WESTERLY — With a new Town Council comes a look by the newly elected group at the rules of procedure it will use for the next two years.
On Monday the council carefully scrutinized, during its first meeting, how often to meet each month and whether to reduce the amount of time citizens can speak when addressing the council. After a painstaking dialogue in which many councilors expressed a hope for efficiency and expediency, they reached tentative agreement on a schedule that calls for regular meetings on the second and fourth Mondays of each month and workshops, also known as Committee of the Whole meetings, on the first and and third Mondays of every month.
The Town Clerk's office had asked the council to change its schedule. Under the previous council, three meetings were held per month on a "rolling" schedule. The clerk's office suggested a two meetings per month format that would have combined regular meetings and workshops into the same night.
Deputy Town Clerk Mary LeBlanc said the rolling schedule was confusing to residents who struggled to determine when the council's regular meetings would be conducted.
Councilor Sharon Ahern advocated a two meeting per month schedule, but stressed that the council could add special meetings for specific big-topic issues such as concerns about coyotes or the Westerly State Airport. "I think the time has come for us to be more efficient," Ahern said.
Other councilors argued that four meetings per month were the key to efficiency. "I'm always used to four meetings per month ... that's how you get things done," said Councilor Brian McCuin, who previously served on the council from 2006 to 2012.
Council President Christopher Duhamel agreed with Ahern. "We'll have dedicated special meetings [too]. We're not saying we're going to do any less work than any other council, we're going to do, hopefully, more work," Duhamel said.
Councilor Suzanne Giorno stressed the need to have a consistent schedule that residents can count on and understand.
The discussion on the length of citizens comments started with Town Manger J. Mark Rooney, who recommended a reduction in the amount of time given to each citizen who addresses the council from 15 minutes to 10 minutes. "That way you wouldn't be filibustered," Rooney said.
Allowing each speaker 15 minutes can lead to long meetings that stretch past the council's 10 p.m. curfew, Rooney said.
Councilor Caswell Cooke, who previously served on the council from 2002 to 2014, said he was surprised to learn that a 15-minute limit had been established. "We were used to 45-minute diatribes," Cooke said, adding that he was hesitant to support an additional limitation. "We all got elected, if the public wants to scream at us for 15 minutes let them."
Ahern said a 10-minute limit is more in line with the majority of other towns in the state. Writing to the town manger or to the council or asking to have an item put on a council agenda are all also effective means to communicate, she said.
The council is scheduled to vote on the proposed new schedule and the new limit on citizens comments during its Dec. 10 meeting at 6 p.m. at Town Hall.
The council also discussed how to best make use of the services of the town attorney. Duhamel asked that all questions for the town attorney first be addressed to Rooney to avoid having the lawyer give the same answer over the course of multiple phone calls.
Councilor William Aiello resisted, saying he wanted the ability to consult directly with the town attorney. "I would be opposed to that because the solicitor works for the council. He does a lot of town work but there may be times when an individual councilor has a question," Aiello said.