Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia apparently didn’t like how his administration’s “premier project” was being characterized during a City Council meeting Monday night, as he watched remotely from home. So, Correia drove to the council chambers to defend it in person.
Things only escalated from there.
The embattled 27-year-old mayor — who was remarkably both recalled and re-elected in March after getting arrested on federal fraud charges last October — strutted onto the council floor unannounced and pulled up a chair next to his staffers, leading a dramatic standoff (er, sit-off) with legislators.
The city government’s live stream captured the entire exchange on video.
“Excuse me, Mr. Mayor? Is there a reason you’re just walking on the council floor, uninvited?” City Council President Cliff Ponte asked in bewilderment.
“You can go sit back down in the audience, please,” Ponte said. “Mr. Mayor, we’re in the middle of a discussion.”
Correia scoffed and said he was simply joining his team.
After his requests for Correia to join the audience were ignored, Ponte gaveled the meeting into recess.
“I don’t know what you think you’re doing,” he told Correia.
The mayor shrugged back, leaning back in his chair and briefly emptying his pockets onto the table.
During the 45-minute break, Correia told a WBUR reporter that he had been watching the live stream of the meeting from home and took exception to what he felt was an exaggeration of problems with a local street improvement project.
As the Fall River Herald News reported, several councilors were highly critical of the Correia-backed initiative, which they said had gone over budget and tore up part of a newly paved downtown street. One councilor called it an “epic fail.”
It’s the not the first time Correia has clashed with the City Council. In the wake of his arrest last year, the nine-member panel approved a no-confidence vote in Correia by an 8-1 margin last November. The mayor, who is up for re-election in November, says they’re out to get him.
“I cannot stress enough that there are councilors on this council that have a personal vendetta, that have an issue with me personally, that obviously don’t want to see me succeed in this upcoming election,” Correia told WBUR.
By the time the meeting resumed, Correia was back in his seat with fellow administration officials. Ponte said he felt his presence at the table was inappropriate and demonstrated “a lack of decorum and professionalism.”
“You feel that it’s appropriate for you to come down when you don’t like what you’re hearing, ” he said, again asking the mayor to leave or take a seat in the audience.
Correia suggested a “compromise”: He would instead attend every meeting with his staff going forward.
“I am a part of the administration, council president, so I think that’s a fair compromise,” he said.
A few other councilors motioned to return to the subject of the street project in an attempt to get the meeting back on track. But it wasn’t long until it again went off the rails.
“Let’s not make this more of a circus than the mayor has already done,” Ponte said, after a brief debate over the council’s procedural rules broke out.
At one point, Councilor Shawn Cadime requested that Ponte again ask Correia to leave the floor, or have the three policers officers — two of whom had been called to the meeting during the recess — escort him from the building.
“I would hate to put our police officers in that position and I know the mayor is accustomed to getting arrested,” Cadime said. “I don’t want to have that happen.”
The jab apparently angered a number of Correia supporters in the audience, who jeered the council members. Cadime motioned to adjourn the meeting. Ponte told audience members they would be removed if they further disrupted the meeting.
“There is people in the audience calling councilors idiots and various other things,” Councilor Pam Laliberte-Lebeau complained. “Enough.”
Correia continued to sit quietly at the table, as Ponte motioned to formally and prematurely end the meeting.
“It’s unfortunate that the mayor wants to take it to this level, that the city council has to adjourn its business, due to the fact that the mayor wants to be stubborn and sit at the council seat, as we have asked you to move,” Ponte said.
Correia shot back that it was Cadime’s motion to adjourn. The councilors then voted to adjourn, but later resumed the meeting after the mayor and city officials had left.
Correia told the Herald News that it was his “right” to attend the meeting.
“I’m the mayor of the city,” he said. “This is a very important discussion on a premier project of this administration that’s been totally hacked by some councilors and I felt that it was very important that I showed up.”
Correia remains under indictment on 13 counts of federal wire and tax fraud charges for allegedly deceiving investors in an app he launched and using $230,000 of their funds for personal use — including designer clothing, a Mercedes, and his political campaign. The case is set to go to trial in February.