In a 6-0 vote, Newport City Council directed the city solicitor to pursue litigation against Clarke School Partners, the developers of the Clarke School apartment complex. Councilor Justin McLaughlin made the motion to commence litigation against the entity.
Councilor Kathryn Leonard was absent.
Manager Jane Howington summarized a recommendation that she sent to members of council Friday afternoon.
"We have had several meetings and looked at a lot of options," said Howington. She said despite the negotiations, they "have not been able to reach any kind of agreement.
On Dec. 12, 1994, the city’s Community Development Block Grant Fund loaned the developers $1.35 million as a second mortgage to purchase and convert the Clarke School into a senior housing project. The loan was originally due on Dec. 12, 2012, but council approved a one-year extension last year. The extension ended Thursday.
City Solicitor Joseph Nicholson clarified that Clarke School apartment residents are not at risk to be evicted.
“These residents are protected in every way shape and form,” said Nicholson. “This is a business dispute.”
Despite the unanimous agreement to litigate, tensions rose when councilor Michael Farley asked Howington how much the developers owed the city. She responded that she did not have the number in front of her.
“Would you go into your office and get it?” asked Farley sharply.
When Mayor Harry Winthrop asked the city manager if she could provide an estimate, she responded the partnership owes the city $1.823 million.
Farley said he was questioning the city manager because she previously told the council they owed $1.803, but the number was adjusted after Farley pointed out an accounting error.
“I don’t trust your judgment on this issue at this point,” said Farley to Howington. He asked that the city solicitor handle the issue going forward.
Although Jeanne-Marie Napolitano said she agreed with Farley on the issue, she said his approach was inappropriate.
“This is all insulting, not just to the city manager, but also to the city council and the public,” she said. “Haranguing people and insulting people in the public is not the way to do business. Not my way of doing business,” she added.
This is not the first time Farley has been faulted on his approach. He was strongly criticized by individual council members at the Oct. 23 council meeting.
Since that October meeting, there have been additional uniformed officers present at city meetings. Howington told Patch police presence is a "discretionary decision" made between the police chief and the city manager.
She added officers that attended the Dec. 11 meeting were "designated details," and not taken off the street. The reasons behind the decision are unknown.