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Decision on planning appointee is delayed

WESTERLY — An auxiliary member of the Planning Board will have to wait a while longer before learning if his wish to be moved up to regular member status will be fulfilled.

On a 4-3 vote, the Town Council postponed action on the appointment of Daniel P. Joubert Jr. on Monday. Joubert has served in an auxiliary role since January. Councilors Diana Serra, Patricia Douglas, Caswell Cooke Jr. and Christopher Duhamel voted to wait on the appointment while Councilors Jack Carson, Andrew Gencarelli and Kenneth Parrilla voted in favor of acting immediately.

The decision stemmed, at least in part, from a recent discussion by the council and residents concerning how the council handles appointments to town boards and commissions.

Cooke was the first to ask the council to postpone action on Joubert, saying the council should first publicly review the current appointment process and determine how to improve it.

Under the current system, a two-member council appointments committee recommends candidates to fill vacancies after reviewing applications submitted to the town clerk’s office. Carson, a Democrat, and Duhamel, a Republican, currently serve on the committee. Cooke, a Republican, said he trusted his fellow councilors but said the system has drawn public criticism. “I don’t think they want me to fall back on that,” Cooke said, referring to the public.

Instead, Cooke has proposed having candidates for the town’s planning, licensing, zoning, and finance boards meet with the council informally to discuss their qualifications, availability and why they want to serve.

Carson cast doubt on Cooke’s motives, saying Cooke and Duhamel did not complain when Republicans Richard Anthony and Wendy Field were appointed to the Board of Finance in recent months. Anthony, a former town councilor, has been a consistent critic of the appointment process.

By its nature, Carson said, the appointment process will always be political since ultimately the council votes on whether or not to appoint specific candidates.

Carson also said he was surprised by Monday’s turn of events, saying that he had spoken with each councilor before the meeting. “There seems to be a reversal for whatever reason,” Carson said.

Douglas said she would no longer “rubber stamp” the names recommended by the appointment committee. “I’m not going to go along blindly any more,” she said.

Douglas said she did not know enough about Joubert to consider endorsing his move to become a regular member.

She also said she wanted information about his attendance at board meetings and pointed to an ongoing problem facing the zoning board — one member lives out of state for six months of the year.

Rather than leaving the work to a committee, Douglas said the council should consider having the entire council consider candidates to fill vacancies, a process she said would remove perception problems.

Serra said she supported postponing action because to do otherwise would “play into the perception that the appointments are strictly political.” She also pointed to the fact that most of the council’s appointments come on unanimous votes as evidence that they were not partisan in nature.

The council is expected to discuss the appointment process during its Nov. 4 meeting and to act on Joubert’s status Nov. 11.

Joubert could not be reached for comment.

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