2007-11-15 / Editorial

Choosing the next Town Council chief


The island election is over. A new Town Council has been voted into office. All that's left is to swear in the new council members and get down to the business at hand.

The first agenda item for a new Town Council is to select a president. It has been a long-time Jamestown tradition that the council presidency goes to the highest vote-getter of the majority party. It is a simple solution to the leadership question and it follows our basic tenents of democracy - let the people rule.

This tradition could be equated to another one that is dear to the hearts of islanders - the Financial Town Meeting. The FTM is an anachronism, a historic holdover from our colonial roots. We cannot really justify the FTM as a necessary component of good government. We keep the FTM because our Yankee heritage will not allow us to abolish the annual community meeting where all can attend and speak their minds.

Tradition can be good thing.

Given those guidelines, one would assume that Bob Sutton would be a shoo-in for council president. There is no compelling reason for him not to be so anointed. Sutton received more votes than anyone else and ran on the Democrat ticket, which won four of the five council seats.

But there seems to be dissension among the ranks over who should lead the next council.

All this hoopla is silly, divisive and counter-productive. Sutton should be council president because he was the top vote-getter. That should be the end of the discussion. However, for argument sake let's review a few additional reasons why he ought to be named the chief when the new council convenes:

• Sutton has loads of local municipal management experience. He was Jamestown's first town administrator and served 17 years in that post. He knows Jamestown and understands the problems our community faces.

• Sutton has probably attended more Town Council meetings in those 17 years as town administrator than all of the other newly-elected council members combined. What better experience for an individual to chair the council meetings for the next two years?

• Sutton has great contacts up north in Providence and knows how state government functions because he has worked on the inside. Sutton spent 15 years as a division head at the state Department of Environmental Management. That ability to cut thought the bureaucracy would be a tremendous asset to Jamestown's next council president.

• Sutton has attended numerous city and town council meetings in other communities throughout the state due to his former position with the DEM. He has seen first-hand what works and what doesn't work at those meetings. He might have some new ideas about how we can improve things here.

• Sutton has a great down-to-earth, roll up your sleeves, let's get it done, aw-shucks, common-sense leadership style.

• Sutton has the time - because he is retired - to keep an eye on the town operations on a day-to-day basis. He can work closely with our town administrator and staff to make sure that we are getting the most out of our property tax dollars.

This is not to say that the four other islanders elected to the Town Council would not make good presidents. Each individual would probably do an outstanding job if given the opportunity.

Only one person can chair a meeting. This is where island tradition should rule.

- Jeff McDonough

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