2009-05-28 / News

Next school committee and town council will serve three-year terms

Change necessary to move to even year elections
By Adrienne Downing

A temporary three-year term, instead of four years, for School Committee members is one of the changes to the Jamestown Town Charter islanders will be asked to approve at the polls in November.

The Town Council approved the change at the May 21 work session to finalize its oversight of the recommendations set forth by the town charter review committee.

The change was based on the Town Council's decision to schedule local elections during even years to coincide with state and national elections, a move which will save the town approximately $10,000 per election and possibly increase voter turnout.

The town council will also be affected by the election year switch. Councilors elected this November will serve a three-year term and run for re-election in 2012.

There was discussion of the town council serving only a oneyear term, but councilors were divided on whether that was enough time to hold office and be effective.

Town Councilor William Kelly did not support the one-year term because he felt it was too expensive and time consuming to run for office for just one year.

"The real issue is not the town council, but the school committee," Town Council President Julio DiGiando said. "They either have to serve a shorter term or a longer term and I think five years is too long."

Because the school committee is elected on a rolling cycle, three members are elected one election and two the next election, it must stay on an overall four-year election pattern. The council was unanimous in its decision that the three-term was a better option and would be less intimidating than having to commit to five years.

"People go through so many changes, it would be very hard to say that you would still be in the same position and still willing to do the same thing you are doing now," Kelly said.

The council also thought the temporarily shorter term might be attractive to residents who would like to run for election, but could be intimidated by a long-term commitment.

The other major decision of the evening revolved around whether the language in section 301, concerning the hiring of a town administrator, should include that the candidate be a resident of Rhode Island.

Currently the charter reads, "The town administrator need not be a resident of the town or state at the time of appointment, but must become and remain a qualified elector and resident of the town within six months after appointment, unless an extension is approved by the council."

The recommendation from the charter committee was to strike the entire sentence from the charter, but Councilor Kelly suggested adding a sentence requiring the town administrator be a resident of the state.

"I don't support that they would have to be a resident of the state. We could end up with a very qualifi ed candidate from just over the border," DiGiando said.

Kelly, however, felt that the residency requirement was important. "I understand why we would strike the language that says the town administrator must be a resident of Jamestown. It's expensive here, so I get that, but shouldn't they at least have to be a resident of the state and understand how Rhode Island government works," he said.

Councilor Michael White said the language should reflect flexibility. "What about a resident who lived on the island for years, but just doesn't happen to live here now?" White said. "I would hate to keep us from getting the best candidate because we make it about residency."

Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski pointed out that the charter does provide for the council to make an exception to the residency requirement.

The council was split 2-2, with Councilman Robert Sutton absent, on adding the residency requirement.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser explained that the state had previously outlawed residency requirements, but then changed the law to reflect that municipalities could hire under employment contracts that have residency restrictions for city and town managers. After Keiser's explanation, the council voted 4-0 to accept the change as recommended by the charter committee.

The final debate of the evening centered around charter language pertaining to the Financial Town Meeting.

Resident Susan Little suggested that the town use paper ballots on the first vote at the FTM, but the council was not in favor of the change.

"If it isn't broken, why fix it?" DiGiando said. "Paper ballots would make the meeting take forever."

Town Clerk Arlene Petit said using paper ballots requires all residents to go through the board of canvassers. "It would be very cumbersome," she said.

Return to top