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Daniel Hyland
Sharon Ahern (Daniel Hyland/The Westerly Sun)

Westerly’s former chief of staff takes job with Watch Hill Conservancy.


WESTERLY— Less than one month after leaving her job as chief of staff for the town of Westerly, Sharon Ahern has found a new avenue to continue applying her public service expertise, as the executive director of the Watch Hill Conservancy.

The board of directors for the conservancy, which works to preserve and promote the natural and architectural heritage of Watch Hill, began discussing the search for a new executive director after former director Chaplin “Chap” Barnes stepped down in October, according to Richard Sayre, who serves as board vice president, vice chairman and treasurer.

The board advertised for the open position among other land trust-style organizations and publications. Of the 12 applications received by the beginning of the year, three were interviewed before Ahern was officially selected.

“She was the best candidate,” Sayre said when asked why the board chose Ahern. “She had the leadership ability, she’d managed other nonprofits and she understood the issues surrounding conservation.”

Ahern also pointed out that many of her previous experiences and jobs suit her new position well.

“This position touches on a lot of my experiences,” she said, referring to her time at a law firm in New York practicing admiralty and environmental law, as well as involvement in several other conservation efforts. “My work for the town has been invaluable as well, in that it allows me to understand the way this town operates.”

Ahern, who served as the municipal chief of staff for nine years, stepped down from her position voluntarily, according to a previous Sun article. Her position was slated for elimination as part of town budgetary cuts.

Ahern has also served as the executive director of the Westerly/Pawcatuck Joint Development Task Force. The Westerly native attended law school at Tulane University in New Orleans, and also holds a degree in environmental law from Pace University School of Law. She practiced law in New York City prior to returning to Westerly in 1999.

Ahern will begin her new role with the conservancy at the beginning of March, and will spend the first few months of her work focusing on projects related to fundraising, according to Sayre.

Ahern said she also hoped to draw more attention to the many programs and initiatives the conservancy oversees.

“It’s not just the piping plover,” she said, referring to one of the endangered species in the area that she believes is commonly associated with the conservancy. “There are so many different areas, from the Bay Street economic development to various educational programs. I think people often don’t know about all of the areas [the conservancy] is involved in. I’m very excited to help promote them.”

The Watch Hill Conservancy was established in 1999 as a Rhode Island nonprofit corporation, and is headed by a board of directors, as well as a staff and advisory council.

nlavin@thewesterlysun.com



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