On the one hand, Westerly town councilors are pledging to continue doing the people’s business. On the other, it’s clear they can’t work together.
Wednesday’s horror show of a special meeting was called by four members to elect new officers. Mario Celico has been serving as president since the June resignation from the council of former President Jamie Silvestri. Celico had been serving as vice president under Silvestri.
Wednesday’s embarrassment, which included name calling, swearing and shouting among the seven member panel, was a special meeting called by Bill Aiello, Jack Carson, newly appointed member Karen Cioffi, and Ed Morrone.
Morrone has been angling to be president since the November 2016 election, as our reporting confirmed this week. Silvestri earned the highest number of votes from the electorate and the council followed tradition by naming him as president.
The infighting started shortly after Silvestri left, when the remaining six could not agree on a candidate to fill the seventh seat despite having qualified candidates.
Things got worse as the year went on, with Aiello, Carson and Morrone claiming that Celico was ruling with an iron fist and closed ears. Among other charges, they claimed they couldn’t get anything on the agenda, which is set by Celico in conjunction with Town Manager Derrik Kennedy.
There was a dust-up about communication between councilors and the town staff when Aiello indicated he wanted the ability to independently ask questions of the town manager by email, without the others knowing. Kennedy and Town Attorney William ConleyJr. made a point of telling the full council that they couldn’t work that way and that all seven must act as a body. Celico said he wanted the courtesy of knowing what the other councilors were asking staff members, and that only seems fair.
All of these simmering tensions boiled over Wednesday night and now the council and residents are left with dueling legal opinions about how a president can be named when the Town Charter and the council’s rules of procedure are less than clear on the matter.
Celico retained a separate attorney ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, knowing what was coming, and that attorney said Celico is unquestionably the president based on Robert’s Rules of Order, which kicks in when the charter and council rules are silent. But Conley said the charter and state law indicate that a council can call for an election of officers at any point when a vacancy exists. He also maintains that a majority can bring the presidency question to court, which Morrone hinted he may look into.
This is like a dysfunctional family in need of counseling — except they already tried that with a daylong retreat that yielded little.
If Celico remains as chair he needs to be more democratic. He was accused Wednesday of being a dictator and his actions appeared to merit the criticism. He has told us he only sometimes reads the newspaper, which for a local leader shows an arrogance and narrow-mindedness that ignores the world around him. And that kind of ignorance is not the mark of a fair and solid leader.
We’re not sure what to make of Morrone’s politicking for the presidency unless he just has no confidence in Celico and feels a duty as a retiree and former state legislator to step into this time-consuming role that demands lots homework.
No one’s going to tell these folks what to do. They’re all firmly entrenched in their views. But it does appear that Celico has given it his best shot and considering where the council is, that hasn’t been good enough.