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Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Mar. 13rd Charlestown Town Council Meeting Report

Lots of cheers and jeers on commission and committee appointments, plus cleaning up the financial management mess

Left to right: Susan Cooper, Rippy Serra Deb Carney, Grace Klinger and Stephen Stokes

Content from Charlestown Residents United

Main topics:

  • ·       Committee and Commission appointments.
  • ·       Food trucks in Ninigret Park.
  • ·       No action on controversial proposed Chariho Schools tri-town subcommittee
  • ·       Unexplained bill from our auditing firm.

Our preview of this meeting was published here.

The agenda packet for this meeting is here. The video for the meeting can be viewed here.

Of the 10 applicants for the Charter Revision Committee, the following 7 were appointed: Catherine E. Graziano, Margaret L. Hogan, Anne K. Mulhall, Lorna M. Persson, Laura A. Rom, Evelyn J. Smith, and Stephen C. Stolle. The Council appointed Catherine Graziano as the Chair. These 3 were not appointed: Walter B. (Peter) Mahony III, Craig T. Marr, and Bonnita B. Van Slyke.

Of the 5 applicants for the Ordinance Revision Ad Hoc Committee, the following 2 were appointed: William A. Coulter and Lewis E. Johnson. These 3 were not appointed: Michael J. Chambers, Brett C. Lill, and Bonnita B. Van Slyke.

Of the 5 applicants for the Parks and Recreation Commission, the following 2 were appointed: Frank D. Glista and Timothy E. Quillen. These 3 were not appointed: Melanie H. Champion, Sarah Ray Fletcher, and Walter B. (Peter) Mahony III.

Note that the Council has requested an updated Ninigret Park Master Plan, an important document for the Town's future, from the Parks and Recreation Commission.

Of the 16 applicants (Donna Green added after the agenda packet was compiled) for the Town Administrator Search Ad Hoc Committee, the following 9 were appointed: Paula A. Andersen, Thomas A. Cahir, Lisa A. DiBello, Colleen M. Dickson, Elizabeth A. Ennis, Louan B. Lyons, John F. Pacheco III, Ronald H. Russo, and Timothy A. Stasiunas. These 6 were not appointed: Ronald Areglado, Glenn A. Babcock, William A. Coulter, Donna Green, Michael Recht, Richard J. Sartor, and Stephen C. Stolle.

The new Town financial auditor, Marcum LLP, presented the audit for the year ending June 30, 2022. There was considerable discussion about the report, most notably developing actions to mitigate issues. The auditing firm also noted several areas of material weaknesses. 

There were also a significant number of restatements, changes made during the audit, in this year's audit. The complete audit report is available starting here. The Material Weaknesses section starts here. The statements are listed here.

The spring 2023 roadside litter pickup day was scheduled for April 22 from 8 am until 4 pm.

The Westerly Sun recently reported (here) on a "tri-town subcommittee" to discuss "unfunded mandates and other areas of mutual interest" regarding the Chariho School District. Council President Carney described to the Council, her opinions on this "subcommittee" - that if it is formed it be handled like other public meetings and that it cannot dictate things to the legally separate Chariho School District. Councilor Cooper gave her opinion that this is "not a good use of Town Council time." 

School Committee members Andrew McQuaid and Donna Chambers spoke to express concern about the motivations of some of the people organizing this subcommittee and urged our Town Council to be cautious in our participation. Our Town Council decided to take no action at this time, pending better definition of the group and the support of the Chariho School Committee. No vote was taken.

The Council approved two Ninigret Park Food Truck Nights for May 4 and June 29, 2023 from 5 pm until sunset. They will include live music and beer and wine. The location will be near the playground and gazebo near Little Nini Pond. They hope to have 10 to 18 food trucks on site for each event.

There was considerable discussion about the fee to be paid. The organizer stated that the trucks would be in one stated area of the park but he expected people to wander among other areas; so he listed four areas of the park. 

But according to Councilor Stokes, if the application claimed more than 500 people, one interpretation of the fee calculation would have it dropping from $800 to $350 for the larger event.

There were numerous other questions from those in attendance, that we don't normally see asked before the Town Council about other proposed events, such as insurance coverage, compliance with alcohol serving rules, whether an alcohol corral is needed, whether there will be proper handicapped parking, whether U.S. Fish and Wildlife have agreed to it, exactly where the live entertainment will be placed, ...

After this discussion, the Council approved the events unanimously.

The Council discussed a bill for an additional $30,410 from our financial auditors, Marcum LLP, at the February 13 Council meeting. That has now increased to a total of $55,992.07 in addition to the $69,500 originally quoted as the "all-inclusive maximum price" in the bid documentation. 

The Town has asked, several times, for information to substantiate the additional fees that are noted on the bill as "out of scope" and the Town has requested documentation for the authorization of those additional charges, as required in the contract, with little response. (The representative from Marcum LLP left the meeting before this agenda item.) 

A point was raised and discussed - that the contract, signed by the former Town Administrator, states that any litigation related to the contract will take place in New York.

The Council voted unanimously to direct the Town solicitor to attempt to receive more information and negotiate reduced fees for the outstanding bill with Marcum LLP. The Council also voted to continue this agenda item to the March 27, 2023 Town Council meeting.

The Council unanimously voted to continue not having agenda-setting meetings, judging the current procedure as working well. The Town Council 2023 meeting calendar was modified accordingly.

The second Town Council meeting in March will be on March 27 at 7 pm.

The Chariho School District Financial Referendum will be held on Tuesday, April 4, from 8 am until 8 pm. All voting will be in the Town Hall Council Chambers.