Providence City Council president wants school board leader to resign

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The acting president of the Providence City Council is calling on School Board President Nicholas Hemond to step down from his post, claiming he helps bars and nightclubs “flagrantly violate our laws, place people at risk and avoid prosecution” by representing the businesses in front of the city’s Board of Licenses.

In a statement, acting President Sabina Matos said she is “deeply troubled by the apparent conflict of interest” of Hemond leading the school board and serving as a defense attorney for several troubled nightclubs, including the Penthouse in Fox Point.

“While Mr. Hemond is not breaking any law, his dual roles as an advocate for children one day and an advocate for lawless entertainment venues the next further erodes the public’s trust in government,” Matos, a Democrat who represents Ward 15, said.

Hemond, 31, said Wednesday he does not intend to step down from his role. He called Matos’ statement an “unfortunate political stunt.”

“I have served in this role for many years while representing a wide array of clients,” Hemond said in a prepared statement. “The question becomes, why is Councilwoman Matos suddenly raising these concerns? The answer is simple – politics. It is no secret she has disagreed with actions and decisions the board has made to improve our schools during my time as chair.”

Hemond called his decision to represents bars and nightclubs in front of the Board of Licenses a “small portion of my practice,” arguing he believes “every client is entitled to a rigorous and ethical defense.”

To be sure, Hemond has not shied away from representing controversial clients. He currently represents Penthouse, a Fox Point club that was ordered closed by the Board of Licenses last week for several violations, including having nudity on the premises where alcohol is served. The state Department of Business Regulation has allowed the club to reopen pending a full appeal hearing.

Hemond also represented Aqua Lounge, which was ordered close after a shooting occurred inside the bar. Another client, an after-hours club in Olneyville called Dusk 2 Dawn, was allowed to remain open over the objection of Matos. The club’s owners are now suing Matos, although Hemond is not representing them in the civil suit.

Hemond was appointed to the school board under former Mayor Angel Taveras, but was elected president by his colleagues in 2015 after then-president Keith Oliveira resigned following a dispute with current Mayor Jorge Elorza. He earns $4,500 a year for leading the board.

As an attorney at DarrowEverett, Hemond has successfully lobbied the City Council to approve millions of dollars in tax breaks for a range of clients. He is also a State House lobbyist and occasional fundraiser, having recently hosted an event for Senate President Dominick Ruggerio.

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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