WESTERLY — The new director of development services comes to the town from Illinois and brings experience as a lawyer, an appointed municipal government official and a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps.
Jeffrey N. Monteleone started his new position on July 26. His experience as a lawyer, according to his resume, includes work representing and advising municipalities on land use, town and city governance, and cases involving allegations of police misconduct.
Monteleone also worked with Town Manager J. Mark Rooney in Carpentersville, Ill., as an analyst, human resources director, and assistant to the village manager. Rooney was village manager in Carpentersville from 2010 to early 2018 and started his work in Westerly in the summer of 2018.
The director of the department, according to the Town Charter, oversees the offices of planning, zoning, building and code enforcement and directs the town planner and the zoning, building, and property maintenance code officials. The director is also responsible for enforcing relevant municipal ordinances that are within the purview of the department.
The charter also specifies that the director administers grants and performs additional duties as directed by the town manager.
His initial time in Westerly has been focused on studying the town zoning ordinance and state zoning laws and getting to know his co-workers and members of the boards he will be working with.
"I'm getting my comfort and familiarity with our zoning ordinance because almost anything that comes through this office, either on the building side or the planning and zoning side, somehow is hitting on that ordinance," Monteleone said.
He said he was drawn to the job for several reasons including a chance to live by the water, which he came to like after spending time on military bases that were close to beaches. He also has relatives who live in the Northeast.
"It's a new place, it's a challenge, and I love the opportunity to be in a coastal community," Monteleone said.
Shortly after high school, Monteleone enlisted with the Marines. He worked in an intelligence role and served a tour of duty in Afghanistan. "It was a real calling for me," Monteleone said of his time in the military.
As he was transitioning to civilian life, Monteleone said, he realized he had a continuing interest in public service and decided work on the municipal level would be best.
"I wanted the experience of having a stakeholder right at the counter and being able to help them with their problem and see the impact of that public service in real time," Monteleone said.
While he said he works well with Rooney, Monteleone stressed, "I have a very strong interest in being here independent of my past relationship with the town manager."
Monteleone is filling a vacancy left by the resignation of Lisa Pellegrini, who served as director of development services from 2017 until earlier this year. Pellegrini has been hired to continue working for the town in a new capacity — as a grant writer and administrator. She will perform most of her work by telecommuting from her new home in St. Augustine, Fla. Her new salary, which is lower than her job as department director, is about $70,000 per year, Rooney said.
Town officials have discussed establishing a full-time grant writer and administrator position for years, saying the job would bring in far more money through grants than is paid out in salary. The Town Council approved the new position during its deliberations on the current municipal budget. A part-time grant writer position had previously been eliminated.
Rooney said he is optimistic Pellegrini will have success obtaining new grants made available through federal COVID-19 relief efforts as well as grants that might become available if President Joseph Biden's proposed $1 trillion infrastructure bill passes. She will also continue to administer ongoing grant projects, including the upcoming eelgrass and dredge project at Winnapaug Pond.
Pellegrini will also work with the municipal Economic Development Commission and with the South County Tourism District and continue efforts to obtain funding for climate change resiliency projects, Rooney said.
Rooney said he is confident Pellegrini will be effective in her job while living in Florida, saying the early weeks and months of the COVID-19 pandemic showed officials that employees functioned well while working remotely.
"During the first throes of COVID we saw about a third of the non-public works and police employees working from home ... we found ways to make it work," Rooney said.
It is a time of many personnel changes in Town Hall. Nathan Reichert, who has served as zoning official since May 2017, is leaving for a new position as director of planning and zoning in Colchester, Vt. His last day in the office is Monday.
Tim Ryan, who served as human resources director for just 10 months, is leaving to return to California. Rooney said Ryan found the transition to life on the East Coast was more difficult than anticipated. Haley Hamilton, the town's human resources generalist, recently informed town officials of her intent to resign, Rooney said.
Monteleone will handle some of the human resources functions on an interim basis and a consultant will likely be used until new staff members are hired, Rooney said.