2010-08-05 / Front Page

Jamestown looks offisland for ACO services

By Phil Zahodiakin

The expansion of an existing agreement for off-island animal shelter access was the final – and in some ways, the most noteworthy – topic discussed during the Aug. 2 meeting of the Jamestown Town Council.

The council also discussed, and allocated money for, a pair of significant projects: A financial analysis in support of wind turbine financing, and the upcoming “Congress of Councils” to unify state opposition to a liquefied natural gas facility proposed for Mt. Hope Bay by Weaver’s Cove Energy.

The discussions on an expanded off-island agreement to replace services previously provided by the town’s animal control officer were notable because the ACO controversy divided island residents for much of 2010.

In addition, there was never any formal announcement that the ACO position – which the council scaled back to a part-time job in May – had been eliminated. During the meeting, none of the councilors raised any questions about the decision of Town Administrator Bruce Keiser to cut the position.

In his remarks to the council, however, Keiser said that during the first 25 days of July, there were 37 animal-related calls to the police department; of those, 27 were handled over the phone; seven resulted in field responses by the police; and three resulted in field responses by the Public Works Dept.

Keiser told the Press that he reached his decision during the last week of June, adding, “As we discussed during the budget workshops, I felt that an on-call ACO would make the most sense for Jamestown, so that’s an option we’re considering. But I feel there isn’t any rush because we’ve already gone for long periods of time without an ACO presence due to absences, and the police have handled the calls during those periods.

“And, because the ACO was only working two day shifts a week, and took time off during the year,” he continued, “only 80 shifts out of 365 days were routinely covered by an on-duty ACO.

“So, 75% of the time over many years,” Keiser added, “police offi cers have been covering animal control duties during the first shift. We looked at our needs and decided that as-needed ACO response made more sense for Jamestown, and that reducing the ACO position to a parttime position didn’t make much sense because having someone onduty for a 20-hour week wouldn’t address the random nature of ACO calls.”

Although the council didn’t formally agree to an on-call ACO, Harbormaster Sam Paterson has previously warned that his chapter of the National Government Employees Union would sue if Jamestown eliminated the ACO position. A second basis for a NGE lawsuit would arise if Jamestown outsources the formerly public ACO duties to a private party.

Paterson was unavailable for comment.

The council, however, has only agreed to outsource certain ACO functions – such as vicious- and rabid-animal response – and only, for now, to the town of North Kingstown. The council, which was missing President Mike Schnack, passed a motion to adopt a memorandum of agreement on the arrangement by a 4-to-0 vote.

The MOA will expand an existing – and virtually never-used – agreement providing Jamestown with access to the N.K. animal shelter. Council member Ellen Winsor urged Keiser to explore an animal shelter arrangement with the Potter League, which, she said, offers a superior range of services – including medical care for animals housed for at least five days (after which they are considered strays).

Keiser, who was open to the suggestion, said “our agreement with North Kingstown isn’t exclusive. We’re not limited to their shelter as our sole shelter.”

Discussions on the LNG issue were no less diverse, with the principal result of those being a council decision to spend up to $5,000 on preparations and expenses for the “Congress of Councils” on Sept. 8. The money will be used for, among other things, a continental breakfast at the likely venue for the meeting – the Jamestown recreation center – along with promotional copy and “articles” produced by a public relations professional.

Dick Lynn, vice chairman of the Jamestown LNG Threat Committee, said that four councils out of the 25 invited have so far said that they will attend. He added that there haven’t been any offers of in-kind donations.

Lynn also said that the committee has invited a number of high-profile speakers, including Gov. Donald Carcieri and Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Keith Stokes, who have not responded; Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who will attend; and former White House Security Advisor Richard Clarke.

The council voted 3-to-1 in favor of the Threat Committee expenditures, with Winsor voting “no” because she wanted more feedback on the specifics of the public relations assignments, as well as costs and attendance numbers.

Regarding the news that Jamestown has applied for intervenor status in the federal review of the Weaver’s Cove permit application, Winsor – who has long urged the council to seek a more participatory role in the federal permitting process – told the Press that, “The advice of the LNG Working Group and its collaborators has always been issued in the best interests of the communities on Narragansett Bay.”

The council also discussed a series of complaints from Weaver’s Cove about a lack of access to documents used by the Threat Committee.

Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero said the complaints have risen to the level of a formal request issued under the Public Records Act. Council Member Bob Bowen, sitting as council president in Schnack’s absence, said, “This is not what you’d expect from a company that is supposedly trying to work with communities up and down the Bay.”

In other business, the council also:

• Approved the expenditure of $5,000 to substantiate the revenue projections for the proposed wind turbine – and develop graphic representations of what the turbine will look like from various vantage points on the island.

• Voted to appoint Rosemary Enright to the Planning Commission.

• Voted to cancel its mid-August meeting, which means that the next meeting of the council will be held on Sept. 7, unless a town emergency arises.

• Learned from Keiser that 138 homeowners in the Shores area have indicated that they are interested in having their well water tested under a program that Keiser is devising in conjunction with the Dept. of Environmental Management and URI.

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