2/13/08

Harsh words at labor-state Union Hall

There have been many arguments at East Providence (RI) Canvassing Authority meetings, but yesterday’s noon gathering had police presence and a member calling his chairwoman a “Nazi.” Canvasser Thomas Riley requested in advance that several matters be discussed, including setting an annual calendar for future meetings and alleged violations of the state’s election laws by the chair and board’s clerk — Dorothy O’Gara and MaryAnn Callahan, respectively.

Riley, the lone Republican and longest serving member on the present three-person board, also wanted to read letters from upset voters and talk about the “infringement of their civil rights” due to meetings that are scheduled during working hours, and the recent decision to reduce the number of polling places in East Providence to four, or one per ward, for the state’s presidential primary on March 4.

Yet the only subject on the official agenda was to approve the city’s voting lists of those eligible to cast ballots for the primary.

After a contentious debate over Riley’s missing agenda topics, O’Gara took a recess. She returned with the police.

“Who’s Thomas Riley?” one of two officers asked.

After seeing the police, 86-year-old resident Nancy Stevens, a former School Committee and City Council member, said, “Oh, c’mon. For heaven’s sake….”

The same officer said to Riley, “Please be orderly.… Please don’t argue with anyone.”

Riley explained his intentions and the police left. O’Gara continued the meeting with the single agenda item despite further protests by Riley. The voting lists were ultimately approved by Riley, O’Gara and John Botelho, the alternate for absent member Peter Barilla Sr.

O’Gara immediately adjourned the meeting after the vote.

“That’s nice,” an angry Riley said speaking mainly to O’Gara. “I hope the newspaper gets this down, Nazi. You should really be proud of yourselves. This is how a fascist government works.”

City Republican Committee co-Chair Kathy Santos added, as O’Gara, her husband and Callahan walked out, “East Providence al-Qaeda has left the room.”

A group of less then 15 stayed behind and talked, particularly about the reduced city polling places for March 4. O’Gara told the City Council last month that the change was made by Callahan after recommendations from state election officials.

The Teamsters Local 251 Hall on Brightridge Avenue was also designated the polling site for Ward 2 despite being previously taken off the list of polling places for East Providence after it was discovered the hall’s members had political signs and paraphernalia on the premises during a 2004 election.

O’Gara explained to the council that state officials suggested the Teamsters Hall and the reductions were being made statewide because of low voter turnouts in past Rhode Island presidential primaries. She also emphasized it will save the city more than $6,500 to open only four sites.

Yet former state senatorial candidate Lloyd Monroe said yesterday that it is clear that Rhode Island’s presidential primary will matter, especially in the Democratic battle between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

“Our citizens will be greatly inconvenienced,” Monroe said, while discussing long lines that won’t be good for seniors and the working public. “…The local board has the sole authority to determine the polling places.… By having a [noon] meeting, they refuse to even entertain the voters.”

Although some acknowledge that state law says polling places cannot be changed within 50 days — in this case by Jan. 14 — of an election, Riley and others said at least a half-dozen laws were broken because Callahan “grossly overstepped” her duties by making the changes without a vote from the local board. In addition, they said they will file a complaint with the state attorney general’s office and possibly higher with a federal agency immediately.

Said Riley, “…They just simply can’t ignore me.”

Resident and city Republican Committee co-Chair Robert Carlin said, “As far as we’re concerned, it was illegal and the only solution is to open all of the polling sites.”

(projo.com)

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