The Providence Board of Licenses elected Jeffrey Williams ’85 and Sen. Juan Pichardo, D-Providence, to its most senior positions earlier this month. Following their election, Williams and Pichardo now serve as chair and vice-chair of the board, respectively.
Each member of the five-person board is appointed to a two-year term by the mayor and is responsible for granting licenses for a number of operations within the city. The board’s most salient responsibility is the granting of entertainment and liquor licenses — coveted commodities in Providence. The board issues more than 400 liquor licenses per year, according to its website.
Williams replaces Johanna Harris as chair of the board. Under Harris’ leadership, the board revoked a notable number of liquor licenses, including seven last year alone. It is not clear why Harris departed from her position, though she has expressed intent to serve out her term on the board, WPRI reported.
Harris also oversaw the granting of two liquor licenses for the two floors of DaVinci Ristorante and Lounge, a Federal Hill restaurant and bar, in the face of opposition from a number of its neighbors, GoLocalProv reported March 19. The Board of Licenses received at least 10 letters opposing the license around the time of its Jan. 29 approval.
Although board members elect the leadership, the mayor is often involved in selecting individuals for the chair position. Williams said he initially had little interest in taking on a leadership position on the board but decided to seek the position after Mayor Jorge Elorza asked him, and he was later elected.
Elorza expressed support for the selection the same day it was announced, WPRI reported. There has not yet been an opportunity for Elorza to make a new appointment to the board.
Newly elected officials have a tendency to rearrange boards of this type, Williams said, adding that he felt Harris, his predecessor, was “an extremely capable attorney” who did “stellar work.”
The board’s authority came under public scrutiny following the revelation last month that former Rhode Island Speaker of the House for the General Assembly Gordon Fox accepted bribes totaling $52,500 to grant a liquor license to Shark Bar and Grille during his term as the board’s vice-chair.
Following the Fox scandal, Elorza expressed on several occasions his intention to pursue the voiding of Shark’s liquor license. At the time of the incident, the board was chaired by Andrew Annaldo, who did not seek reappointment in 2013 after public scrutiny about the board’s handling of a case involving an underage performer at a Providence strip club.
On March 16, Elorza’s administration petitioned the board on behalf of the city to declare Shark’s liquor license void dating back to its initial issue in 2008. The petition called for the board to schedule a hearing to consider retroactively voiding the license.
The hearing is scheduled to take place Monday. Williams said that while all members of the board bring personal biases, he wants to hear the case before drawing conclusions.
Elorza could not be reached for comment.
Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article misstated that the board will consider revoking Shark Bar and Grille's license. In fact, the board will consider retroactively voiding the license. The Herald regrets the error.