COVENTRY, Rhode Island (WPRI) — Coventry city councilors voted on Tuesday to suspend the town’s manager, a ‘negligent’ that has proven “harmful to the discipline, efficiency and effectiveness” of the administration. accusing him of “the pattern of
Coventry City Council voted 4 to 1 to suspend Benjamin Merchant pending the outcome of an investigation by town attorneys into the handling of the town’s finances since he took office last April.
Councilors shall ensure that merchants, throughout their term of office, properly direct and supervise the administration of the town, submit timely financial reports, and properly carry out all provisions set forth in the town charter. He claims that he has repeatedly neglected to do so.
The merchant has also been accused of failing to advise the council on the town’s financial needs.
Councilor Jonathan Pasqua said, “Without a doubt, he made a career-worthy mistake. “If the team fails, replace the coach.”
Council chairman Hilary Lima described merchant leadership as “five alarms.”
“It’s no miracle that you can do the basics,” she said. “Coventry should expect better because Coventry deserves better. We can’t waste our time waiting any longer.”
Merchant defended the council’s accusations and claimed to have inherited the town in “serious financial troubles”.
“I recognized a great opportunity that I felt could help this community, solve some big problems, and make a real difference,” Merchant said. It was a very controversial and very expensive issue.”
Those challenges included lawsuits over Johnson’s Pond, an underfunded police pension program and a poorly run sewage program, Merchant said.
“Coventry is not the quiet little town you think it is,” he said. “There are big city problems that don’t have easy, cheap solutions.”
Merchant listed a series of assessments and investigations he had conducted at the Council’s request.
Through a financial health assessment, Marchant said he found the town was about $250 million in debt.
“I did everything you asked me to do,” said the merchant. “But the recommendations made by all these studies show that the work to be done comes with demands for time, people and money, which Coventry does not have.”
Marchant accused the council of “unwillingness to make tough decisions,” adding that councilors have deliberated on important issues over and over again.
Jennifer Ludwig, who voted against Marchant’s suspension, argued that now was not the time for a leadership change after the finance minister and deputy secretary resigned last week.
“The town is not in a good position to change all its leaders at once,” said Ludwig. “It’s not a smart move.”
Those who attended Tuesday night’s meeting applauded the council’s decision shortly after the vote.
However, Rima responded by telling everyone, “There is nothing to applaud.”
“This is a dark day for Coventry and it’s time to move on,” she said. “But we are better than that.”
The merchant was ordered to suspend all town manager duties, hand over the town car, and return the office key.
The council also unanimously voted to appoint former Coventry magistrate Edward Wojka as interim town administrator.