OPINION: Westerly’s new councilor: “This town is a s---hole.”
I have to admit I was a little startled, when attending a Westerly Town Council meeting Monday, to hear some updates on the legal battle to keep access to the Watch Hill shoreline open, when newly-seated Councilor Robert Lombardo called a resident speaking during the public comment session an idiot.
Even before his outburst, Lombardo seemed generally disinterested in the meeting, looking at his phone for much of the time the rest of the council was presenting a proclamation to a group of veterans, thanking them for their service.
After insulting the speaker at the lectern, someone who volunteers on a town commission, Lombardo closed his laptop, gathered his belongings and left the room. He didn’t come back until after the public comment session, dominated by people advocating for shoreline access, had concluded.
“I don’t have to listen to those people,” Lombardo told me later. “They are all uneducated. They don’t know what they are talking about, and they say the same thing over and over again.”
He said he’s had a death threat from one of them. In the councilor’s defense, it is true that the gentleman whom Lombardo called an idiot Monday night was shouting at him at the time.
Welcome to Westerly, where governance has become anything but routine and a legal battle over shoreline access with the very rich, mostly summer-only residents of the Watch Hill section of town, has all the makings for an engaging new television series.
After all, Lombardo, who has Watch Hill ties, was the eighth highest votegetter in the last election and was seated on the council only recently, after former President Edward Morrone of Watch Hill resigned in protest after the council voted to seek town ownership of the Watch Hill Lighthouse. He said the council didn’t give the public a say or wait to hear from the Watch Hill-based nonprofit, which is also vying for ownership.
It seemed like Morrone ― who not long ago verbally attacked a shoreline-access-supporting councilor with a profanity-laced tirade before offering to “step outside” to fight him, would be a hard act to follow.
But then Westerly’s central casting sent in Lombardo as the new councilor with Watch Hill sympathies, and, grab some popcorn, it looks like there is a lot more entertainment to come.
I gave Lombardo a call after Monday’s strange council meeting, and he amiably chatted for some time. He’s a lawyer and seems smart and can be charming.
I already knew a little about him, because he posts a lot to his YouTube channel, quite a few videos pertaining to the Westerly council and many relating to his dispute and ongoing lawsuit with his siblings who accuse each other of abusing their elderly mother and taking her money.
She is featured in some of the videos, in various locations in the family mansion near Watch Hill, where she complains about her children and even rips up a picture of one.
Lombardo’s late father was chief of medicine at Westerly Hospital, sailed from the Watch Hill Yacht Club, where he was a member, and was also a member of the Watch Hill Conservancy, which along with the Watch Hill Fire District, is now suing the town over its guarantee of public access to the beach at Napatree Point.
Councilor Lombardo’s own lawyer in his family’s disputes is a Watch Hill property owner and member of the council of the fire district, and that has been raised by another councilor as an ethical conflict that might prevent him from legitimately making decisions about the Watch Hill lawsuit.
If this TV series looks at a standoff between the summer residents of Watch Hill, many of whom don’t vote in town, and the rest of Westerly, Lombardo, based on my chat with him, could make for a pretty good town-critical villain.
“This town is a s—-hole,” he told me, adding it “sucks.”
He said the town shouldn’t consider ownership of the Watch Hill Lighthouse.
“I wouldn’t let them own a taco truck,” he said.
I told him I think Westerly is a nice town. He said many of the good things about Westerly, theaters, the library, the hospital, are supported by money from Watch Hill residents.
“The government does nothing,” he said.
It’s quite a thing, a town councilor who disparages his town and who doesn’t feel obligated to listen to comments from the public.
This is the opinion of David Collins
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