WESTERLY — The Town Council heard Wednesday from 12 residents seeking assignment to a charter revision commission that will soon be seated to study ways to reduce the influence of politics on local boards and commissions.
Eighteen residents applied for the nine-member commission but two have since withdrawn their applications. The remaining four candidates, who were not available Wednesday, will be interviewed by the council during a special meeting scheduled for Monday at 5:45 p.m. at Town Hall. The council plans to appoint members to the commission immediately following those remaining interviews.
The council asked each candidate to provide personal background and their reasons for wanting to serve on the commission.
William Nardone, a lifelong resident of the town, said he would bring a voice of “calm reason” to the charter revision commission. Nardone, who has practiced law in the town for about 33 years, described a history of volunteer service on the boards of the Westerly Adult Daycare, Westerly Community Health, The Westerly Hospital Foundation, and Ocean Community YMCA.
He said the commission’s work will be of vital importance: “Whenever you are examining potential change to the governing document of the town it is a significant event.”
The council was prompted to establish a charter revision commission by a petition drive led by Jack Armstrong. The petition called on the council to establish a commission to study adopting language in the charter to prohibit members of state and local political committees from serving on the town’s planning, zoning, and licensing boards. The petition also proposes prohibiting new members of the boards from being employees of the town or holding elective or appointed office in the town. Those restrictions are already in place for the finance board.
The council approved a resolution establishing a commission to study criteria for membership on town boards and commissions “relating but not limited to political party committee membership,” and the protocol employed by the council to fill vacancies on the Town Council and the School Committee. The resolution also gives the commission the task of studying a provision that would allow the Town Council to send proposed charter changes directly to voters without study by a charter revision commission; and a proposed provision prohibiting the appointment of town political committee chairmen or members of their immediate families to town employment.
Armstrong, a 46-year resident of the town and an applicant to serve on the commission, told the council he wanted to see the process through to conclusion. “It’s a constructive change,” Armstrong, a Planning Board member, said of the proposed charter changes.
Louis Sposato, a candidate for the commission, said his time on the School Committee had helped him hone “the politics of the art of compromise. You can’t always have it the exact way you want it,” he said.
Thomas Nall said he was motivated to volunteer to serve on the commission because he sees the need for change. “I firmly believe if you want to change, you have to get involved,” said Nall, a retired railroad track inspector.
Robert Warner, whose 19-year tenure as a Westerly police officer has included time as the president of the police union, said he would tap his experience negotiating labor contracts with the town if he is selected to serve on the commission. The commission will study the “critical” issue of citizen participation in town government, Warner said.
Planning Board member Hollis McKee said he applied out of a simple desire to remain involved in the community.
Retired from a career with Connecticut Light & Power, McKee previously served on the planning and zoning commission in Brooklyn, Conn.
Resident William Taylor said he would tap his experience working as director of policy for former Providence Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, who is again a candidate for the office, if chosen for the commission. Taylor is also a former newspaper reporter.
Thomas Toscano Jr. said he would bring a long history of public service to the town if selected for the commission. He served on the zoning board for 15 years and also served on the planning board, the Comprehensive Plan Citizens Advisory Board, a previous charter revision commission, and on a committee that revised the town’s zoning laws.
Another former newspaper reporter, Clarence Cable, said his journalism career taught him about the importance of the public’s perception of government. As a resident of Bradford he said he would represent that village’s perspective.
Raymond Lueder, former chairman of the Republican Town Committee, said his knowledge of the struggle to find qualified candidates to serve on town boards and commissions would be useful if the council selected him to serve on the charter commission.
Richard Anthony, a former town councilor, said he would tap his experience as an elected official as well as his current tenure on the finance board and past service on the Planning Board and work on the Comprehensive Plan if appointed to the commission.
He said his schedule allows him to be available and he noted that the commission would face a time squeeze as the council has said proposed charter changes must be ready by early August in order to be placed on the November ballot for voter consideration.
Stuart Blackburn said he would tap his experience as a lawyer and member of the board of education and economic development commission in Windsor Locks, Conn., if chosen to serve on the charter revision commission. He has lived in Westerly as a full-time resident for two years.
Jean Gagnier told the council he was withdrawing his application because he is running for a Town Council seat. “I think we should keep politics as far away from this process as possible,” Gagnier said. He urged the council to carefully choose commission members and asked that the members not choose anyone “who does business” with the boards.
The council will interview Dana Horton, James Jacquette, Richard Panciera, and David Giorno on Monday. Thomas J. Capalbo Jr. withdrew his application.
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