August 23, 2013 10:57AM
By DALE P. FAULKNER
Sun Staff Writer
WESTERLY — A member of the Public Works Committee has resigned, saying Councilor Patricia Douglas’ membership on the panel, along with the resignation of former Town Manager Steven Hartford, had derailed the committee’s work.
“With your assignment of Ms. Douglas to the [committee] and Mr. Hartford’s resignation, our committee has been rendered totally ineffective,” the committee member, Howard Hyde, said in his resignation letter addressed to Town Council President Diana Serra.
Hyde’s letter also said that past decisions of the council “and the recent forced resignation” of Hartford had influenced his decision to resign.
Hartford resigned Aug. 1 during a closed-door, executive decision that was scheduled as an opportunity for the Town Council to conduct Hartford’s job review. Hartford said he had lost the support of the majority of the council. Councilors Jack Carson, Christopher Duhamel and Caswell Cooke Jr. have all said they did not want Hartford to resign or that he at least deserved an opportunity to receive a job review. Serra, Douglas, and Councilors Andrew Gengarelli and Kenneth Parrilla were the bloc that did not support Hartford.
“This council’s latest decisions just looks like small town politics as usual and I hope your decisions don’t sour the well of future volunteers. I for one will think twice next time,” Hyde wrote.
The Public Works Committee, formed in 2002, was charged with monitoring road and infrastructure projects and advising the Town Council. The committee drew criticism for its review of a proposal to extend the town’s sewer system to Misquamicut when Douglas and others said the review should have been conducted by the council. In March, Serra proposed disbanding the committee, saying the public wanted increased transparency. The council ultimately voted to revoke the voting privileges of the committee’s two council representatives and the town manager and his or her designee. Douglas and Duhamel are currently assigned to the committee.
During Monday’s Town Council meeting, Douglas disputed the charges made by Hyde, saying she attended the committee’s meetings sparingly. Instead, Douglas said, Hyde’s comments about her were part of a “blame Pat Douglas for everything that ever happened” campaign.
Douglas said the committee had become ineffective because residents want projects reviewed by the council during televised meetings. When the committee voted to render a positive advisory opinion on the sewer project, it “circumvented the electors,” she said.
The committee’s failure to submit its meeting minutes with the town clerk’s Office for 15 months, in violation of state law, may have also contributed to its ineffectiveness, Douglas said.
Duhamel thanked Hyde for his service and said he hoped others were not discouraged from serving. He also noted, as Douglas had, that the missing minutes had been filed with the clerk’s office on Monday.
Town boards and committees would benefit from instruction on the state’s Open Meetings Law requirements, such as the one requiring the timely filing of minutes, Duhamel said.
The discussion then moved to a back and forth between Douglas and Duhamel, during which Douglas accused Duhamel of debating with her.
“I’m not debating you but if you want to debate, I guess we can,” Duhamel said.
Douglas also said that Duhamel frequently speaks out in opposition to her and she accused him of interrupting her. After an additional exchange, Duhamel said that Douglas’ behavior was “unacceptable” and amounted to “browbeating.”
Jean Gagnier, Public Works Committee chairman, said Thursday that he accepts responsibility for the late filing of minutes. He noted that two of the committee’s members who had served as secretaries had resigned in recent months. Although the minutes were not filed, Gagnier said minutes were taken, reviewed and approved by the committee. Additionally, in recent months the committee started making audio recordings of its meetings.
Gagnier, who is now the committee’s lone non-council member, said he had informed the council that he was willing to continue serving on the committee. He said he was proud of the committee’s work, including the recent development of a system for more closely tracking projects, including changes that are made once a project begins.