Candidates share views on island issues
More than 50 island residents turned out to hear Jamestown's candidates for Town Council, School Committee, and Town Moderator express their opinions on a wide range of topics, from affordable housing to water rates, in a forum sponsored by the Jamestown Shores Association.
Shores President Charlotte Zarlengo opened the forum by welcoming audience and forum members to what has become a fixture in electoral politics. Zarlengo acknowledged that though the forum was sponsored by "a group with several issues of unique concern to the shores area" audience members come from all areas of the island.
Former Shores President and Bryant University Mathematics Department Chairwoman Kristin Kennedy served as moderator.
David DeAngelis opened the evening in a congenial way. "Every candidate here is highly qualified," the first-time Republican candidate said. "And there's one single thing we have in common: we all love the island."
Council Vice President Julio DiGiando followed by emphasizing his personal commitment to the island. "I've tried to volunteer since coming to the island," DiGiando, a Democrat, said. Addressing members of the Shores association in the audience, he added that he "has tried to represent the Shores' interests as well as all of the island," while serving on the council for the last four years.
Republican candidate Fred Glomb kept his opening remarks brief, stressing that in his opinion "affordability is one of the key things," facing the island, while incumbent Democrat William Kelly took time to point out his role in saving the town $25,000-$30,000 per year in police overtime by proposing the elimination of dispatch duties for on-duty officers.
Michael Schnack, also an incumbent Democrat, reflected on his first term on the council. "I've learned a lot; met a lot of people." Most important, Schnack said, was his ability to listen. "You need to listen to people," he said.
Long-time government administrator Bob Sutton, running for elected office for the first time, emphasized his more than 35 years of experience in municipal government in general, in addition to his 17 years as Jamestown Town Administrator.
Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski, who is running for reelection for the first time, noted her involvement in the community's teen issues and stressed her experience as an environmental engineer. Touching on a topic of considerable interest to Shores residents, Szepatowski was upfront. "I want you to know that I'm in favor of designating Head's Beach as a mooring field," she said. However, the reason, she added, was not to permit the overuse of the area, but rather to limit the number of permissible moorings.
Michael White, who lost election to the council by twelve votes in 2005, pointed to his experience since then as a member of the Planning Commission and further went on to stress that as a former Shores and current town resident, he understood the importance of the island's water issue. "Water is a concern on both ends of the island," he said.
First time candidate Ellen Winsor said that as a long-time island resident, she would "like to make a contribution to the town." Running as an independent, Winsor said that the town needed to make an effort to court businesses to the island in order to increase the town's tax base.
Sav Rebecchi, also running as an independent, made specific note of his near-complete term on the Quonset Economic Development Corporation. From planning to attracting businesses, Rebecchi said, "I've just finished three years of on-the-job training."
Audience questions were varied. From unanimously agreeing that executive session minutes be reviewed for public dissemination every six months to placing a moratorium on island development, candidates fielded questions directed individually at them.
Councilman Kelly answered a question regarding the "vague" nature of the town's wind energy study. Kelly responded that he has been a "firm believer" in alternative energy and that the town's decision to allocate $25,000 towards a comprehensive wind energy study was prudent.
Responding to a question regarding the town's growing deer population, Councilman DiGiando said that the town has been working to open up additional private land for hunting and could consider additional measures if necessary in the future. He went on to add that the town has made progress in stemming the rate of increase in the island's deer herd.
Diverging opinions emerged over whether to designate the popular Shores swimming area, Head's Beach, as a mooring field. "The time has come for the Shores to have Head's Beach designated as a swimming area," Shores resident Rebecchi said. Szepatowski disagreed. "It's been a mooring field for several years," she said. Designating the area as a mooring field, as identified by the Coastal Resources Management Commission (CRMC), could actually limit its future expansion. Councilor DiGiando agreed. "CRMC has identified Head's Beach as a mooring field," he said. "Really, it's a semantical argument...By calling it something doesn't mean that it needs to change."
Moving on, Bob Sutton answered a question from an audience member regarding measures that could be taken to ensure costs are controlled in the town's highway barn project. Sutton said that he "always thought the barn should go down on Lot 47," however, he respected island residents' recent vote to approve its location at Taylor Point. He went on to say that Taylor Point residents have the same rights as North End residents who were concerned over Lot 47, and that the site must be serviceable and "has to work."
As to what to do with the old highway facility at Fort Wetherill, Fred Glomb said that while he didn't have a specific idea for the site, it was up to the town to "find a balance between what's best for the community and what serves the financial needs of the town."
Wrapping up the question and answer session, Councilor Michael Schnack dismissed the concept of the island as a sole-source aquifer, and said that the future council would have to examine development and zoning issues in order to get a better handle on the island's water concerns.
Concluding, DeAngelis told audience members that the town "needs to tighten its belt and communicate better." DiGiando expressed a similar thought. "We're all one community...We've made some progress, and we need to continue to do that." Glomb stuck to affordability while Kelly concluded by saying that Jamestown needs to focus on "creative ways," to fix the budget problem. Rebecchi offered an answer to an earlier question regarding selling the town highway facility. "I don't think the town should sell the Ft. Wetherill site," he said. Bob Sutton agreed and further said that openness in government was critical. "We never had a locked cabinet," Sutton said of his tenure as Town Administrator.
Michael Schnack expressed the sentiments of the entire room by proclaiming "go Red Sox." He then went on to say that being on the council was about "listening to everyone's issues."
Szepatowski urged more civic participation by island residents now that the highway barn issue was over. White echoed Szepatowski's sentiments saying that "access" was important. Ellen Winsor concluded the evening by addressing the town's need for affordable housing in order to sustain a workforce that can live and work on the island.
Islanders will be able to vote for the next town council Tuesday.