ATTLEBORO — The city council has scheduled a hearing on the mayor’s plan to can the volunteer chairman of the city’s traffic study commission over “ideological differences.”
The session will be held Jan. 21 as part of a regular council meeting and comes after commission chairman Joe Caponigro, who was “suspended” as a prelude to being fired by Mayor Paul Heroux last month, formally requested a hearing, which he has the right to do under the city charter.
Caponigro has been chairman for five years and has served on the commission for 13 years.
Heroux sent Caponigro a letter last month asking for him to resign or he would be removed.
He laid out his reasons.
“I am displeased with a number of specific issues I’ve observed with you on the committee, and more globally I think that there are too many ideological differences between us to merit a continued place for you in my administration,” the mayor wrote to Caponigro.
Caponigro refused to resign, saying he has done nothing to warrant removal.
“I have done nothing wrong or inappropriate and look forward to the public hearing that I will request once the mayor has filed his report with the city council,” he wrote in a email to The Sun Chronicle at the time.
Heroux did not respond to a Sun Chronicle request to detail the “specific issues” or the “ideological differences,” but the commission raised the ire of the mayor when it publicly disagreed with his plan to solve parking issues on Beagle Club Road.
The commission is an advisory body and can only make recommendations. It does not have the power to implement them.
That power is left to the council and mayor, who may or may not choose to follow its recommendations.
In addition, Caponigro, speaking as a private citizen and as a contractor who builds homes in the city, opposed the mayor’s proposal to adopt the state’s “stretch energy code,” which imposes tougher energy regulations on new homes and some commercial buildings. His comments came at a public hearing.
The council eventually adopted the measure.
Heroux reappointed Caponigro to the commission last March to a three-year term.
While Caponigro will get a chance to defend himself during the hearing, under the charter, the final decision on whether he stays or goes is left in the hands of the mayor.
And Heroux has made it clear he intends to dismiss Caponigro as soon as the hearing is over.
Heroux made it clear again in an emailed comment to The Sun Chronicle on Friday after a reporter asked him what his plans are for the hearing.
“My reasons for eliminating Joe are not up for review by the council,” he said. “My reasons for asking for Joe’s resignation have been covered. I am not getting into this any more than the minimum necessary as required by the charter.”
The hearing is a simple procedure, Heroux said.
“I offer my reason(s). He says what he wants. I get the final decision,” the mayor said.
Heroux has taken some hits over his plan to fire Caponigro. A letter writer to The Sun Chronicle, Howard S. Levine of Raynham, characterized Heroux’s action as “childish.”
“One would assume that the safety of the citizens comes before the personal need to conform to the will of the mayor on all issues,” he wrote.
Sun Chronicle columnist Bill Gouveia also blasted Heroux.
“Removal is a punitive action that should only be taken for cause,” he wrote in a recent column. “It should not be a political tool at the local level, used to kick out unpaid volunteers because they aren’t ‘loyal’ enough to the agenda of those in power.”
And former city council vice-president Heather Porreca, who ran against Heroux in November, also leveled criticism.
“Should each and every volunteer member be like-minded and not use proper judgment because of potential and very real repercussions leveraged by this administration?” she said in previously published comments. “Or should they have the freedom to dissect the issues and make fair, just and legal recommendations?”