BIPCo legislation heads to Providence

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 9:00am
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The enabling legislation to create the non-profit Block Island Municipal Utility District was submitted to the Rhode Island State Legislature on Monday, April 10, it was reported at the Block Island Power Company Transition Team’s meeting on Monday, April 17. Rep. Blake Filippi submitted the bill on the House side, and Sen. Sue Sosnowski in the Senate. BIPCo Transition Team chair Barbara MacMullan said that, so far, there had been few questions by those doing the preliminary review of the legislation. “It’s good to go,” she said. It is hoped that hearings on the bill will be coordinated so that they may occur on the same day, and that “plenty of notice” will be given for those wishing to attend.

The members of the Transition Team also turned to the task of planning for the initial election of a Board of Commissioners for the Utility District. 

The enabling legislation calls for a board with five members, and there will be one vote per customer. The legislation also stipulates that the initial election be run by the Town of New Shoreham, and so Town Clerk Molly Fitzpatrick joined the discussion to iron out the details. 

“Any election needs a set of rules,” said Fitzpatrick. “You need a ballot. You need a way to count the votes. You need a list of eligible voters.”

The list of eligible voters will be provided by BIPCo but it’s not as simple as just turning over a list of accounts. Ratepayers with several meters need to be identified, as they will not be able to cast more than one vote.  Fitzpatrick said that there may be “dead people” on the list as well. 

The public should be advised that if they wish to change any account holder names, they should notify BIPCo soon.

As for holding a walk-in vote or a mail vote, the Team chose a mail vote. Then there was the process of deciding upon what type of ballot to use. After considerable discussion, it was decided to use a one-page, perforated ballot that would fit in a window envelope, so that the top portion with the account holders name could be ripped off before being returned. A unique identifying number will be on the ballot itself to insure that no one votes twice. 

Developing a timeline for the process was also thoroughly vetted. Fitzpatrick said that besides waiting for the legislation to be passed, and the voter list, there needed to be a time-frame for people to submit nomination papers if they want to run for the Board of Commissioners, and an adequate time-frame for people to receive and return their ballots. There also has to be adequate time for Town Hall employees to do all the preparation and mailing work. “Our office has a full, rich, complement of duties,” said Fitzpatrick — “especially in the summer.”

The timeline has been set as follows and is subject to approval by the Town Council:

- July 6, 2017: A notice will be sent asking people to declare their intent to run.

- July 17, 2017: Deadline for submitting nomination papers.

- July 31, 2017: Ballots will be mailed.

- Aug. 28: Deadline for ballots to be received back at Town Hall, either by mail or by dropping them off in the lobby where there will be a collection box.

Town Facilities Manager Sam Bird said: “I’m going to complicate things to a whole new level.” He pointed out that many electric account holders may not be residents, and so may be unfamiliar with those who end up running for the Board of Commissioners. “Is there going to be any way to find out anything about those people?” he asked. 

Wright suggested a brief biography of each candidate be included with the ballot. 

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Fitzpatrick.

After much discussion, it was decided to request that each candidate include, with his or her nomination papers, a statement as to why they were running, and what their qualifications were. The content can be anything the candidate feels is appropriate, with the only requirement being that there is a maximum of 250 words. Candidates who choose not to issue any statement will still be included on the ballot, as long as they meet all the other requirements. 

It should be noted, that one needn’t be an eligible voter (i.e. ratepayer or spouse of a ratepayer) to run for the Board. Since those people would not receive the nomination papers automatically by mail, the form will be made available on the town’s website.