RICHMOND — Using a new “Zoom” video conferencing system, the Richmond Town Council met on March 17.
Council president Richard Nassaney and councilor Ronald Newman were physically present, along with town administrator Karen Pinch, town clerk Sarah Rapose and a videographer. Other council members, Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth and the public participated by telephoning in to the meeting.
Reflecting on the meeting several days later, Nassaney said that considering that the virtual format was new for everyone, he felt that it had gone well.
“We were all spread out so we kept our social distance and then we had the phone line to the town there, right on the counter, and we ran our meeting and it went as smooth as it possibly could be, with a small time delay, which wasn’t that big of a deal. We just paused for a little bit longer than normal,” he said.
Councilor Nell Carpenter, who participated by telephone, said she was opposed to addressing all but essential agenda items and made a motion to table most of the agenda.
“I make a motion to table all reports of non-essential town business, particularly department heads and the administrator,” she said.
Nassaney replied that Pinch’s report consisted of a grant application to the Rhode Island Foundation for $10,000 to offset the cost of bringing food trucks to the town.
“This is for a grant for a food truck night that’s already been sent in,” he said. “There’s no imminent danger to anybody in here, nor is this an item that is going to harm or cost the town a dime.”
Carpenter said she had received messages of concern from the public as well as members of the town’s Economic Development Commission who could not participate in the council meeting, but Nassaney said the public was free to participate by phone.
Reached after the council meeting, Carpenter said she understood that the town’s financial business had to proceed, but she felt the rest of the agenda should have been tabled. She also questioned the wisdom of holding three public hearings, one of which pertained to senior and disabled residents’ tax exemptions, when many residents were unable to participate.
“The nature of a public hearing is not for the benefit of the council, it’s for the public to support, to oppose, to comment, and specifically, the senior exemption portion of the public hearing," she said. "Historically, the council had, maybe, a good five to 10 people who attended so they could voice their concerns regarding that senior/disabled exemption that’s voted on every year.”
With no other council member seconding Carpenter’s motion to table most of the agenda, the meeting continued.
Nassaney said later that the grant agenda item had required immediate attention, but others had been deferred.
“I’m like ‘we have time sensitive information that we have to get through,’” he said. “We got to two items that needed to be talked about at length and I preferred to be in person, land trust items, and I said ‘let’s push these off until the foreseeable future.’ And everything else, we just went through methodically and everybody was good. We had three call-ins, so people were watching it.”
While the council tabled the two items pertaining to the Richmond Rural Preservation Land Trust, members voted to approve the grant application. Carpenter cast the lone dissenting vote.
“Approving a grant application is not essential,” she said.
At the March 3 meeting, the council approved a proposal by Eric Weiner of PVD Food Truck Events to hold a series of weekly food truck nights on the Town Hall lawn from May to September.
Carpenter was the only councilor to oppose the proposal, saying she was was concerned that the food trucks would siphon business from restaurants in the town.
Pinch, who wrote the application, said she was pleased the council had approved it.
“I was happy that the Council approved the submission of a grant to the Rhode Island Foundation for our Food Truck Nights series,” she said in a written statement.“Having the extra funding will bring the event to a higher level and enhance the experience, but without it, I anticipate that the event will still be a welcome addition to the town.”
The food trucks will cost $500 per night, much of which will be absorbed by PVD Food Truck Events. Nassaney said the weekly summer program would not end up being an expense for the town.
“If we can’t get funding, the organizer of the event has basically promised the town a net zero cost,” he said. “So either way, we are not going to lose.”
Nassaney also noted that he had reached out to five municipalities that host food truck events produced by PVD Food Truck Events and all of them had given positive reviews.
“Nothing but praise for everything Eric Weiner does,” Nassaney said. “The quality of everything the he brings is top notch and some towns have actually noticed economic gains because of the food truck night event.”