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All eyes are on Chariho tonight

There’s a school committee battle brewing in the Chariho Regional School District that could soon end up in a courtroom.

The Chariho School Committee, which oversees schools in Charlestown, Richmond, and Hopkinton, meets at 6 p.m. to consider asking the state Supreme Court whether a newly appointed member of the committee should be allowed to serve. (There are 12 committee members, four from each town.)

There is a messy political situation in the background, but the gist is that the recent resignation of Vice President Gary Liguori led to an opening on the committee. Liguori was one of four Richmond residents on the committee, so the Richmond Town Council was responsible for replacing him.


Richmond’s Home Rule Charter requires school committee vacancies to be filled by “the unelected candidate who received the greatest number of votes for that office in the most recent general or special election.” In this case, the seat would go to Jessica Purcell, a Democrat who came up 27 votes shy of winning a spot on the committee in November.

Instead of appointing Purcell, the Richmond Town Council voted to appoint Republican Clay Johnson to the vacant post. Because state law supersedes home rule charters, the councilors argued that the state law that created the Chariho Regional School District allows them to fill the vacancy by a majority vote.

While the legal arguments appear to be relatively straightforward, The Westerly Sun, UpriseRI, and Ocean State Current have been all over the political fight that is unfolding.

Richmond Democrats are, of course, backing Purcell and raising concerns about Johnson, who is well known in conservative political circles as president of The Gaspee Project, a nonprofit known for advocating for conservative candidates and attacking those it considers too progressive.

The Gaspee Project is supportive of Parents United RI, which backed Republican and independent political candidates who made “educational freedom and parental rights their top issue.” The group won several seats on the Chariho School Committee in November.


This story first appeared in Rhode Map, our free newsletter about Rhode Island that also contains information about local events, data about the coronavirus in the state, and more. If you’d like to receive it via e-mail Monday through Friday, you can sign up here.

Dan McGowan can be reached at Follow him @danmcgowan.