing anyone. The voters can handle that.”
The dramatic developments during Monday’s council meeting, held over Zoom, began with McAuley becoming emotional as he read a short letter into the record and demanded an apology from Evan Kirshenbaum, one of the council’s legal advisers.
Without the apology, McAuley said, he would resign his seat. When he did not receive one, he left the meeting.
During discussion several minutes later, several council members urged McAuley to reconsider and said they would reach out to him in an effort to change his mind.
Monday’s events were set in motion during the June 1 meeting of the council’s Finance Committee, when a pair of proposals seeking to repeal pay increases for the next mayor and council were removed from consideration based on advice from Kirshebaum and attorney John Verdecchia.
McAuley had introduced the repeal proposals with Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas. Mayor Allan Fung, in his State of the City Address earlier this year, had urged the council to postpone to the pay raises – which were approved last year after lengthy debate – in light of the pandemic and its economic impact.
During the June 1 meeting, Kirshenbaum and Verdecchia told council members they believed the repeal proposals were problematic both from a procedural standpoint and because of the potential ethics issues involved in voting on such a matter so close to key dates on this year’s election calendar. Based on their advice, the Finance Committee removed both measures from the docket on 5-2 votes, with McAuley and Citywide Councilman Ken Hopkins dissenting.
On Monday, McAuley said he had written the letter without anyone’s knowledge and submitted to the city clerk’s office earlier that day.
He began: “On June 1 at this month’s Finance Committee meeting, I was publicly accused of possible felony conduct by someone I always treated with the utmost respect and whom I actually considered a friend.”
He then singled out Kirshenbaum, who he claimed had “suggested on more than one occasion [during the June 1 meeting] that my intentions were politically motivated and suggested I was committing a felony.”
“Shame on you, sir,” McAuley added. “What you suggested as attorney for the council was a travesty to your position.”
He also defended the pay increase repeals as “a simple way of possibly saving taxpayer dollars at a time of significant hardships for many, nothing more,” adding: “There was no ulterior motive.”
McAuley was also critical of his fellow council members, saying: “What hurt even more was the muted voices of my colleagues. Other than Councilman Hopkins, none of you came to my defense. I thought that you were all my friends that would at the very least defend my integrity. I know that I would have been there for all of you.”
McAuley concluded: “If I do not receive an apology from Attorney Kirshenbaum this evening, please accept this letter as my resignation from the council effective immediately.”
Council President Michael Farina then asked Kirshenbaum, who was on the Zoom call, if he wished to respond. Kirshenbaum replied simply: “Absolutely not.” At that point, McAuley left the meeting.
The council moved on to other business for several minutes, but during the council member communications portion of the meeting, each of the body’s members reacted to what had unfolded.
“I just want him to know how deeply respected he is by this body and how much he has meant to me … We didn’t always agree, but I never questioned his intent on anything,” Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan said.
“I hope that Councilman McAuley does come back and finish his term, because I think he’s been a tremendous asset to the city and become a friend, I think, to all of us … I don’t think any of us meant him any disrespect or any harm,” said Michael Favicchio, who represents Ward 6 and serves as the council’s vice president.
“If you talk to people who really matter, which is the residents of Ward 2, the ones who had contact with Paul will certainly tell you that he gets back to them, he does what he can to solve problems, and I do think he was a hard worker and he’ll be missed,” Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos said.
“I know what kind of man he is, a man of integrity who became a close friend … I didn’t necessarily agree with him on this issue. I would never question his character and the kind of person he is,” Ward 4 Councilman Ed Brady said.
“There’s a big hole on the council tonight and a hole in Ward 2 … I know he’s going to be missed by all of us and I hope he reconsiders and comes back,” Ward 5 Councilman Chris Paplauskas said.
“He loves this city as much as we all do,” Vargas said, praising McAuley for his “integrity.”
The situation is shaping up to become an issue in this year’s mayoral race, and the two aspirants for the GOP nomination offered starkly different takes.
“I think this is one of the worst days in the history of Cranston politics … I think it is extremely reprehensible about the way [McAuley] was treated and the way he was disrespected, and I will pursue this,” Hopkins said during Monday’s meeting, adding that he planned to seek an executive session to discuss the matter.
Later on Monday night, once the meeting had concluded, Hopkins issued a statement calling for Kirshenbaum’s resignation and pledging to pursue the legal counsel’s ouster through a resolution if he does not step down.
“Attorney Kirshenbaum’s condescending and disrespectful tone that evening [June 1] was outrageous. His arrogance that night was only exceeded tonight by his refusal to apologize when Councilman McAuley asked for an apology,” the statement reads.
It continues: “His reckless and cavalier attitude has cost this city and Ward 2, a valuable and outstanding public servant. We need Paul McAuley on the City Council. We do not need Evan Kirshenbaum’s patronizing disdain for good people who offer themselves to serve this community as elected officials … There are plenty of other attorneys who will gladly accept the $24,000 annual salary for part-time work and who will treat the council members with the respect we deserve.”
Farina on Tuesday issued his own statement defending Kirshenbaum and saying the transcripts of the June 1 meeting would show the attorney acted “respectfully and professionally” toward all members of the council.
Farina in his statement also says he “demonstrated a strong code of morals and ethics by supporting the removal of the salary ordinances that were proposed on June 1.” He goes on to criticize Hopkins for voting against removing the measures from consideration.
“My opponent’s actions to ignore Legal Council’s advice and potentially commit an ethical violation shows bad judgment,” Farina said. “The Council retains an Attorney for a reason, and in this case, even sought the opinion of the Administration’s Attorney in an abundance of caution,” said Farina. “They both clearly stated that Mayoral Candidates and Council Candidates would be potentially violating ethics laws by voting to adjust the salary ordinance so close to the formal candidate declaration period after three of the sitting Councilmen have already made formal announcements to run for Mayor. It was an obvious conflict of interest.”
Regarding McAuley, Farina said: “It makes me sad that McAuley would consider not representing his Constituents in Ward 2 in such an impulsive way, and I sincerely hope he will reconsider his position.”
Kirshenbaum on Monday shared a copy of an email he wrote to McAuley following the meeting. During a phone conversation, he defended his advice and conduct during the June 1 meeting and described McAuley’s response as “completely irrational.”
“I am shocked at your inappropriate grandstanding,” Kirshenbaum’s email to McAuley reads. “If you have a personal problem with me you should have called or asked to clarify. That part you need to own … I’m 10,000 percent positive that I did not accuse you of a crime.”
It was not immediately clear whether, or when, the rest of McAuley’s term will be filled. Under the terms of the city’s charter, the position would be filled through an appointment of the City Council. The appointee must be a resident of Ward 2 and a member of the same political party as the person who vacated the seat – in this case, a Democrat.
As of Tuesday afternoon, two candidates had filed declaration of candidacy forms for the Ward 2 seat – Democrat Aniece Germain and Republican Zac Sailer.