There is a scene in the movie “Apocalypse Now” when Captain Willard and his Navy riverine boat escort led him to the front lines on the river, the last American outpost. It was there that Captain Willard was supposed to link up with an Army officer for an intelligence update. Willard walks into the fighting position and asks a soldier manning an M60 machine gun the question, “Who’s in charge here?”, to which the soldier responds, “Ain’t you?” The same, “who’s in charge here?” question could have been raised in the Westerly Town Council chamber on the evening of Jan. 20, 2021. On that auspicious occasion the 2020-40 Comprehensive Town Plan was the topic of discussion. For 4 hours, 13 minutes and 39 seconds the Westerly Town Council engaged in leaderless groupthink/speak. The discussion process that evening being, the longer that the council talked about the Comp Plan, the more subject matter knowledgeable they would become.
No matter how long they talked, one thing was clear: No one on the council was willing to take ownership of the plan. Watching the council members attempting to distance themselves from the plan was like watching someone trying to pick up a clump of dirt by the clean end. No one on the council introduced the plan. There was no background presented, no overview, no explanation, no one to speak to the plan. The Comp Plan was treated as just another agenda item. The discussion took on a life of its own. The council seemed as puzzled and as frustrated as the virtual audience. At one point Councilor Cioffi admonished the public when she asked, “… Why didn’t the public inform the council?” Talk about blaming the victims. In the end, the Westerly Town Council voted to adopt the 2020-40 Comprehensive Town Plan without one objection. Just as in the movie, the question of who is in charge goes unanswered.