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Sunday, April 2, 2023

Charlestown lawyer Joe Larisa tells the RI Supreme Court to ignore Town Charter – in Richmond

Larisa backs MAGA town councilors in effort to stack the deck in the Chariho School Committee

By Will Collette

Charlestown has been dragged into the Trump-style MAGA culture war through a controversy over control of the Chariho School District. 

The struggle is between a faction that holds to normal school interests: a sound budget, good teachers, solid infrastructure and a good learning environment that prepares students for higher education and the world of work. On the other side are hard-right conservatives.

The District is hoping to win the April 4 ballot initiative in Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton to fund its budget despite opposition from far-right anti-public school nihilists who are at the heart of this controversy.

These are the Trumpnuts, the MAGA people, who’s fevered dreams make them fear children might be exposed to actual history – the real stuff and not the fairy tales – as well as literature, art and the skills to live in peace in places and with people who may be different than what you find in the Chariho towns.

These are the people who want to ban books, declare Michelangelo’s David to be pornography, block classroom discussion of anything remotely sexual and re-write history so only the John Wayne version is allowed.

These two factions were more or less in balance until the unexpected resignation of Richmond Democrat Gary Liquori last January.

Under the 1958 Chariho Act, vacancies are to be filled by the town council where the vacancy occurred, Richmond in this case. The Richmond Town Home Rule Charter specifically requires the town council to fill the vacancy with the next highest vote-getter.

That person is Democrat Jessica Marie Purcell who missed winning a seat in 2022 by 27 votes.

But instead of following its own Town Charter, the MAGA-controlled Richmond Town Council appointed one of Rhode Island’s top MAGA kahunas, Clay Johnson, who wasn’t even on the 2022 ballot.

In addition to being a prominent Trumpnik, Clay Johnson also owns the Rhode Island franchise of the Goddard School chain of 500+ pre-schools. The official name of the South Kingstown school is Johnson School LLC.

Political trivia: the first time I ever heard of Clay Johnson was in 2012 when he was a central character in an odd little drama. CLICK HERE.

For good reason, Purcell filed a court petition to oust Johnson and get her rightful seat on the school committee.

This case is due to be heard soon by the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The Boston Globe gave it some solid coverage (something you no longer find in the ProJo and Sun whose newsrooms have been gutted by their corporate overlords).

Alex Nunes, South County Bureau chief for The Public’s Radio, takes a deep dive into the background politics of this case in THIS ARTICLE. If you want to read the hard right "interesting" version of reality, CLICK HERE.

The Purcell legal case focuses on the language of the Chariho Act and the Richmond Town Home Rule Charter – the process rather than the MAGA-political motivations that led the Richmond Council to defy the Town Charter to pick a promoter of the January 6 insurrection for the School Committee.

The Town, represented by Charlestown’s Indian-fighting lawyer Joe Larisa, argues the Chariho Act supersedes the 2009 Richmond Town Home Rule Charter and gives the town council unfettered freedom to pick anyone they want to fill the vacancy.

Purcell’s lawyer, Jeffrey L. Levy, argues there is no conflict between the Chariho Act because “The Chariho Act requires the Council to appoint a replacement, and the Charter tells them who they must appoint.”

Having read both, I find Levy’s logic to be flawless.

But Larisa’s position, not so much:

“A ministerial act is four-square inconsistent with a discretionary one. Indeed, they are polar opposites.” Larisa argues Richmond Charter takes away the Town Council’s right of “choice” under the Chariho Act because it specifies who must be appointed – the next highest vote-getter.

Hey, Joe – that’s what Richmond voters wanted when they voted for this Charter item in 2009, which was then approved by the General Assembly.

In case you don't remember the 1908 Model T, here they
are pouring out of a Ford factory (National Archives).
You'll have to ask Joe Larisa what this has to do with Chariho.
Using his familiar cornpone humor that he so often uses to cover his lapses in logic, Larisa spins a yarn: “One is reminded of what Henry Ford once said about the Model T. He opined that a customer could have it painted any color he wants, as long as it is black.”

Purcell’s lawyer points out that Larisa’s argument rests on a claim that the Chariho Act says something it does not, namely that it supersedes the member town’s own laws - which it does not.

Again, the Chariho Act and the Richmond Charter are in accord: the Act says the Council fills vacancies and the Charter prescribes how it should be done. The Richmond Charter does not give the Town Council authority to use the vacancy as a political gift.

Oral arguments before the Supreme Court are set for 11 a.m. April 13.

If the Court rejects the petition to oust Johnson, expect Chariho to undergo the agonies of so many school districts around the country by tearing itself apart over phony issues promoted by MAGAnuts.

Charlestown needs to add this case to the list of reasons why Charlestown should no longer be paying Joe Larisa $25,000+ per year to do poor legal work, attacking the Narragansett Indian Tribe with racist fervor, and to embarrass Charlestown by association through his crackpot outside cases.