Months of discussions on a lease with the Newport Yacht Club came to a theatrical conclusion Wednesday after councilors strongly criticized the methods of Councilor Michael Farley to push for a rent increase. In a 5-1 vote, Newport City Council members agreed to accept the recommendations of City Manager Jane Howington to not renegotiate the lease. Farley was opposed and Councilor Kate Leonard was absent.
The bulk of the debate surrounded the controversial resolution authored by City Councilor Michael Farley that stated the city manager was guilty of "insubordination and willful disobedience" for failing to renegotiate the yacht club's lease.
Although Farley attempted to pull the resolution at Wednesday’s meeting, citing a recommendation by other councilors to discuss at executive session, Councilor Marco Camacho objected.
“I am concerned with his wording,” said Camacho. “I do not believe for one second that the city manager should be admonished."
Mayor Harry Winthrop said Farley’s attempt to withdraw the resolution was equivalent to a “school yard bully that sucker punched someone, ran home and is hiding under the bed.”
Farley’s resolution was a reaction to council decision 2013-123 that stated "based upon a letter dated April 14, 2013, from the Newport Yacht Club requesting to enter into negotiations, the city manager is directed to renegotiate the lease and bring to the city council a revised agreement no later than October 15, 2013." Farley said the city manager failed in her duties when she failed to renegotiate the lease.
“He uses a resolution as a weapon,” said Winthrop “It is the first time I've ever witnessed this in the 50 years I've been following politics.”
Councillor Justin McLaughlin agreed with the concerns and said Farley is too quick to go to the media.
“It should be raised in an executive session, not in a newspaper," he said. “It isn't about getting a headline or a quote in the paper. It is all about getting four votes." McLaughlin added that he hoped the council could take some “deep breaths and move forward.”
Farley said he would take the comments “to heart” but defended his use of press releases.
“I like to do it transparently. I get frustrated. I'd like to drive action better,” he explained.
Vice Chair Naomi Neville said Farley’s approach on this resolution, as well as other issues, have created a “dysfunctional environment” for the council.
She added the near future might not improve.
“I don't believe councilor Farley has an ability to change his semantics,” she said. “We want to move the city forward,” she asserted. “Headlines pulled us back. This technique pulled us back. Fighting amongst ourselves pulled us back.”
All five councilors added they not only disagreed with Farley’s admonishment resolution, but also supported the city manager’s arguments to keep the lease unchanged. In her recommendation, Howington outlined intangible benefits, an annual CPI increase and property improvements.
“I can't help but see this as a gift for the yacht club,” Farley pressed. “I promised to work hard to find new sources of revenue. This is one untapped source of revenue.”
Stephen Lepley, Past Commodore Newport Yacht Club, thanked the council members who voted to approve the city manager’s recommendation.
“Our current property agreement, now in it’s [sic] twentieth year, which took about five years in the making to finalize, was a carefully worded document that described what the City could expect from us and also sought to avoid any future attempts of misunderstanding as to what our financial obligations should be in the future,” he wrote in a statement.
Farley’s resolution to admonish the city manager failed 6-0.