It appears the Westerly Town Council is struggling with communication issues. Not the kind of communication issues that organizations and businesses and even families face every day. Not a lack of communication or poor communication. Just plain comunication and how it’s taking shape.
Town Manager Derrik Kennedy and town attorney William Conley Jr. had to have a bit of a heart to heart with the council Monday night to talk about how members communicate with them. They made it clear that any business involved a councilor and the manager or town attorney is council business. The issue was email correspondence being sent by individual councilors to Kennedy or Conley and requesting that the issue at hand not be shared with the rest of the council.
This apparently has happened with some regularity and both Kennedy and Conley are feeling uncomfortable, as they put it, being asked to have individual conversations about town business with individual councilors.
Councilors make up one body. That’s why there are laws regulating conversations between councilors and the need to act as a quorum.
Not to mention the pitfalls should separate conversations be misconstrued over time as the realities of a given situation evolve. If one councilor has the information all councilors need the information.
Conley earlier this month indicated that when he is asked a question by one councilor without a cc to the rest of the council, he will respond with a cc to all councilors. And he was clear that this scenario is how he has to work.
“To the extent that this new practice is not acceptable to the council, I suggest that the Town Council seek another town solicitor as I cannot rightly fulfill my obligation to the Town Council and the town of Westerly in the manner in which our working relationship currently operates.”
Kennedy also wrote to all councilors earlier this month to address the issue, reminding them that he reports to them as a council, not as individuals. Perhaps this situation is a hazard of these kinds of positions, since this issue is far from new in Westerly — from special requests of the manager to individual communiques. Under the current council, however, this appears to be magnified since there is more partisanship being shown.
“I feel that I am being put in the middle of various disputes, concerns, and commentary, which is making me uncomfortable in my position,” Kennedy wrote.
Proper communication can be the difference between a successful organization and a dysfunctional organization. And inappropriate communication can undermine any organization. It’s too bad so much time had to be consumed on this issue before and during Monday’s meeting.
This is so-called basic “housekeeping” for such bodies. There is real work to be done.