Back to business for the Town Council

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 3:15pm

There’s no resting when it comes to governing the Town of New Shoreham. The Town Council got right back to work after the holiday weekend with meetings on both Tuesday and Wednesday.
Tuesday’s meeting, stretching for three hours, saw the councilors attacking a lengthy agenda that included a myriad of topics, some mundane and along pure housekeeping lines and some that became more philosophical.
First up was formalizing an agreement between the town and Walter “Chip” Anderson who has been appointed Interim Chief of Police. Anderson is a retired Rhode Island State Police officer and has served on the local Block Island police force as a seasonal officer for several years. In his new role he will receive a salary of $95,000 and a cruiser for his exclusive use while on duty and for traveling between home and work. When a permanent chief
is found, Anderson “will be entitled to return to his position as a patrol officer for the Town’s Police Department, at which point he shall receive the applicable salary and benefits for such patrol officer position…” according to the agreement.
The agreement was approved unanimously by the full council.
Later in the meeting things got a bit more philosophical when it came to discussing the formation of a police chief search committee. Town Manager Maryanne Crawford, in updating the council on the current search said the application deadline closes on September 12, and that she hoped to have a recommendation for the council by October 1.
The hiring of a new chief is done with the “advice and consent” of the Town Council, and councilors seemed to feel that the advice piece of the puzzle would be best addressed before rather than after.
Councilor Mark Emmanuelle said: “Before it gets to our table, [we need] to have input into what we want from a police chief.”
“I’ll add to that,” said Councilor Martha Ball. “I want a police chief who is going to be able to prioritize what needs to be done in this town, who will take direction from the town manager, not from anybody on the street, and who understands the laws and who passes all the background checks.”
Seeming to wish to avoid a repeat of the search for a permanent chief earlier this summer, in which at the last moment the candidate withdrew his application, Ball said: “We don’t want this to become a political ‘I want this.’ ‘I want this.’ ‘No, I want this.’ That’s not the way anything gets done.”
The earlier search committee included, besides Crawford, two town employees along with a town manager and a police chief from towns on the mainland, and the council had a lengthy conversation about who should and who shouldn’t serve on the committee.
Some thought it was inappropriate to include people from other communities on the committee, although Crawford said that she had purposely selected a police chief from another “waterfront town.”
Councilor Keith Stover felt that “the search is as much about providing the applicants with background about where they’re going to live and work.” He also wished to see a committee member who had served as a police chief on the island.
“All I want to see is people who live here,” said First Warden André Boudreau, “people who have compassion for the island.” He added: “I think the search committee should sit with the Police Advisory Committee and the town manager. They’re looking for a charge, so to speak.”

Others though pointed out that the newly formed Police Advisory Commission had a different role than the one that existed years ago, when the island did not have an actual town manager.
Resident David Lewis said that Matt Moynihan, who first came to the island in late winter of 2021 as an interim chief on loan from the R.I. State Police, and then applied and got the permanent position a couple of months later, “set a standard.”
Moynihan resigned a year later after he was recruited to be the police chief of South Kingstown, where he is from. “It’s important to recognize when a standard of performance has been set,” said Lewis.
“The most important thing,” said resident Bill McCombe who served for many years as Block Island’s police chief, “is that Maryanne [Crawford] have the time to find the right person.”
After more back and forth, the conversation ended with Boudreau saying to Crawford: “Well, let us know how it turns out.”
In another matter, the council agreed to “take the pledge” for an initiative by Governor Dan McKee and First Lady Susan McKee to “Keep Little Rhody Litter Free,” although at first they couldn’t exactly locate the language of the pledge.
Emmanuelle took the opportunity to “pay tribute to” the many people who go out and about with “their bags, picking up litter.”
“Obviously, we want to take the pledge,” said Boudreau, and the motion to approve passed unanimously.
What may have seemed like a simple measure, approving an amendment to the Block Island Land Trust’s rules and regulations to incorporate a vehicle for the refunding of real estate transfer fees paid inadvertently by first time home-buyers, and restricting the time frame to one year after purchase, quickly got derailed by Chris Warfel, a member of the “ad hoc” Block Island Affordable and Attainable Housing Committee.
Warfel felt that the matter should be tabled until the Land Trust reviewed its mission, bylaws, and even legislation. He felt that requests he had made to the Land Trust, had gotten a “non-response.”
“There’s quite a lot the Land Trust could do to update its mission,” he said.
Earlier in the year, Warfel had called for the Land Trust to allocate a portion of the real estate transfer fees it collects to go towards housing, not further land conservation, which he feels “exacerbates” the problem of affordable and attainable housing.
To do that would require going to the state legislature, and the Land Trust, discussing its mission and role in facilitating affordable and attainable housing at its August meeting, which Warfel did not attend, rejected that on the grounds that it could put its entire current mission in jeopardy.
The council didn’t feel that the policy change warranted tabling approval of the new language. “This is not [to be used] as leverage over the Land Trust,” said Stover. “It’s a one-off.”
Ball added that the policy would save first-time homeowners “several thousand dollars.” Not voting for it, she added, “does the reverse of what everyone else is asking for.”
The council approved the new Land Trust policy 5 – 0.