In my letter to the editor, ‘Further proof Town Council can’t be trusted,’ in the March 5, 2015 edition of The Westerly Sun, I spoke out against then Westerly Town Council President Christopher Duhamel’s unilateral decision to request a Rhode Island State Police investigation into the alleged receipt of a bribe by a former town employee, without the entire Town Council discussing and approving the request. Even if one agreed with the request for an investigation, I felt that how Mr. Duhamel went about this action was incorrect. No individual councilor, to include the president, has the authority to make unilateral decisions. All actions and decisions must be made by the council as a whole.
Now, according to the article ‘Task force caught up in council struggles,’ in The Westerly Sun on Sunday, Nov. 5, this has happened again. Acting Council President Mario Celico recently held a meeting, attended by Council Jean Gagnier, with the head of Westerly’s Substance Abuse Task Force. Mr. Celico had concerns about the task force’s record keeping and how grant funds are being spent by the task force and wanted to discuss these issues.
If Mr. Celico has concerns about the actions of the task force, it is his duty to ensure questions are asked. These are public funds being utilized. However, any questions to the task force must be asked by the council as a whole, and not by one or two councilors in private meetings. There never is an excuse to violate council policy. Both Mr. Celico and Mr. Gagnier should have known better.
I am concerned that Mr. William Conley, the town’s solicitor, attended the meeting. As an attorney with significant experience in municipal law, he should have advised Mr. Celico that holding the meeting was against the council’s policy. If he did give such advice and Mr. Celico chose to ignore that advice, Mr. Conley should have refused to attend the meeting. A solicitor must never validate incorrect decisions by a council member.
I also find it concerning that the council’s liaison to the task force, Mr. Ed Morrone, was not invited to attend the meeting. I assume, that as a seasoned legislator, Mr. Morrone would have pointed out to Mr. Celico that such a meeting was against council policy and would have recommended that a meeting with the task force should be before the entire council. To me, the fact that Mr. Morrone was not invited is yet another example of the petty party politics that has plagued this council since the resignation of Mr. Jamie Silvestri.
There appear to be two factions in the council that are more concerned with maintaining power than moving the issues of the town forward. After being in office for a year, the present council has not resolved any of the major issues continuing to challenge the town: rights of way, the Harbor Management Plan, the future of Westerly Airport, the Copar Quarry, the Extraction Ordnance and establishing a functioning ethics commission. All the present council seems to be able to accomplish is to get murals painted on walls and to have stop signs approved.
I urge all council members to review council policy to reconfirm their understanding that no individual councilor has any independent authority. I also strongly recommend that the council re-evaluate its actions of the past year and begin to work as a team. Lively, professional, well-researched, and courteous debate on an issue is expected and desired. Obstructionism and party politics are not.