2012-12-06 / News

Council moves open forum to beginning of future meetings

Rules of public comment to be spelled out on agendas
BY STEVE HEFFNER

A month ago, Jamestowners voted to replace their entire Town Council – five new faces for the five available seats. On Monday night, the council continued the makeover, voting to adopt a new way to conduct business at its regular meetings.

The principal driver of the changes was Mary Meagher, who, in an introductory note to her fellow council members, wrote that she was proposing a reorganization of the council’s meeting agendas “in an effort to promote public involvement in the governing process and clarity in that process.”

To that end, she proposed pushing the open forum and business sections of the agendas toward the front end of the programs. That would relegate the more “perfunctory activities” to later in the meeting.

She suggested that guidelines for public input at council meetings be posted in a prominent place on every published agenda. The guidelines would explain that citizens are invited to speak at public hearings, during open forum, after the town administrator’s report and other reports. Open forum would also precede council votes on unfinished or new business.

Citizens would be advised to use the public microphone at the front of the council chambers, begin by stating their names and home addresses, and direct comments to the council exclusively, not to members of the audience or town staff.

The guidelines would include an advisory on decorum: “It is our hope that citizens and councilors alike will be respectful of each other’s right to speak, tolerant of different points of view, and mindful of everyone’s time.”

Councilor Eugene Mihaly praised Meagher’s proposal as “a terrific first step to make our agendas more user-friendly.” The council voted unanimously to adopt the plan for future agendas and meetings.

In other news, a number of appointments were on the council’s agenda, and the incumbents in question sailed through. Peter Ruggiero was reappointed to his post as town solicitor, and Carolyn Mannis retained her job as criminal prosecutor. Even so, council President Kristine Trocki pointed out both Ruggiero and Mannis serve at the council’s pleasure, with no fixed term, and can be replaced at any time.

Not so for Probate Judge J. Peter McGuirl and Town Sergeant Fred Pease, who both won reappointment to fixed terms of two years.

At a workshop prior to the regular meeting, the council and members of the School Committee met to discuss potential changes that the state might impose. Changes will focus on how the town plans to budget funds to pay health-insurance benefits to current teachers and police officers when they retire.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser explained this week that the town has been successfully covering those health benefits on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, but changes might require the town, along with other municipalities, to set aside money in advance for those expenses. He said the possible changes grow out of concern for communities whose populations and employee rosters are much larger than those of Jamestown, and whose fiscal planning for retired employees has been poorly managed.

If new rules are implemented, Keiser said small increases in the town’s tax rate might be necessary. He added, however, that it is too soon to tell if the changes will be made or what they might cost.

In other actions, the council endorsed a proposal by the Dutch Harbor Boat Yard to increase the number of its commercial moorings from 100 to 108. Police Chief Edward Mello, in his capacity as executive director of the Harbor Commission, told the council that the commission had already approved the request.

Mello noted that the town’s harbor ordinance allows a 3-2 ratio of private moorings to commercial ones, and the number of private holdings had increased enough to allow Dutch Harbor to ask for the additional commercial moorings. The request requires final approval by the state.

Two annual events received licenses from the council for return engagements in 2013. The first is the New Year’s 1st Day Plunge, which for years was held at Mackerel Cove and known as the Penguin Plunge. This is the second year for the new tradition at East Ferry after the Special Olympics decided to move the Penguin Plunge to Roger Wheeler State Beach last year due to insurance liabilities.

A warmer, though no less demanding event – the United Health Care Half Marathon – will be run on July 13 on a course that will start athletes at Potters Cove, take them to the north end of the island along East Shore Road, then south to Fort Wetherill on North Main Road. The course will then move back along the east side of the island to the starting point.

The Grapes & Gourmet package store at East Ferry is preparing to change hands. The council, sitting as the Alcoholic Beverage Licensing Board, agreed to schedule a public hearing on Jan. 7 to review and take comments on the proposed transfer of the store’s Class- A liquor license from Grapes & Gourmet Inc. to Tunstall LLC.

If the transfer is approved, the new owners plan to retain the store’s current name.

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