WESTERLY — Mario Celico, a retired Westerly police officer who served for about 20 years on elected and appointed municipal boards and commissions, died suddenly Wednesday. He was 71.
Friends and those he served with remembered him Thursday for his independence, a trait that one colleague said made predicting Celico’s opinion difficult.
“Mario was always his own man ... on any given issue to say you were sure how he would vote. You couldn’t do it. You were not sure,” said Jean Gagnier, who served for four years with Celico on the Town Council.
Family members said Celico, who was born and raised in Westerly, served on the Planning Board, Town Council, and School Committee for one reason — to help.
“We know that politics are tough and not everybody agreed with my father, but my family hopes it is clear that everything he did was for the betterment of the town. He truly cared about the town — that was at the heart of his service,” said Rebecca Limson, one of Celico’s five daughters.
Celico’s time on the council ended in November when he failed in his bid for re-election to a third term. In 2010, he campaigned on the Create Great Futures ticket with Gina Fuller and D. Jay Goodman for a position on the School Committee. The trio was elected and set about immediately trying to bring a new transparency to school spending and budgets.
Gagnier said their election started a seven-year-long struggle that ultimately resulted in an annual school budget document that is rich on numbers, allowing town officials and residents to see how tax dollars are proposed to be spent as well as spending trends over time.
Fuller said Celico consistently explained his position on issues facing the School Committee.
“If we disagreed on an issue, we were able to agree to disagree and continue to work on other issues together. This is a skill most of the politicians in town lack,” Fuller said.
Staring in June of 2017, Celico served as acting president of the Town Council for about seven months. His tenure brought greater attention to his proclivity for adherence to protocol, but critics said council meetings became overly strict.
“Mario knew the rules. I learned a lot from him and I’m thankful for that,” Gagnier said. “And he was fair. When he was acting chairman he was just as hard with people he liked and was friends with as he was with anyone else.”
Celico was criticized, in some circles, for his insistence on following the council’s rules and his frequent reliance on Robert’s Rules of Order, the book of parliamentary procedure that many organizations use to run their meetings. On occasion Celico acknowledged his own mistakes and explained why he relied heavily on council rules and strove for the decorum he said Robert’s Rules provided.
“Mario understood politics and he understood Robert’s Rules and their importance in the proper function of government. Mario got a bad rap during his last term on the council for his frequent citing of Robert’s Rules, but in my mind Mario was right on the rules and the way the council should function,” Fuller said.
When necessary, Celico showed he was not afraid to fight for what he believed was right. When the council conducted a vote to reorganize, thereby removing him from the role of acting president and stripping him of his title as vice president, Celico filed a lawsuit. The case was eventually dismissed when it was determined it should have been filed in state Supreme Court.
Celico also served on the Planning Board for 11 years and retired from his post as an officer having attained the classification of detective with the Westerly Police Department in 1989 after a 21-year career. He was a U.S. Army veteran and at times owned and operated two ice cream shops and a pizza restaurant.
Limson said her father was particularly proud of his work as a labor arbitrator and the work he did on contracts between the Westerly Police Department’s labor union and the town after his career as a police officer.
Celico’s other daughters are Annie Celico, Koleen Celico, RayAnn Celico, and Megan Celico. Arrangements were incomplete as of Thursday evening.