Chariho School Parents’ Forum

December 9, 2008

From the Westerly Sun

Filed under: Nov 18 meeting (where I was removed from office) — Editor @ 4:38 pm

Felkner, lawyer to face board that ousted him
By Victoria Goff

The Sun Staff

WOOD RIVER JCT. — A Hopkinton representative recently dismissed from the Chariho Regional School Committee is expected to take up the issue again with school officials tonight — this time, with his attorney present.

The School Committee voted 6-3, with one abstention last month to “disqualify” William J. Felkner, 45, of Ashaway, from participating in committee meetings until the state Board of Elections or a court rules otherwise. Felkner has two years left in his four-year committee term.

The committee voted to ban Felkner after Chariho Solicitor Jon M. Anderson said he had vacated his com­mittee seat when he was elected to the Hopkinton Town Council a day earlier. Anderson has said his opin­ion — that the offices are “inconsistent” — is based on a collective interpretation of the district’s governing docu­ment known as the Chariho Act, the Hopkinton Town Charter, common law and case law from other states.

Felkner, through his attor­ney Nicholas Gorham, asked to meet with the committee tonight to have a “civilized and straightforward discus­sion.”

Since the committee’s deci­sion, attorneys for the school district, Felkner and town of Hopkinton have weighed in on the issue. Their corre­spondences are posted on Felkner’s blog, Chariho Parents Forum.

Both Gorham and Hopkinton Town Solicitor Patricia A. Buckley — at the direction of the council — accused the School Committee of violating the state Open Meetings Act because the committee’s hour-long discussion and vote to remove Felkner were not listed on the agenda last month. Despite this, “the School Committee had obvi­ously come prepared with the action it intended to take against Mr. Felkner without notifying him or the public of its intention,” Buckley wrote.

She called the School Committee’s actions “the most radical, offensive and questionable approach,” say­ing the school board should have discussed the matter with Felkner first, and then, if necessary, should have sought input from the courts while Felkner remained on the committee.

She said the committee’s decision has disenfranchised Hopkinton citizens and it will “call into question the validity of any action taken by the school committee while Mr. Felkner is prohib­ited from representing the town — including the upcoming adoption of its budget.”

Gorham alleged the com­mittee also violated Felkner’s “civil rights in that he is entitled to due process before any action can be taken pertaining to his sta­tus as an elected member of the School Committee. He received no notice.”

Then-School Committee Chairman William G. Day, of Richmond, and Superintendent Barry J. Ricci have acknowledged they did not contact Felkner prior to the meeting, despite learning he planned to attend. Day said he contact­ed Anderson prior to the meeting for legal advice, which was given at the ses­sion.

Gorham also said his research indicates the School Committee does not have the authority to remove its mem­bers from office.

Anderson, in responding to Gorham’s letter, contends “the power of a legislative body like the School Committee to judge the qual­ifications of its members is well-established in this state, let alone in this coun­try.”

Anderson cited Bailey v. Burns, a 1977 case in which the state Supreme Court sided with the General Assembly in its refusal to seat newly-elected represen­tative William H. Bailey because of prior felony con­victions.

“While the decision of the General Assembly was extremely unpopular among the voters in Mr. Bailey’s dis­trict in South Providence who believed that they had been disenfranchised, the Rhode Island Supreme Court upheld that decision,” he wrote, noting Bailey was the first African-American from his district to be elected to the legislature. “After all, laws, including common law, are made on the basis of principal, not people.”

What’s not included in Anderson’s letter is that Bailey and prospective mem­bers of the state House of Representatives met infor­mally before lawmakers were sworn in. Some legisla­tors told Bailey they consid­ered filing an objection to his qualification for office, which they subsequently did.

A House subcommittee held several open hearings before the House disquali­fied Bailey.

Anderson also defended the School Committee’s dis­cussion of Felkner at last month’s meeting, saying he was unaware of a legal requirement to post the vote on the agenda. The commit­tee discussed Felkner’s sta­tus during the public “Call to Order” before its executive session, scheduled a half­ hour earlier prior to the advertised public meeting.

Anderson said Felkner “willfully disrupted” the meeting when he refused to leave the committee table, after Anderson and Day repeatedly asked him to do so. Felkner said at the time that he did not think the committee had the authority to remove him.

“I don’t see how you can fault the School Committee when it acted through a vote so as to consider the opinions of all the members, not just the chair,” he said. “Would you have preferred that Mr. Felkner been ejected on the say-so of just the chairman?” After the committee voted to disqualify Felkner from participating in committee meetings and Felkner refused to leave the commit­tee table, some committee members suggested that Day, as chairman, should ask a police officer to escort Felkner from the meeting. After polling committee members, Day asked a Richmond police officer to remove Felkner.

Anderson also disagreed with Gorham’s allegation that he was denied due process, saying that he is not “aware of any requirement that Mr. Felkner be given a pre-deprivation hearing as opposed to a post-depriva­tion remedy.”


1 Comment »

  1. It pains me, but I have to give the Rag some credit. They did a little homework in noting the particular of the Bailey v. Burns case are not the same as what occurred when Hopkinton was denied our representation. The Rag did leave out one key element of the Bailey v. Burns case…Mr. Bailey was disqualified on Consitutional grounds. He was a felon and according to Rhode Island’s Constitution a felon is not qualified to be seated in the legislature.

    The Rag article states Mr. Felkner was “elected” the evening before the ill fated School Committee meeting. Correctly stated, he was sworn in as a Town Councilor.

    Comment by Curious Resident — December 9, 2008 @ 5:06 pm | Reply

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