2013-11-28 / News

Councilors reflect on year in office

By Margo Sullivan

On Nov. 6, 2012, Jamestown voters made their voices heard by asking for a fresh start. They elected four Democrats and one Republican into office, voting against the incumbents and opting for five new faces.

A year later, the councilors are reflecting on the challenges and surprises since they took the oath.

Council President Kristine Trocki said dividing her time between her law practice and her council duties has caused the biggest difficulty.

“It is not uncommon for me to spend several hours a day working on town business,” she said, counting the times she speaks or meets with staff and constituents. “Even though it is very difficult to create this balance, I enjoy it very much.”

Councilor Blake Dickinson cited the red tape as the biggest difficulty he encountered.

“There were some challenges dealing with process,” he said. “By this I mean it requires much work and a great deal of patience to get things accomplished.”

However, he also sees how the process makes the council more effective. “It is intended to work this way and ensure that actions are deliberative,” he said.

Councilor Mary Meagher said the “shortage of time” and Keiser’s unexpected resignation ranked among her biggest difficulties.

As far as issues, the most problematic has been the Shoreby Hill historic district, she said.

“This is a battle for me between my love of buildings and landscape,” she said, “and my understanding of the public’s interest.”

Although historic designation would be the optimal way for the town to protect the treasure, “We cannot devote those public resources to a neighborhood that can, at will, deny the public access,” she said.

Three difficulties also complicated the first year for Councilor Thomas Tighe, starting with learning how the process works from the point of view of an elected official.

He also cited the controversy over the Fort Getty campground and the effort to hire a new town administrator.

Councilor Eugene Mihaly ranked the laws regarding open meetings as both the most difficult and surprising challenge of his first term.

“I support and treasure the philosophic underpinning of the law, but in practice, it’s very difficult to function under its umbrella,” he said.

Mihaly feels he is at his best when he can share views with colleagues. In advance of the Town Council meetings, however, the councilors are required to limit their discussion.

“Two of us can talk, but all five of us can’t,” he said.

Given the fact the council is “a collegial group,” Mihaly would prefer to have an opportunity to sound out the full council before having to present views in public.

“I wish I had a clever solution to this problem,” he said. “We don’t want to have elected officials come out of a back room and say, ‘Here’s what we decided.’”

But he has experienced difficulty working under the constraints. “It’s a balancing act, and it’s not an easy one,” he said.

Keiser’s resignation surprised several councilors but not Mihaly, who had sensed the town’s administrator might be moving on.

Meagher had not anticipated Keiser’s departure and said it was difficult.

“It was also the biggest surprise or something I didn’t exactly expect,” she said. “Obviously, it was not an easy decision for [Keiser] to make. Once made, it caused a bit of a tumult in the day-to-day life of town government.”

But the difficulty led to new appreciation for the staff, she said.

Trocki put Keiser’s resignation on her short list of the biggest surprises. However, the staff – and the committees – rose to the occasion. The staff’s knowledge and skill came as a good surprise, Meagher said, but going into the job, she did not expect to have to find and hire a new administrator.

“The other surprise was simply getting up to speed with the procedural parts of running meetings,” Trocki said, “and adhering to the onerous open-meeting laws in a town with a council that is cohesive and of such high caliber and character.”

Dickinson said his first year reinforced his impression about the town staff.

“I will say that I have a strong appreciation for the hard work and support of those who help make local government work smoothly and who perform the day-to-day business of the town,” he said.

Tighe also said he was aware of the staff’s abilities before taking office, but had not expected the search for Keiser’s replacement to wrap up so quickly.

“I expected that it would take a longer time to fill the position, but how well the selection committee had chosen the top three candidates made it a lot easier for the council to pick a person who had the experience and leadership ability,” he said.

None of the councilors ruled out running for another term.

Trocki said she’d be honored to serve again and added the council’s work is not done.

“As to our biggest success, I am most proud of my fellow councilors’ dedication to the town and to making sure we have changed how people feel about local government, coming to and actively participating in meetings, and walking away feeling that they have been heard and respected,” she said. “Even if the result isn’t what they wished for.”

But the council is still working on many projects.

Mihaly said November 2014 is still a long way off, but if the election were held tomorrow, he would definitely run for reelection because he’s working on several projects and wants to see them through. Mihaly also enjoys his role on the council, he said.

The council members genuinely like each other, Mihaly says, and serving Jamestown has been a pleasure. The citizens are committed and energetic people, he added, and governing the town is made easier because the is- land does not have problems with crime and widespread poverty that other communities face. As he sees it, the council’s mission is essentially to take a good place and make it better.

Tighe said he hasn’t thought about running again yet.

“I have not, at this time, given a lot of thought about continuing on the council,” he said. However, he admits the councilors have a lot of work to complete during this term.

Dickinson said he wants to continue serving Jamestown, but that could mean in a different role.

“At this point, I feel that we are delivering on our promises,” he said. “We share fundamental principles ensuring that local government, at all levels, is respectful and, most of all, accountable to the voters of Jamestown. There is still much work to do and if it were necessary, I would be honored to serve the voters of Jamestown in any capacity. “

Meagher said her decision to run again will depend “on a lot of things,” including the time commitment and whether the other councilors decide to continue.

“I have learned a lot from them. It has been really interesting to work with others, to develop consensus, to discuss, disagree, come to a resolution.”

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