2007-11-21 / Front Page

Tradition dashed: DiGiando elected Town Council president

By Tom Shevlin

Tradition dashed: DiGiando elected Town Council president

By Tom Shevlin


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In a split 3-2 vote during a special Town Council meeting on Tuesday, Julio DiGiando was elected Town Council president, over top vote-getter Robert Sutton.


Challenging town tradition, though not the town charter, the vote to elect DiGiando was tense. Traditionally, the person who receives the highest number of votes in the majority party is selected by the council as president. However, Town Clerk Arlene Petit explained that town charter stipulates that councilors may nominate any member of the council to serve as president with a simple majority vote used to determine the outcome.

Sutton, who served as <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Jamestown's town administrator for 17 years but had never run for elected office, swept into first place during the Nov. 6 elections with 1,032 votes. DiGiando, who is beginning his third term on the council, came in second with 1,014 votes -- a margin of just 18 votes.


 "The first vote was uncomfortable" DiGiando said after being handed the gavel by Petit. "I hope it's the most uncomfortable one we have to take."

The vote divided the freshly sworn-in council between tradition and continuity.

Councilor William Kelly, who nominated Sutton, voted in keeping with tradition.


 "Tradition is not something that is disregarded because it may not be convenient to a particular person's point of view at the time," Kelly said. "The facts of the matter are that no matter how you add, subtract, multiply, divide, or square root the results, Bob Sutton got the most votes."


Szepatowski, acknowledged the tradition of naming the highest vote getter to council president, but added that it "isn't the only factor." Szepatowski, who tied former Council President David Long for the highest number of votes in 2005, noted that tradition was not the only determinant.


Michael White, who seconded DiGiando's nomination, agreed. "I respect tradition but it's not something we should follow every time," he said. White added that no matter who was elected president, he believed that the council would be fine. 

Still, the decision to forego tradition didn't sit well with Kelly.


 "We have taken the selection of town council president out of the hands of voters and have moved it into the arena of back room politics just like so many other Rhode Island communities," according to Kelly. "Going forward from here, we will function using the principle if you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."


Sutton described himself as "marginally indifferent," to being elected council president. He said that he felt that he had a responsibility to the voters who elected him.

Sutton also said that council has a responsibility to tell voters if the council would no longer recognize an ingrained island tradition.


 "I think that if we're going to do something different -- if we're not going to follow that anymore -- then people should know that," he said.

DiGiando agreed with Sutton's sentiments that the council should examine the council's election process and inform the public of any changes, but was confident in his ability to lead the council.

 "I think that I'm competent, a good listener, and good at consensus building" he said after the vote was taken.

DiGiando was also optimistic that the council would work well together and build on the achievements of the last council, which was headed up by David Long.

Long, who sat through his first council meeting from the audience in over eight years, said that he was "delighted" that DiGiando had won the top slot.

"Personally, he's the finest councilor I've ever worked with," Long said.


Asked if he still felt that the new council would mesh well together, DiGiando was succinct.

 "It's in the best interest of the town that we mesh," he said.

Less than 20 minutes after being sworn in to office, first-time councilor Michael White was elected Town Council vice president over incumbent William Kelly in a split 3-2 vote.

White, who was nominated by fellow councilor Barbara Szepatowski, received his second from newly elected president Julio DiGiando.



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