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Providence School Board President Nicholas Hemond annoyed by public comments



Go ahead and report me,” said Hemond, sipping from his bottled water.

“I want to start by discussing some of the concerns I have with the public health guidance for Providence, but I want to begin by saying I’m not here to call Providence out, I’m here to call Providence in,” said Maya Chavez during the public speaking portion of an online meeting of the Providence School Board on Wednesday evening.

“But I am going to call you out for being on the phone right now,” continued Chavez. “As a civics teacher I’m going to ask that you give your full attention to the public comment that is being offered to you, Sir, if you have your speaker on. Thank you.”

Chavez was directing her comments to attorney and lobbyist Nicholas Hemond, who was appointed to the school board in 2011 and became president in 2016.

The school board was meeting, in part, to discuss the reopening plan of Providence Public Schools during the current pandemic. Chavez was the third of four people who planned to give testimony to the Providence School Board. One person submitted written testimony, which was read into the record, three planned to speak in person, but only two ultimately testified. The entirety of the public speaking portion of the meeting took less than nine minutes.

Hemond was not happy about being called out for not paying attention to the public comment.

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“The wonderful thing about my ability is that I can multitask, ” said Hemond, taking Chavez’s comment as an opportunity to compliment himself. “So thank you and continue with your comments.”

“That’s interesting, because that’s not our policy in Providence Public Schools,” retorted Chavez, before attempting to return to her comments.

“The wonderful thing about being an adult,” interrupted Hemond. “Go ahead with your comments.”

There was a moment of silence from Chavez as she collected her thoughts. “The very first principle in my classroom is that all people have an equal right to be respected and I would like you to honor that as well,” she said.

“It’s a two-way street, ma’am, it’s a two-way street,” said Hemond.

“This is public commentary…” said Chavez.

“You can waste your time arguing with me and attacking me, or you can make your comments,” said a clearly irritated Hemond.

“If you interrupt public comments, Sir, you’re in violation of the Open Meetings Act,” said Chavez.

“Go ahead and report me,” said Hemond, sipping from his bottled water.

“I will, thank you,” said Chavez, before returning to her testimony.

It is unclear whether being rude, disdainful and belligerent during public comment is a violation of the Open Meetings Act, but treating public comment with disdain and indifference, if not outright contempt, is a common feature of open meetings in Rhode Island. Too often the public is treated as an obstacle to the business of a board, committee or commission, rather than as a partner. This issue is especially prevalent on non-elected boards, where politically connected insiders make decisions without the minimal amount of accountability that elected officials face every two to four years during re-election. Non-elected boards, committees and commissions were created to act as a buffer to democratic accountability, protecting incumbents and career politicians from the consequences of decisions that serve special interests instead of the public.

Chavez took to social media to call Hemond out:

In 2017 City Council President Sabina Matos called for Hemond’s resignation because of his work as a private attorney, representing “some of the worst license violators” before the Providence Board of Licenses. Hemond dismissed the Council President’s words as a “political attack.”

You can watch the entire Providence School Board meeting here.