Providence City Council seeking to oust Aponte by changing rules

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Members of the Providence City Council think they have figured out a way to remove indicted Council President Luis Aponte from his leadership position.

The council has scheduled a special meeting for Monday where they intend to amend their own rules to include a provision that allows for the permanent removal of the president as long as it has the support of two-thirds of the 15-member legislative body.

The meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Monday, according to a press release issued by the council. The council also intends to declare the Ward 3 council seat vacant as a result of the recall of Councilman Kevin Jackson.

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.

The move by the council to oust Aponte as president comes after 12 members voted “no confidence” in his leadership and called for him to resign. The majority of the council skipped Thursday’s scheduled meeting, in part because Aponte has refused to step down.

Mayor Jorge Elorza said this week there was no mechanism to remove Aponte has the council’s leader, but advocated for making him a “president in name only.” Neither the Providence Home Rule Charter nor the rules of the City Council include a provision that allows for the removal of the president, but the council only needs a majority of its members to vote in favor of changes to the rules. The council hasn’t changed any rules since 2007.

The charter and the council rules also don’t specifically state that the president must serve a four-year term, but the council has long treated it that way. According to the City Council meeting minutes from day Aponte was sworn in as president, he was expected to lead the council “for the ensuing term of four years ending on the first Monday in January, 2019.”

If Aponte is removed as president, Council President Pro Tempore Sabina Matos would become the acting leader of the council. It is unclear whether the council would hold an election for a new president or keep Matos as acting president for the rest of the term.

Aponte would become the fourth president in the last 33 years to not complete his four-year term leading the council.

In 1984, Council President Joe Paolino was elevated to mayor following the resignation of Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. In 1996, James Petrosinelli died while serving as president. And in 2002, Council President John Lombardi became mayor when Cianci was forced to resign for a second time.

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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