Last week we reported the city of Woonsocket had temporarily suspended the liquor license of a troubled neighborhood bar. This week, Rick’s Bar and Grille has a new full-time manager brought in to help clean up the problems: a Woonsocket city council member who doubles as a member of the city’s licensing board. He tells The Hummel Report he does not see it as a conflict of interest.
Click here to view the original report on Rick's Bar and Grille.
Three weeks after having his license suspended for the 4th of July weekend, the owner of Rick’s Bar and Grille was back before the Woonsocket licensing board Monday night. The board wanted to know why Richard Dias had not followed restrictions it placed on him at the last hearing - specifically to have a police detail officer at the bar Friday and Saturday nights.
The city council, sitting as the licensing board, was missing a voting member on Monday night: Councilman Roger Jalette, who had recused himself and instead was sitting in the audience between Dias and his mother.
That’s because Jalette, who voted for the suspension on June 29th - began a job this week as the new full-time manager…at Rick’s Bar and Grille.
Jalette: ``I’ve known the family for quite a long time. They’ve been in the city quite a while, they’ve had other businesses, they’ve been a good taxpayer in the city of Woonsocket.’’
Jalette, who recused himself from Monday night’s proceeding, told us in an interview over the weekend at his house that the job was solidified with Dias last week.
Hummel: ``How did it come about then? Did he approach you or did yo approach him?’’
Jalette: ``He called me and he asked for my advice, he was at his wit’s end. He doesn’t know what to do. He makes his living there and so I’m an elder, they say with age comes wisdom, he’s tapping on that I think, and the fact that we were were friends. He trusts me.’’
Last week The Hummel Report outlined a variety of problems at the bar in the city’s north end, all caught on surveillance tape by a neighbor who has been pressuring the city to do something. From fights and assaults, to loud noise and one patron pulling a gun last November, the licensing board heard it all. And after a 3 ½-hour hearing on June 29th voted for a four-day license suspension and multiple restrictions going forward.
``Councilman Jalette. Yes…’’
Jalette voted for those sanctions.
Jalette: ``My job is going to be to make sure those things don’t happen again. That’s my intention. Some people think I’m crazy for taking on this undertaking, but I saw a situation where a businessman that I knew, that is a friend, was in trouble, reached out to me and I offered him my advice and offered him my abilities to be able to help straighten him out.’’
Jalette told us he expects to work anywhere from 40 to 80 hours a week at the Cass Avenue bar. He declined to say how much he is being paid.
So is it a conflict of interest?
Hummel: ``You’re a sitting councilman, who have a seat de facto on the board of license commissioners. Does that not put you in a conflict of interest situation?’’
Jalette: ``It does not - at least according to the Ethics Commission. I called them yesterday and asked them and she said she didn’t think there was a problem, as long as I filled out the proper form that I needed to fill out - I forget the name of it right now - and she says hold on let me talk to my peeers. She went off the phone for awhile, came back and we all agree that as long as you fill out that form and do not participate in any way, shape or form, pertaining to any activities as a liquor commissioner, then you’re safe.’’
A spokesman for the Rhode Island Ethics Commission told The Hummel Report Jalette might have received advice over the phone, but those conversations are confidential. And that the commission has not yet received a request from Jalette for a formal advisory opinion.
Hummel: ``Some people would say: this guy is trying to get an in on the council, even though you may recuse yourself, you have influence with other councilmen, it just smells bad, what do you say to those people?’’
Jaslette: ``I say there will always be someone to disagree. As a politician now for 15 years I have found that no matter what I did I found people who will disagree. There’s always someone that’s going to try to twist something good into something evil.’’
Hummel: ``That somebody might say you’re trying to earn money off the back of your position on the City Council or the licensing board, what do you say to that?’’
Jalette: ``They might say that and if that’s what they believe that’s up to them. I know in my own mind that yes, I’m willing to go to work for Mr. Dias and help his straighten out his situation, but in all fairness, I will have expenses and I deserved to be paid.’’
Jalette, who owned a now-closed flower shop, said he had never managed a bar before, but brings life experience to the job.
Hummel: ``What do you think you can bring to the table?’’
Jalette: ``I think I can bring some stability; hopefully I’m going to be able to get some cooperation. Not only from the people that attend, go to the establishment, but from the neighbors also.’’
Hummel: ``He’s got a lot of restrictions right now.’’
Jalette: ``He does and I’m going to make sure that those restrictions are kept up to the T. Had I been there, there would have been a police officer in place. This will be not be his job. It will be my job to make sure it happens.’’
Jalette says he hopes to turn the place around in the weeks ahead.
Jalette: ``I laid it all out on the table, I said `Listen to me, you’re not going to like some of the things I’m going to do. But you’re going to have to do it to change this place around. If you’re serious, hire me. If you’re not serious, don’t hire me.’”
In Woonsocket, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.