Town Council members in agreement on major issues
Jamestown’s elected leaders look ahead after six months on the job
It may not even be news: Jamestown’s Town Council members agree.
In interviews in recent days, the five council members said the first six months of their current term has been better than good. Agreement between them on votes has been high. They also agree mostly on goals for the coming year.
The councilors — two veteran Democrats and three mixed-party newcomers — were elected in June for terms of unique length, more than two years. As part of the multi-year phase-in of towncalendar realignment under changes to the town’s Home Rule Charter approved by voters three years ago, they will serve until November 2007.
In addition to their self-evaluations and projections, the council’s newcomers expressed an eagerness to work on their first town budget in coming months.
Council President David Long,
Democrat, in his fourth council term, said, “It has been very positive. We work very well together. It is the most cohesive council of all the ones I’ve been on. I’m pleased with our progress.” He also said no member has a personal goal or represent any interest group.
“We sit and we listen. We get right to the point and we decide,” he said. “That’s the reason our meetings have been so short. It’s a good mix of people. I get feedback to that effect from many people,” Long added.
The council president also reviewed the sudden resignation in June of former Town Administrator Mark Haddad to take a job in the private sector and the search for a new town manager. Bruce Keiser, a longtime government executive in Rhode Island, was named town administrator late last month and will start working here on Jan. 17.
Long said, “We started (our terms) with a rough surprise, a bump in the road. But with everyone working together . . . and a great job by the search committee, we all are enthusiastic about the future with Mr. Keiser as our administrator.”
Barbara Szepatowski tied Long as top voter-getter in her premier run in last June’s election.
Officially, she is the lone Republican on the council. She talked about her role in local government and the council. “It works and it works pretty darn well,” she said.
Szepatowski sees herself as non-political and practical in having to learn how government and town bodies operate. “Learning how to make things happen, even parliamentary procedure for making motions, was my biggest challenge and biggest accomplishment,” she said.
Acquiring patience was an offshoot of her education in holding public office. Szepatowski admitted that she has sometimes felt disappointed in the amount of time it takes to get things done, but overall she has been satisfied with the progress the council has made.
Notwithstanding Long’s assessment that no councilor has any special interests, Szepatowski talked about a few pet projects. She is known as an animal lover and advocate who is leading the movement to build a town animal shelter.
She said more affordable housing and locations for such homes is one of her major goals, as is meeting the needs of the elderly in general. But she also has taken note of a dozen youths, ages about 12 to 15, without destinations.
“As important as working to keep the budget reasonable, we need to consider funds to expand the part-time youth worker to a fulltime position to respond to the needs of the teens and others who dawdle downtown. They seem to have no one at home, no guidance, no oversight for homework or appropriate activities,” Szepatowski said.
She also wants to be part of a core group of people available to help the new town administrator “get oriented and get the town back on track again.”
Council Vice President DiGiando, a Democrat in his second term, agreed that the council members “are very co-operative.”
He projected that building a new town hall and highway barn, acquiring farmland for preservation, and resolving water and sewer treatment upgrades would be accomplished by the end of the term.
“If we do that, we will be very successful,” DiGiando said.
Michael Schnack, Democratic newcomer, said, “Actually, I am enjoying this council and going to meetings.” He said that early on he thought he might dread servicing the public.
But he said, “We work together and try to move forward. There are some things I would like to see done. I can’t say I’m disappointed so far.” Schnack also listed “some resolution” on the highway barn and water and sewer projects as goals to achieve before the end of 2007.
“But honestly, I am more concerned about the Shores development impact on groundwater than the landfill use that can be mitigated,” he noted.
Schnack said he is also more worried about how gasoline leaks and spillage poison the environment than other possible contaminants.
Schnack said that the toughest job will be working on his first town budget for the June financial town meeting. “It will be tough keeping the spending in check when so many things have been neglected in years back. Just bringing maintenance up to date will be costly. It cannot be put off anymore. The way town offices have been left off is a disgrace.”
He concluded, “I just hope we can continue to work as well together as we have so far.”
William Kelly is a newcomer who scored his council seat running as an Independent with Democratic endorsement — even though he technically is a Republican.
Kelly had very specific and comprehensive lists of goals.
Kelly said, “With six months under our belts, we can take satisfaction that the administrator’s position has been filled by a professional with a tremendous amount of experience in dealing with community issues and is extremely well versed in Rhode Island laws and regulations.”
Kelly cited the new town hall and new highway barn at the landfill site as expected completions within a year or so, and he called for “a comprehensive look at the town’s capital improvements program.”
He called some public works equipment “a disgrace to a community like Jamestown.” Five of six plows were out of service during the worst snowstorm last year, he noted, and the salt-loading backhoe was “very inefficient.”
The “hand-me-down police car used by Fred Brown, our very capable building inspector, borders on dangerous,” Kelly said, calling the rundown vehicle “a disgrace.”
Kelly also cited a public works employee assigned a handeddown, highmileage animal control vehicle “totally inefficient to carry tools much less lumber and other supplies needed to make repairs to town facilities.”
He said, “We are asking town employees to function efficiently without giving them the equipment to do so. Once we do provide them, we can hold them responsible to maintain it and function productively.”
Acknowledging costs for improvements, Kelly concluded, “I believe it is now the School Committee’s responsibility to make significant reductions in its budget. We have ratios of one teacher for every eight students, or one worker for every six students. We have a decreasing school enrollment and an increasing school budget that represents more the 65 percent of the town’s overall budget.”