R. Daniel Prentiss, a lawyer for several Block Island groups, asked Vogel today to approve evidentiary hearings and the subpoena of telephone records for three council members who he said were pro-marina because they voted to give Champlin’s about two thirds of the expanded docks it sought.
Prentiss argued that Gerald Zarrella, Thomas Ricci and Jerry Sahagian had all shown a bias in favor of the marina.
Prentiss said the fact that Ricci and Sahagian signed affidavits alleging improper communications by CRMC Chairman Michael Tikoian shows they were trying to help Champlin’s lawyer Robert Goldberg in his appeal of CRMC’s 5-5 decision blocking the expansion.
But Vogel said Prentiss didn’t show enough to justify hearings for either council member.
Sahagian might have been imprudent in comments he made to people during the hearings, she said, but she didn’t think he said anything that would justify disqualifying him.
Prentiss had different complaints about Zarrella, and they attracted Vogel’s attention.
Prentiss said Town Manager Nancy Dodge and First Warden Jack Savoie have provided statements that Zarrella tried to get the town to back off on its opposition to marina expansion.
Prentiss also said Zarrella told former CRMC member and Block Islander Robert Ellis Smith that Champlin’s owner Joseph Grillo is a good guy who should be allowed to expand his marina.
Atty. James D’Ambra, representing Zarrella, said his client was just trying to negotiate a settlement. And if he had any bias toward Champlin’s, D’Ambra said, it wasn’t reflected in his vote. Zarrella voted to give Champlin’s about two thirds of what it wanted.
Goldberg said the allegations against Zarrella involved things he did before the final vote was cast, but no one questioned Zarrella or moved to disqualify him. Now, he said, is too late.
Vogel said she hadn’t heard enough to disqualify Zarrella. But she did agree to an evidentiary hearing limited to the statements from the Block Island officials that Zarrella had talked to. She denied Prentiss’s request for Zarrella’s telephone records so they could be reviewed for calls to Grillo or Goldberg.
She said she was shocked that council members didn’t seem to understand the rules prohibiting them from discussing the case outside of the hearings.
Goldberg has argued that four other council members, including Chairman Michael Tikoian and W. Michael Sullivan, director of the state Department of Environmental Management, should be disqualified because all discussed the case with others before they voted.
Vogel said she may send the case back to the council for another vote, along with instructions to not discuss it with outsiders and to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
Zarrella did not attend the hearing. Contacted later, he said he welcomes further hearings. He conceded he was trying to get town officials to compromise, but he also said he voted only on the evidence presented at the 23 hearings.