Mayor Elorza: Aponte should be council president ‘in name only’

Mayor Jorge Elorza and City Council President Luis Aponte meet in the mayor's office. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said Wednesday the city’s law department is reviewing options for the City Council to make indicted Council President Luis Aponte a “president in name only” for as long as he remains in his leadership post.

In an interview with reporters, the first-term Democrat said the goal is to ensure that Aponte “doesn’t have any authority or any power to make citywide decisions.”

“The idea is that so long as he remains as president, he’ll be president in name only,” Elorza said. “The decisions will be made by the majority of the council, and the majority of the council, the vast majority of the council, has voted ‘no confidence’ in him. So he’s lost his moral authority to lead the council.”

A statewide grand jury indicted Aponte last week on one count of unlawful appropriation, one of embezzlement – both felonies – and two counts of misdemeanor misuse of campaign funds stemming from a state police investigation into his alleged mishandling of his political campaign account between December 2013 and December 2015.

Gov. Gina Raimondo, Elorza and 12 members of the City Council have all called for Aponte to resign as president, but he held a press conference this week to declare he intends to remain in his leadership position. The City Council voted 12-1 on Monday to declare it has “no confidence” in him. Aponte himself was the only no vote.

Elorza acknowledged there is no clear mechanism to remove Aponte, but said the law department is reviewing ordinances, the Providence Home Rule Charter and the rules of the City Council to determine ways to sideline the president. Elorza said he has not met with Aponte since the indictment.

Asked if the mayor’s comments could be seen as the executive branch of city government interfering with legislative business, a spokesperson for Elorza said the law department received requests from multiple members of the City Council to review options for stripping Aponte of any of his power.

The City Council will hold a regularly scheduled meeting Thursday evening. Five councilors have introduced a resolution urging Aponte to resign. Separately, Councilman Sam Zurier has obtained the necessary signatures from voters to force the council to hold a public hearing on a proposed change to the city’s code of ethics that would require councilors to resign from leadership positions and committee assignments following an indictment.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan