Key findings in costly Rice probe paint damning picture of councilor's conduct

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ROCHESTER - The city of Rochester has already paid the law firm of Drummond Woodsum more than $5,000 in connection with its investigation of allegations of harassment and retaliation against City Councilor Chris Rice and will likely be paying another $1,000 if the attorney handling the case shows up at his trial on Thursday.

To date, the city has paid the law firm $5,324, according to numbers obtained by The Rochester Voice through a Right to Know request filed last week.

The nine-page report written by Attorney Ann S. Chapman, a senior employment, policy and higher education consultant, represents the teeth of the case against Rice, who has had his eye on higher office.

Rice sought to unseat City Councilor Jim Gray from his District 6 Senate seat in 2020, but lost with 42 percent of the vote to Gray's 57 percent.

The two wrangled often over political signage during a heated campaign and have continued sparring during council meetings.

Among Chapman's findings:

It is credible that Rice made an unwanted remark about the appearance of Ashley Desrochers during an election recount shortly after she'd won her race against former City Councilor David Walker in November.

That there was no credible evidence that Rice pressured Desrochers on how to vote on various issues.

That it is more likely than not that Rice did post a press release with the city logo (not allowed), and that he was not forthcoming about this to the city or the investigator (Chapman); and that he erroneously suggested that Desrochers or another former councilor might have been responsible for the press released posted on social media.

There is no substantiation that Rice made a remark to Desrochers that he was carrying a gun at a nonpublic meeting, because no one else witnessed the alleged statement. However, given the tension between the two, if the remark were made, it would be understandable if it heightened Desrochers concerns about interacting with Rice.

Mayor Callaghan's account of a conversation with Rice during which Rice said he would make Callaghan's and Desrochers' "life a living hell" are credible.

Rice is also accused of two counts of making false statements to city staff.

City Council will hold the trial on Thursday, May 12, at 6pm, in Council Chambers. The trial will be open to the public, live-streamed on the city's website, broadcast live on Comcast Channel 22 and Breezeline (formerly Atlantic Broadband) Channel 26, and available on-demand immediately following the broadcast.

During the trial, the City Clerk will read the charges to Councilor Rice. After each charge is read, Rice will be asked if he pleas 'true' or 'not true0.' After Rice pleas, City Council will conduct a trial as to the charges Rice pleads Not True.

According to City Attorney Terence O'Rourke, the Investigative Committee will present its case first and answer questions from the rest of the Council. Following that, Rice will have the opportunity to present his defense and answer questions from Council.

Once both cases have been presented, the Council will deliberate. Following the discussion, the City Clerk will read each charge and ask each Councilor whether they find the charge to be 'true' or 'not true', by a preponderance of evidence standard.

Under the preponderance of evidence standard, the burden of proof is met when a Councilor is convinced that there is a greater than 50 percent chance that the charge is 'true.' If any charge receives a majority of votes from the City Council as 'true', the Council will then move to the imposition of sanctions or punishment, which require a majority vote.

If the council chooses to remove Rice from the City Council, that requires nine votes.

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