standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — It's not such a great idea to have the same individuals serve on multiple town boards and commissions at the same time, members of the Town Council are saying.

On Monday, the council discussed changing its bylaws to add a provision that would prohibit the practice of the council appointing individuals to serve on more than one board or commission at a time. The council appoints individuals to serve on municipal boards and commissions. The appointments by the full council follow an application process and interviews conducted by the council's appointments subcommittee which recommends individuals to fill vacant slots on boards and commissions.

Councilor Suzanne Giorno, who has served as the head of the appointments subcommittee for more than two years, on Monday said the subcommittee wants to prohibit the practice of appointing individuals to serve on more than one board or commission at a time due to potential "conflict of interest" problems.

"It could cause a problem," Giorno said.

Specifically, Giorno said, the subcommittee wants to avoid individuals voting on the same issue on more than one board.

Councilor Christopher Duhamel, who has served a total of about 17 years on the council, said he did not recall the problem ever arising in the past. By serving on two boards or commissions, Duhamel said, individuals would sometimes be "voting to advise themselves." While some boards advise the Town Council some also advise other boards and commissions, Duhamel noted.

"I'm in favor of one board, one vote, not multiple boards .... If you're appointed to another board, I'd say give up the other," Duhamel said.

The town benefits, Councilor Philip Overton said, from a diversity of backgrounds and opinions.

"I do agree when you have fairly powerful boards that are fairly intertwined you need as many different  eyes to make sure you have as many different ideas as possible," Overton said.

There are currently at least two individuals serving on two boards or commissions. Giorno said the subcommittee would establish a "transition plan" if the council adopts the proposed bylaw amendment. The plan would aim to avoid leaving boards or commissions without a proper amount of members to establish a legal voting quorum, she said.

Council President Sharon Ahern said she was in favor of the proposed bylaw change.

"I think it's a good idea ... we'll continue to get qualified people," Ahern said.

The council is expected to take a formal vote on the proposed bylaw change in the near future.

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