January 11, 2017 02:15AM
By Dale P. Faulkner
Sun staff writer
WESTERLY — The Town Council will revert to a four-meeting-per-month schedule after a narrow majority of council members voted in favor of the change. Those who voted in favor of the measure said it is necessary to ensure the council has adequate time to address its business without conducting excessively long and late meetings.
The council voted 4-3 Monday to switch to four meetings per month from the two-meeting-per-month schedule it had followed for about 14 months. The vote marked the second time within three weeks the council considered moving to four meetings per month. The previous attempt failed by a 4-3 vote.
On Monday the council also reaffirmed its Dec. 19 vote to limit citizens’ comments to 10 minutes per person but decided against a one-hour total cap on the first round of citizen comments.
Citizen comments at the beginning of regular meetings are limited to agenda items or items from the previous workshop meeting. Town Attorney Matthew Oliverio announced that citizens comments at the end of regular meetings, which can pertain to any topic, are also limited to 10 minutes. Councilors had previously said there was no time limit on the second round of comments but Oliverio offered a different interpretation of the council’s rules. Citizens comments are not allowed during workshop meetings (also called Committee of the Whole).
Under the newly approved approach, the council will conduct workshop meetings on the first and third Mondays of each month. Regular council meetings will be conducted on the second and fourth Mondays of each month.
Council President James Silvestri, who just three weeks before had voted to continue with two meetings per month, changed his vote, saying the council was struggling to accomplish its work in a timely manner under the two-meetings-per-month format. On Monday the council started its public meeting 50 minutes late due to a private executive session scheduled for 30 minutes that took about 80 minutes. After a police swearing in and promotion ceremony, it took the council until after 9 p.m. to get through its workshop agenda and start its regular meeting.
“I have always liked the four meetings per month. Tonight we had two items on the Committee of the Whole, but it’s after 9 p.m. and we haven’t stared the regular meeting yet. We do not seem to get through the Committee of the Whole in the right amount of time to start the regular meeting on time,” Silvestri said.
Councilor Edward Morrone delivered an energetic plea for four meetings per week, saying it would double the opportunity for residents to address the council. He was then informed that residents are not allowed to comment during workshop meetings.
Councilor Mario Celico, who was first elected to the council in 2014, said the two-meeting-per-month approach was more effective. When he was first elected, the council met four times per month. Morrone disagreed, saying, “If it were working the backlog agenda would not be the size it is,” he said. Celico countered by pointing out that the back log agenda was longer under the four meetings per month approach.
Councilor Jean Gagnier said having four meetings per month presented a challenge to town staff. “We have to respect the staff’s time. If we ask too much, mistakes get made,” Gagnier said.
Councilor Jack Carson offered a potential compromise solution — three meetings per month — but the idea did not gain adequate support.
Councilors Carson, Morrone, and William Aiello voted in favor of capping citizens’ comments to one hour. Silvestri, Celico, Philip Overton and Gagnier voted against the proposal. Celico and Gagnier voted to keep the 15-minute limit and also voted against the four-meeting-per-month schedule but were defeated by the others.
Former Councilor Louis Sposato Jr., speaking during the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting, argued against the 10-minute time limit, saying councilors were wasting time with “inane questions” due to a lack of preparation and allowing too much time for issues of little consequence.
Town Manager Derrik M. Kennedy, who originally proposed the two-meeting-per-month format the council adopted in late 2015, declined to comment for this article.