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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Council Meeting, April 23, play-by-play

by Tom Ferrio

The way I count it, this is the third round of this month's Town Council action. The first meeting night was April 9 and then we had the special Kill Bill session on April 19.

Monday night's continuation of the April 9 session focused on Dan Slattery's motions to take control of Ninigret Park away from the organization that has run it since it became part of the town.

Will gave you a preview here and all of our coverage of this month's TC meetings can be seen here.

There were other items left on the agenda, but they were primarily cool-down events.

The Four Horsemen

We started out on a cheery note by giving a commendation to the Chariho High School 4x1 mail relay team made up of Dan Kilcoyne, Bryce Kelley, Jake Kilcoyne and Mike Marsella for setting a new national record.

New Acting Town Administrator Pat Anderson - taking on
a tough job
Acting Town Administrator

The next item to be considered was the selection of an acting Town Administrator since Bill DiLibero had the common sense to get his office cleared out prior to the disciplinary hearing last Thursday.

No surprise to anyone reading the tea leaves, Town Treasurer Pat Anderson was selected for this role. She took the TA seat in the meeting to a round of applause.

Persons wishing to be heard

Joseph Dolock got up for a 2-minute talk. Dolock read excerpts from The Westerly Sun article describing Bill DiLibero's firing/resignation and criticized how the Council decided to pay 6 months severance. He also asked if that would apply to everyone who resigns. Tom Gentz responded that he would not answer the question because this was done in a closed executive session.

Marge Frank mentioned that the Council may be looking for volunteers for the search committee and Gentz added that it could be on the May agenda.

8a. Proposed Ninigret Park agreement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife

As we often see, Slattery pushed Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero to tell him whether this should be done at all. In what seemed like choreography between Gentz and Slattery suitable for Dancing With The Stars, Slattery ended up moving this item to June.

8b. Proposed Ninigret Park agreement with Frosty Drew and neighbors

Slattery introduced this and the next motion by saying he is just trying to include the stakeholders and remedy the adversarial environment that has been created. He says that abutters (neighbors) and Frosty Drew have complained to him that they are not involved enough and should not be surprised in the future. He said his motions were intended to prevent "exclusion."

Marge Frank countered that the system is already in place for everyone to give input. Gentz suggested that this and the proposal for a new master plan (the next item) also be moved to June. Gregg Avedisian stated that we have had a history of Fish and Wildlife and the neighbors giving input and that we should not turn over control to Fish and Wildlife.

Slattery continued to spar with Frank and Avedisian about whether a mechanism is in place for involvement or whether a new management scheme is needed. Slattery referred to the objections to the lighting grant as his example of how the current management of the park does not work.

Holly Eaves, a volunteer at Frosty Drew, got up to say that Frosty Drew has not complained about exclusion. She expressed surprise that Frosty Drew was named in the proposed agreement as an organization complaining and that has resulted in negative attitude about Frosty Drew. She noted that Councilor Slattery did not consult with Frosty Drew Observatory before writing his resolution that pulled them into this controversy.

This item was also moved to the June meeting with a audible sigh of relief.

8c. Proposed new Ninigret Park master plan

This is the third of the triple-header of Dan Slattery Ninigret Park proposals, and Slattery did not want to defer this one until June. He stated that action was necessary now because the Budget Commission asked for financial projections for improvements. He also tied this to the State-required 5-year capital improvement budgeting. His solution for this in the agenda item is not to ask the Parks and Recreation Department and Commission to do it but to convene a new organization.

He explained that this is a very different time than 2008 because there aren't as many federal grants available now as then. Councilor Avedisian noted acerbically that after Slattery and the Council majority pilloried town staff – and used grant applications as one of the leading reasons for forcing Town Administrator William DiLibero to resign – there are going to be a lot fewer grants funded in the future.

In this meeting, Slattery seemed to spin this agenda item differently than last month, saying that the objective now is to prioritize actions and costs within the plan. (The original proposal in February by Slattery called it a New Plan, but he cleverly omitted that emphasis last night.) Last night he also emphasized the Parks & Rec Department and Commission running this effort (which is definitely quite different, nearly the opposite, than how it was explained previously – when we get the video link you can compare the document to how it was described last night).

I doubt he will admit that he is backing off of his proposal from last month, but that's how I see it. In my opinion this new spin has a lot of merit. Unfortunately I would not trust it to be implemented as it was described last night after what I heard a month ago. [Will adds: Calling Slattery's acrobatics "spin" is putting it gently because he attempted to totally rewrite the history of the past several months. He did everything but order the Clerkbase video erased and the minutes burned.]

Paula Andersen, Chair of the Parks & Rec Commission, got up to accuse Slattery of creating the crisis. She stated that the town has a history of open discussion and that Ninigret Park is a resource for the whole town, not just the neighbors.

Marge Frank made a motion that the Council refer this back to the Parks & Rec Commission with up to $15,000 for services to prioritizing and forecasting costs for Park improvements.

Cheryl Dowdell spoke to remind the Council and audience that there has been considerable discussion and that the Council gave three priorities to the Commission. Dowdell pointed out the difference between how this agenda item was described last month and now.

Deb Carney also pointed out the moving target of the agenda item versus the discussion last night and the motion on the floor.

Tom Gentz held up the carrot to Parks & Rec - we'll give you $15,000 to go off and do some planning work if you'll just quit poking us in the eye about what Slattery said he wanted to do last month.

Ruggiero spoke up to suggest that the motion is dependent on the new budget that will not be approved until June and that the agenda item could be continued until May and presented with a revised agenda item then. That was approved and we will get to discuss this again in May.

Cheryl Dowdell got up again to lament that this didn't have to be done this way. If the Budget Commission or Slattery had talked to the Parks & Rec Commission, this would not have had to happen.

8d. Policy to post documents on Clerkbase

(I view this as a bit of technical illiteracy because the Town website is not just Clerkbase. Actually "putting stuff on Clerkbase" when it's not part of a meeting already included there is pretty much useless. Ruggiero also clarified that this agenda item is regarding Council documents, not stuff that staff routinely puts on the website today.)

They talked around this for a while and agreed to talk about it some more.

8e. Term of service for Chariho School Committee members

Currently, School Committee members serve for four years but there is a feeling that four years of commitment discourages good candidates. The State law establishing the school district must be changed to allow the term to be two years.

Andrew McQuaide stood to say that the School Committee voted unanimously against this. The Clerkbase document did not make it clear that this was an initiative of the Richmond Town Council, not the School Committee.

With that input our Council voted to not support this, disagreeing with Richmond.

8f. Driving range lights to the Chariho Cowboys

Ruggiero suggested that property, surplus or otherwise, should not be given to one party without some competitive bidding (for purchase) or competition for the donation.

Sensitive about leaving out the Parks & Rec Commission, the Council voted to refer this to Parks & Rec for a recommendation.

Frank Glista with a restored dummy bomb from the airfield
8g. Request to use the unused Ninigret Park office for a display of airfield artifacts

This request, brought by Frank Glista for the Charlestown Airfield Memorial Committee, was approved after some discussion. DiBello asked about hours that the building would be open and how it would be staffed.

Frank explained that there was a plan to put a display at the Kettle Pond Visitor Center. Now there has been a change in opinion about host the display there. The building in the park is in an ideal location and this display can share the space with Kevin Gallup's Emergency Management function.

The Council voted to have Parks & Rec work with Frank to see if that building will be feasible.

9a. Lighting ordinance

Two versions were being handed out at the meeting, and Ruth Platner said that she couldn't tell which was the newer one (I am not making this up!). Platner went on to ask that additional changes be made for government upgrades to be made sooner. The public hearing on this ordinance will be at the June 11 Council meeting.

Odds and ends

On the March 12 Council minutes, Tom Gentz asked for Ron Areglado's comments about the Town Administrator to be inserted verbatim. Slattery seconded the motion without hesitation as if it was no surprise. This motion did not pass, with Slattery and Gentz for, Avedisian against and two abstentions. Then the March 12 minutes were accepted as written 3-1.

Changes in the ordinance covering beach passes will have a public hearing at the May 14 Council meeting. The change eliminates the limit of two beach passes for residents.

The Council expressed opposition to State increases in taxes on meals and lodging.

The meeting ended at a decent time, 9:40 pm!