More Nepotism Accusations for Woonsocket Mayor

encore1Earlier this month, a crew from Woonsocket’s Highway Department was putting final touches on the  brand new United Veterans Council of Woonsocket Armed Forces Park in preparation for an official dedication on Veterans Day. Right in the middle of it all, weed whacker in hand, was one of the Public Works Department’s newest employees. Tyler Driscoll,  age 23, has been on the job for eight weeks.

And he happens to be the nephew of Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt.

Baldelli-Hunt already is facing an investigation by the Rhode Island Ethics Commission for hiring her son and teammates from his summer baseball league for unadvertised, unbudgeted jobs during July and August. In an interview with The Hummel Report in September, the mayor said she saw nothing wrong with the hire, later calling it a misstep. Late last month she termed it a mistake that was part of her learning curve in the mayor’s office.

Driscoll began his job with the city the day before we interviewed the mayor in September about her son’s employment. Driscoll is classified as a laborer. It is a temporary position with full-time hours and he makes $570 a week.

So we tried to ask the mayor about it after a news conference at City Hall on Oct 28 that announced several economic initiatives in the city. We waited until the news conference had concluded and Baldelli-Hunt had done interviews with two television stations about new businesses coming to the city.

Jim Hummel: We have a little unfinished business from the interview that you and I did a couple of months ago.

Lisa Baldelli-Hunt: Today is about economic development. If we want to talk about something other than economic development then I’d like you to call my secretary.

JH: Well, I have a feeling you’re not going to want to talk to me if I do that.

LH: No, no, you made mention that I have no problem talking to you, as was evident when I talked to you (in September), but let’s not rain on Woonsocket’s parade today.

What we didn’t realize until later is that just minutes earlier the mayor had spoken with a Channel 12 photographer about her son’s hiring and the ethics commission investigation.

We wanted to ask the mayor about her nephew’s employment and his criminal record. Driscoll was involved in a highly publicized case three years ago, charged by the Johnston Police Department with sexually assaulting two teenage girls at Memorial Park.

The police report says Driscoll, then 20 and living in West Warwick, friended the Johnston girls through Facebook, saying he was 17. Police say he brought a bottle of flavored rum with him and gave it to the girls, who were 15 and 16 at the time, on a ride to Johnston Memorial Park. One told the police she tried to fend him off when he made sexual advances but was too intoxicated to do so.

Driscoll initially was held without bail at the ACI on a first-degree sexual assault charge, but police tell The Hummel Report the parents of the girls later changed their minds and did not want to go through with the case.

The charges were eventually reduced to two counts of simple assault.  He pleaded no contest in December 2012, the case was filed, and he was ordered to have no contact with the victims. The following summer Driscoll was charged with procuring alcohol for a minor in a separate case in West Warwick. He pleaded no contest and was given six months of probation.

JH: Mayor, I have just two quick questions. Is your nephew Tyler Driscoll?

BH: Jim, really. Can you just understand that today is about economic development? So if you want to make an appointment with my secretary …’

JH: I have you for two minutes right now.

BH: … I’d be happy to speak with you.

JH: Mayor why are you running away? You can’t just stand and answer for two minutes? You gave us plenty of time a couple of weeks ago. What has changed? You have a nephew named Tyler Driscoll. Is that correct?

We called her secretary for an appointment that afternoon.

She scheduled an interview for the following Thursday morning — nine days later. At 5pm on the afternoon before the interview, the mayor’s secretary called to cancel the appointment, saying that Baldelli-Hunt needed to reschedule. She didn’t offer a reason why.

encore2The mayor told Channel 12 she didn’t think twice about hiring her son because she had heard of City Council members in the past  hiring their children for jobs. We weren’t able to find any evidence of that, but we did discover that another employee in the Highway Department is the mayor’s cousin, John Baldelli. He was hired in 1989 when his father — Lisa’s uncle, Charlie Baldelli — was the city’s mayor.

More than two weeks days after Mayor Baldelli-Hunt told us she’d be happy to talk with us, we’re still waiting for an interview.

Meanwhile the mayor is trying to settle her case with the Ethics Commission. In her formal response filed earlier this month, she admitted to the violation and proposed reimbursing the city of Woonsocket $880 — the amount her son earned over the summer — in exchange for having the charges dropped.

She also asked for an advisory opinion asking if the program is properly funded and advertised next summer, could her son work for the city again.

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your donations. If you have a story idea or want make a donation go to www.hummelreport.org, where you can also see the video version of this story. You can mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.org.

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