Letter: Appointment panel ignores the law on makeup of airport committee

Letter: Appointment panel ignores the law on makeup of airport committee

The following is an open letter to the Westerly Town Council Appointment Committee.

I flunked.

I was before the Council Appointment Committee, made up of Chairman Overton, Vice President Aiello and Councilor Cioffi. Subjective consensus being the order of the day, applicants for all town boards, commissions and committees are appointed to them by this threesome. As the most knowledgeable person in town about airport issues, Chairman Overton asked, why was I interested in becoming a member of the Airport Advisory Committee?  I said initially I wasn’t interested in becoming a member and I had questioned how a councilor could serve as both liaison to and voting member of the committee. The committee now consisting of just three (3) citizen representatives and six (6) airport affiliated residents made it out of sync with the prescribed ordinance.  I was reconsidering with hopes of getting the Committee back on track and off in the right direction.  

This council adopted the Airport Advisory Committee ordinance on June 28, 2017. It specifies that this committee shall consist of nine (9) voting members: “Five citizen representatives, all of whom shall be residents of the Town of Westerly, a commercial pilot, a pilot from a pilot’s association, one Councilor from among its members and the airport manager or his/her designee.” Council Rules of Procedure 8(f) states, “Persons serving on all boards, commissions and committees must be residents and qualified to vote in the Town of Westerly.” Had this committee forgotten or ignored Town Manager Kennedy’s Feb. 2, 2017 “Highlights,” stipulating that “residents make up the majority of the committee?” If one listens to videos of numerous council deliberations leading up to adoption of the ordinance, it becomes manifestly clear that “five citizen representatives,” free of any airport influence, shall represent the more than 24,000 residents in Town. 

To be clear, at this point, three (3) “citizen representatives” and four (4) airport associated residents have been appointed. Not actually appointed as yet, are the airport manager or designee and councilor, both obvious airport assets, bringing the number of those with airport interests to six (6).  This is a glaring disparity that demands correcting. As for a councilor serving as both liaison and voting member, would it not be a conflict of interest and necessary for that councilor to recuse him/herself on any airport issue before the council, say nothing of an unnecessarily wasted council vote? 

I was ready and aware of what would be coming. The chairman informed me there were no openings on the committee. “That,” I replied, “would depend on the committee correcting the disparity it had created in the makeup of the committee or not.” “No hard feelings,” Councilor Aiello chimed in, “We don’t distinguish between citizens and residents.” “That is not where the disparity lies, councilor, we are all both citizens and residents. The 6 to 3 makeup of this committee is the disparity,” I countered. He suggested I could always just attend meetings since they’re open to the public, then reminded me that the Airport Advisory Committee is “just advisory.” In a shot, I remembered hearing that same putdown last summer when Councilor Carson confronted a chamber full of irate citizens opposing what then Zoning Official Jason Parker was proposing as the first of three strongly RIAC-biased Airport Hazard Area zoning ordinances. Shaking his fist and pointing to the angry residents, he exclaimed, “Remember, you are just advisory, WE are the ones with the power!” Then as today, the remark is a pompous, arrogant slight in the sense that seven councilors a short time earlier were just regular residents and citizens themselves. Power does not convey with it any right to ignore the law. 

Hatsy H. Moore


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