2007-04-12 / Front Page

Council seeks new tree warden

By Dotti Farrington

Town Councilors decided Monday to seek applications from persons interested in becoming the town tree warden after the current warder David Nickerson, had a disagreement with the Town Administrator over the planting of trees to be bought through a grant.

Nickerson said the grant would be lost, and the town might be disqualified from other funds if it did not fulfill a grant proposal.

Councilor Michael Schnack said he was working with Town Administrator Bruce Keiser in trying to gain neighbors' agreement about some tree planting. They said the trees should not be planted because neighbors complained that their views would be blocked by the trees' growth over years.

Nickerson countered that the trees he planted, a Japanese coral bark cherry and a snow fountain cherry tree, in accordance with the grant, would not grow high enough to block views. He said they had to be planted by early November, or the town would have lost the grant.

The exchange took place at the council meeting and was the latest in a controversy that has been smoldering for several months. Involved is a relatively small triangular park at the intersection of High Street and Walcott Avenue.

Keiser said that Nickerson has done some good work, "superb work," in his several years of service on the island. "Unfortunately in this case, he was not cooperative," Keiser added. Nickerson has been credited, among other work, for his leadership in getting prestigious, national Tree City awards for several consecutive years. Keiser said he was working with residents about their concerns, when Nickerson proceeded with the tree planting.

Nickerson was due for annual reappointment, in accordance with state laws, in January, and is serving until renamed or a successor is named. He said he wrote to Keiser March 1 to ask about his status for reappointment, but Keiser had not replied.

Some members of the town Tree Preservation and Protection Committee spoke in support of Nickerson's reappointment.

Councilman Michael Schnack said Nickerson "overstepped his bounds and was not a good public servant in doing so," in the Walcott matter.

Council Member Barbara Szepatowski agreed, adding "otherwise, he has done a good job." Councilor William Kelly acknowledged the committee's support of Nickerson, and proposed that Nickerson submit an application. Nickerson did not indicate if he would apply for the position again.

Council Vice President Julio DiGiando abstained from voting because his son is in the tree business and it might be a conflict of interest. Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero did not rule on the conflict. He told DiGiando that he would need a ruling from the state Ethics Committee if DiGiando was concerned about the matter.

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