WESTERLY — With its membership set Monday by the Town Council, the Charter Revision Commission will soon meet to elect officers and begin its task of reviewing procedures for appointments to town boards and commissions.
During a special meeting Monday the council appointed Jack Armstrong, William Taylor, Hollis McKee, Stuart Blackburn, Robert Warner, William Nardone, Raymond Lueder, Thomas Toscano Jr., and Dana Horton to the commission.
Each councilor made at least one appointment. Councilors Patricia Douglas and Jack Carson made two appointments, having gained the right after their names were pulled out of a can.
Council President Diana Serra devised the selection protocol, which the council agreed to, looking for a method that was fair to all 15 applicants and the council. There were originally 18 applicants, but three withdrew.
Establishment of the commission was prompted by a petition drive organized by Armstrong, a former Republican who switched his voter registration to unaffiliated after he was appointed to the Planning Board in January.
“This is a blue ribbon commission. I’m impressed by the membership and humbled to serve with them,” Armstrong said after the meeting.
He also praised Serra and the rest of the council for employing a “democratic and diplomatic” process. The petition was motivated, Armstrong said, by a desire to address what he says is the conflict that exists between resident Robert Ritacco serving as chairman of both the Zoning Board of Review and the Westerly Democratic Town Committee.
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.
Serra said the commission will be asked to study the language of the petition as well as a council-adopted resolution that asks the 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.
The council adopted its resolution before Armstrong submitted a petition with more than 425 verified signatures. Serra said she hoped residents recognized that the council acted once it became aware of the petition. “I hope this puts away the perception of wrongdoing,” she said.
The council president, a Democrat, selected Raymond Lueder, a former Republican Town Committee chairman, to serve on the commission. While some residents may perceive that the council, controlled by the Democrats, is beholden to Ritacco or the town committee, Serra disagreed. “I stand by my record. I don’t play politics. I respect the parties, but no one tells me what to do,” Serra said.
Serra said she chose Lueder because of his decades of experience in local politics and the town as a whole. “I think he’ll bring something to the table,” Serra said.
Armstrong’s goal is to have proposed charter changes ready in time for inclusion on the November ballot. Serra acknowledged that goal, but said she was hesitant to set it as a requirement for the commission, noting that the Town Charter allows commissions to work for up to four months. Ballot questions must be approved by the council and delivered to the Rhode Island Secretary of State’s Office by 4 p.m. on Aug. 6 in order to qualify for placement on the November ballot.
Serra and Town Solicitor John Stockwell Payne will serve on the commission as nonvoting, ex-officio members.
Councilor Kenneth Parrilla selected McKee. Carson’s selections were Blackburn and Horton. Douglas chose Warner and Toscano. Councilor Christopher Duhamel selected Nardone. Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. selected Armstrong. Councilor Andrew Gencarelli selected Taylor.
The council interviewed candidates James Jacquette, Richard Panciera and Horton prior to appointing the commission on Monday. The other 12 candidates were interviewed on July 2.