2013-03-07 / News

Councilors meet with department heads to discuss goals

Council wants to know if objectives are achievable
BY MARGO SULLIVAN

After two special workshops and more than four hours of faceto face meetings with staff, the Town Council is near consensus about its goals, the councilors said last week.

But they also stressed that their work is not yet over.

“Nothing’s fixed,” Council President Kristine Trocki said. She was referencing an impressive to-do list, which included longstanding objectives like closing the landfill and newer initiatives like passing an in-law apartment ordinance. “I don’t want this to come across as any final document,” she added.

The Town Council met Feb. 27 prior to its regular meeting. It agreed to put its agenda for the upcoming 21 months on a fourpage spreadsheet, but with the understanding the document is still a working draft. The council has not yet taken any formal action to adopt the goals. The work is still in progress, Trocki said.

For example, the councilors will need to add a section about harbor, they decided, after realizing their list of goals overlooked the waterfront.

Councilors Mary Meagher and Eugene Mihaly came up with the concept of condensing the goals in a manageable format. Meagher created the spreadsheet, which includes action items for the council and deadline dates.

Meagher said the council might need to hold one more workshop to refine the goals. The councilors saw the spreadsheet for the first time during the Feb. 27 workshop.

Meagher briefly explained how she broke down the goals into logical steps. For example, the councilors wanted to look at affordable housing options. One preliminary step would be to bring back an affordable housing committee. The panel has become defunct, but Meagher said the councilors could appoint new members.

“Obviously, you’re familiar with this document,” Trocki told Meagher, but indicated it was new to everyone else and there was a lot of information for the other councilors and staff to process.

“The most important thing we can get from staff is a sense of whether what we’re proposing is doable,” said Trocki. She then asked for suggestions about the next step. Should the councilors and staff go over the spreadsheet during the remaining workshop time? Or should they hand out the document and ask staff to return it with comments later?

“You’re right,” Meager said. “People just got it.”

Mihaly said that the councilors have 21 months left in office, and by putting the goals on paper, the councilors would actually be creating a “work agenda.” He also wanted to verify all five councilors thought the goals were the right priorities. The spreadsheet was the second attempt to codify the goals on paper, he indicated.

Mihaly and Meagher had started with a seven-point proposal on Feb. 13. The seven goals included assessing affordable housing options; reviewing parks and recreation programs; replacing the golf course building; deciding on a plan for Fort Wetherill; deciding how to expand the Fire Department facilities into the north end and the village; rebuilding the town website; and developing a local preference policy and ordinance for contracting jobs, leasing and recreation fees.

But during discussions among councilors and with staff, more goals came up. The spreadsheet reflected those discussions at the first workshop and listed 14 general goals, with the seven additions of closing the landfill; improving town facilities; protecting the environment; refining emergency management’s storm response; promoting green energy; backing advances in information technology; and protecting local business, culture and agriculture.

“The document Mary has produced looks like a very fine elaboration of the bare bones,” Mihaly said.

He suggested Trocki might go ahead with a discussion once everyone had taken a few minutes to read the information.

“If I may suggest, give everyone five minutes to read through this,” Mihaly said.

Trocki agreed, and the councilors looked over the paperwork.

“The spreadsheet looks like a really good breakdown of these basics,” Trocki said. “This is what the Town Council needs to do and when we need to do it.”

She invited the staff to speak up if a deadline was not realistic.

“If a department head says, ‘No way we can meet this goal in June,’” she said, “we can cross it off until September.”

Town Planner Lisa Bryer said she would like additional time to assess some of the deadlines, and the council agreed to email the document to all the department heads.

Trocki said there wasn’t really any new item on the spreadsheet.

“It’s not the first time we’ve seen this,” she said. “It’s just a different format.” All the information was material the councilors had already discussed.

The councilors went over the spreadsheet item by item with the department heads who attended the meeting. They included Town Administrator Bruce Keiser, Town Clerk Cheryl Fernstrom, Finance Director Christina Collins, Police Chief Ed Mello, Town Engineer Mike Gray, Fire Chief Jim Bryer, Recreation Director Bill Piva, Building Official Fred Brown, and Michael Glier of the IT department.

Some of the topics included building public bathrooms at Fort Getty, starting designs for new Fire Department facilities, constructing a 90- to 125-foot high cellular tower in the north end, and negotiating an arrangement with the Narragansett Indian tribe to take over stewardship of Indian burial ground artifacts being stored in the Sydney L. Wright Museum inside the town library.

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