Eight running for Town Council seats
Three resident independent candidates will challenge incumbent members of the New Shoreham Town Council in the election on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
While the incumbent Town Council members have all filed for reelection to their respective seats, former councilor Mark Emmanuelle, an independent, is challenging First Warden Ken Lacoste. Residents Paul Filippi and Leslie Dodge Slate are running for one of the council seats currently occupied by Martha Ball, Sven Risom and Chris Willi. Second Warden André Boudreau is running unopposed.
The Block Island Times reached out to the candidates to get their thoughts about serving on the Town Council, including what they believe is the most important issue, or issues, facing the council.
First Warden Ken Lacoste (Republican)
I was born and raised in western Massachusetts. I have degrees in Liberal Arts and Anthropology, as well as extensive mechanical training.
I have been an island resident since 1981. My wife, Marlee, and I have been married 38 years and are very proud of our sons Charles, a Fire/Rescue Lieutenant in Narragansett, and Parker, an attorney in New York City. We recently welcomed our first granddaughter to the family.
I have been a business owner for about thirty years, operating a small marina, a marine repair service, and a bike and car rental business, all near New Harbor.
My past town service includes the Rescue Squad, Fire Department, Juvenile Hearing Board, Harbors Committee, Block Island Health Services Board, Recreation Board, Tourism Council, Assistant Town Moderator, Town Moderator, and Town Council member since 2006, with one term served as Second Warden, and am now completing my second term as First Warden. As First Warden I also serve as a Bail Commissioner and Justice of the Peace.
Second Warden André Boudreau (Democrat)
I grew up in Pawtucket and went through the public school system after eight years at Saint Cecilia's. My dad was a Supervising Registered Nurse at Memorial Hospital before retiring from the Paul Dever State School for the mentally challenged. My mom was a homemaker. I came to Block Island in 1986 and moved here full time in 1990. I put myself through college and graduated from URI in 1999 with a major in Marine Affairs and a dual minor in Coastal and Tourism Management. I run Southeast Light Delights, as well as Island Painting and Floor Refinishing, I’ve been married for 15 years and have a son in the Block Island School.
Town Councilor Martha Ball (Democrat)
Block Island has always been my home. It was still in the throes of the Depression when I was growing up; the boom began soon after I returned — just for a while — from college. I have served on some town board or committee since the seventies, and have held all three Town Council positions. I have worked for the town, a variety of non-profits and private small businesses, and have owned a cab company for more than a decade. My brother and I still own the one-time farm our grandfather bought over a hundred years ago. My "biography" is my perspective.
Town Councilor Sven Risom (Democrat)
My wife, Laura, and I moved to Block Island full-time nine years ago and started North Light Fibers. I have been coming to Block Island my whole life and worked on the docks and in the office at the Block Island Marina (Boat Basin), banged nails for Tiny Sprague and ran the sailing program at the Block Island Club. We bought our house in 1994, and I have since tried to give back to Block Island like it has given to my family and me. I am vice-chair of the Planning Board, was a member of the Tourism Council, a member of the Shoreline Access Working Group and am President of the Committee for the Great Salt Pond. I was appointed to the Town Council, after I volunteered to complete Norris Pike’s term.
Town Councilor Chris Willi (Democrat)
I’ve lived and worked on Block Island for over 25 years and am a full time resident with my wife and two kids. I spent 17 years working for the town and am the owner of Block Island Fishworks, which opened in 2002. I’ve sat on the School Committee for two terms and currently sit on the Town Council and Recreation Board.
Mark Emmanuelle (independent)
I am a former Town Councilor running for the First Warden seat as an independent candidate. I believed this format is tired, outdated, and boring. I ask voters to contact me at (401) 741-0911 with direct questions. Be prepared for direct and honest answers.
Paul Filippi (independent)
I am a Block Island resident and business owner, with a degree in finance from the George Washington University. I am running as an independent for a seat on the New Shoreham Town Council. I have the real pleasure to work daily with the residents, tourists, and many eccentric personalities that make up our wonderful island, and believe that Block Island is best when all voices are heard, even though we may not always agree.
Leslie Dodge Slate (Independent)
I have lived on Block Island all my life — six plus decades. I am retired from working 28 years on the island for the Rhode Island Department of Transportation maintenance division. I drive a taxi in my spare time. I am running as an independent as I am an independent thinker.
BIT: What is the most important issue facing the Town Council?
Lacoste: “The quality of life for island residents. This is a broad-brush answer meant to include attention to issues of health care and well-being, the cost and quality of municipal services, the seasonality of our population and its associated pressures, and the overall maintenance of the island’s infrastructure, as well as its natural resources.”
Boudreau: “The complete lack of younger people who live, and make their lives here, that willing to step forward and have a say in their town, and their children's future, by running for a seat on the council. That also goes for serving on the many boards and committees. It's alarming that there are two open seats on the school committee that nobody is running for. We already are at a point where we have to look outside the island community for senior level town positions. I hope we don't see a day where our boards will have to do the same. It just would not reflect on the year round blue collar population.”
Ball: “The biggest issue facing the town as a whole is, as it has been for my memory, year-round sustainability. Facing the Council, gaining a broader participation across all demographics. We made a tiny inroad to a huge lack — younger people — with the Town Manager Search Committee, but that was short term. We need to convey that all those meetings at Town Hall are not the same board, that while there is a huge learning curve, we have great support staff in place.”
Risom: “My top priority is to make sure the island is sustainable for year-round residents. We must expand affordable and attainable housing, rental and ownership, and promote year-round economic development/employment that is in keeping with the island character. I am a strong proponent of public/private partnerships to create housing, develop island-wide high-speed internet access and establish an incubator/business center where year-round businesses can be located and new revenue streams developed. We must find sustainable ways to bring revenue to the town rather than rely solely on taxes. In essence, we must make the island sustainable.”
Willi: “There isn’t just one issue. I consider broadband and housing as a top priority, as well as sustainable tourism, infrastructure, and transportation.”
Filippi: “The most important issue facing the Town Council is cultivating prosperity and a high quality of life for our families, friends and neighbors. Previous Councils have thankfully preserved our natural habitat. Now we must ensure that our future generations can afford to live and prosper here and enjoy the fruits of our predecessors’ foresight.”
“Cultivating the local island economy for our collective prosperity will take a long-term focus on multiple fronts. We must bring the high costs of living here down to an affordable level, while allowing the economy to prosper and provide high-paying sustainable jobs. There are several actions that can be taken immediately to provide near-term relief and long-term opportunities.”
“First, we must create a homestead exemption to reduce property taxes for year-round residents — as many other Rhode Island cities and towns have already done.”
“Second, facing the skyrocketing cost of repairing and maintaining our power grid, we should petition to have National Grid take over BIPCo so that the cost of the needed repairs and ongoing operations can be spread among all National Grid customers.”
“Third, the burgeoning offshore wind industry presents incredible opportunities for our children to have stable, high-paying, year-round jobs. We can immediately work to bring the WindWinRI program to the Block Island High School. This program has recently been established at the Rocky Hill School and the North Kingstown High School. The WindWinRI program exposes students to careers in wind energy and support, and enables them to earn industry-endorsed credentials. The Block Island High School will begin the training of the next generation of wind farm professionals — not only the mainland schools.”
Slate: “There are many important issues facing the island; deer and Lyme disease, obtaining affordable year-round housing for our residents, keeping the island affordable so we keep residents here year round; finding a way to keep our elderly population here; etc.”
BIT: What do you hope to bring, or continue bringing, to the next incarnation of the Town Council?
Lacoste: “Maintain the level of civil discourse while continuing to move steadily forward on several initiatives such as broadband, pedestrian safety, affordable housing, elder care, and maintaining a high level of medical care available to residents and visitors. Encourage and inspire folks to serve in elected and appointed town government positions.”
Boudreau: “Remaining genuine. I didn't put my name on the ballot two years ago because I wanted to guide policy toward something I wanted. I have no personal agenda. Among the headline issues, I will continue to support policies that provide safety to residents and visitors, be fiscally responsible, are forward thinking, preserve our past and enhance our future, maintain our characters. Yes, I meant to put an ‘s’ on the end of character. We need to provide for our seniors and assist our families with fair and uniform economic development opportunities and secure, attainable housing. We are making inroads in all of these areas, but there is still work to be done. On the flip side I do not favor excessive regulation that taxes the police force and/or burdens the business community. It's also time for BIPCo to become a fully ratepayer controlled utility. The protracted litigation is only benefitting attorneys.”
Ball: “Historic perspective, common sense and what I have always felt a huge personal flaw, impatience, which has morphed to advocacy for simple solutions.For example, don't wait for ordinances to enable enforcement of dune protection to put up a rope. Of course that wouldn't have worked but for the fact the Neck Road was measured and re-striped, creating a narrow pedestrian path between the vehicular path of traffic, the sand, and the walkovers. Sometimes "global" is important, other times it is an immobilizing kiss of death. One small step can build on another and another.”
Risom: “I have a strong drive for action and for developing creative solutions that are based on solid listening and analytical decision-making skills. After 37-plus years in business, approximately five years on the Planning Board and 10 months on the Town Council, I believe I have demonstrated the ability to think through complex problems and develop solid and sensitive recommendations.”
Willi: “To continue to move forward with Town Manager Ed Roberge and the existing objectives we’ve set and bringing some out-of-the-box thinking and ideas to the table.”
Filippi: “I will bring positivity, an open-mind, inclusiveness, a dogged willingness to tackle the issues that matter most, and an uncompromising commitment to transparent government that serves the people.”
Slate: “I plan to bring common sense to the Town Council.”
BIT: What do you think can be done to improve the function and performance of the Town Council?
Lacoste: “The Town Council recently added an agenda item within each regular council meeting which affords the opportunity to make suggestions for future agendas. The town clerk has been keeping a running list of these proposed items and we can work harder to develop the suggestions into full-blown, substantive agenda discussions. While there is always room for improvement I think this council does a pretty good job of listening to our constituents and bringing important ideas to the table for discussion and, often, fruition. Another Town Charter review will soon be happening so any perceived shortcomings of Town Council tenure or responsibilities may be addressed during that discussion and process.”
Boudreau: “That's like asking to make peace at the Thanksgiving table in a very large family. We all have our personalities and passions. We hash them out at council meetings, in public. Thats the way it should be. I think the current council has been together long enough to respect each other and have a pulse on each other’s thinking. At the end of the day disagreements don't turn into grudges, we function as we should, for the most part. Our new Town Manager, Ed Roberge, has been a very fair adult to the councillors when one of them steps out of line.”
Ball: “When we ran two years ago there was a printed platform, but foremost in our minds was putting our energies into maintaining a positive perspective and working together as we moved ahead. I don't think we expected to be thrown into a town manager search, but we were and we gave it the time it deserved and the result was a benefit to the town. We were the third council in a row to have to fill a vacancy and we accomplished the filling of it without a prolonged discussion. We need to improve communications, among us and with the public, the latter an arena in which we are making progress thanks to the efforts of Town Hall staff, with supporting documents as well as Council agendas available on line.”
Risom: “I want to increase communication, public dialogue, and outreach with the community. An opportunity exists to increase communication with residents through print and social media, as well as community meetings, attending Senior Advisory meetings, etc. I look forward to establishing a new outreach effort designed to increase public engagement. While all the town council meetings are open, they run late into the evening and I believe the island can benefit from greater interaction and interface. We need to make sure that everyone has a voice.”
Willi: “Communication and transparency. We also need to focus on the big picture, five- and 10-year planning.”
Filippi: “First, the opinions of all community members will have an audience with the town council — and we will open up the council, and town government to the sunshine of public disclosure and debate. The culture of the closed session behind the black curtain should be no more.”
“Second, I will also work to publish all Town Council open sessions to the internet for public consumption. Many Rhode Island towns have instituted similar programs with roaring success. In this day and age, when many of us have multiple jobs and family members to attend to, it makes sense to be able to merely turn to a computer or smartphone to see for ourselves what our government is up to.”
“Third, we have highly-professional and dedicated town employees. The town council sets policy while our town employees get the job done. I will listen to our town employees, respect the work they do, and bring their opinions into the council’s deliberations. This means we need to create an environment that fosters an open exchanges of ideas with thoughtful deliberation and analysis — not one that discourages dissent.”
“Lastly, we have an incredible source of wisdom and knowledge in our senior community and I for one would take age and experience over youthful exuberance any day of the week. I will work to further bring our seniors into the fold of Town Council deliberations so we can learn from their experiences and understand what has worked in the past, what hasn’t, and why.”
Slate: “The town council should not try to micro-manage the town manager. We have a good manager, let us do what we can to keep him.”
BIT: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share?
Lacoste: “I have been serving on the town council since 2006 and have been a part of numerous important decisions, public hearings, license renewals, legal actions, and legislative efforts. I always try to come to our meetings prepared in terms of being familiar with the agenda items. This council has had our share of internal disagreements, but overall I think we work well together.”
Boudreau: “Former First Warden Edie Blane once said, "The future...you know, you don't know where you are going until you know where you have been." I fully subscribe to that thinking. Without the knowledge of our past, the people, the buildings and the stories they hold, the hardworking way of life, ideas that have been tried, etc. — governing would be like heading into the storm with a rudderless ship.”
Ball: “A number of projects that have been in the pipeline for some time are finished or nearing completion and it's great to drive by the blue beach house, and over the Old Town Road bridge. There are things we need to do, facilities we need to maintain, but we cannot afford to do everything everyone wants if we have any hope of maintaining a viable year-round community. We've hit some bumps, but I think for the most part we've lived up to our — to me — most important campaign promise, to work together.”
“Again, somewhere we came to this place of people having to be "qualified" to sit on town boards, which is the antithesis of citizen participation. Read, listen and learn, and if "I can't meet at that time" — change the date. It's your community, use your voice.”
Risom: “I want to engage more outside subject matter experts, scientists, policy makers and benchmark communities to increase our knowledge and ability — we need to surround ourselves with smart people. A good example of this is when I recommended that the town invite Bryan Oakley, a geologist and expert in dunes and erosion, to attend a workshop. Based on a recent meeting, a number of improved dune restoration and erosion recommendations are being developed by the town. I am confident that Block Island can be better by learning from other towns, communities, policy makers, scientists and subject matter experts.”
Willi: “This is a good working council that has the island’s interest at heart. We don’t always agree, but we still move in a positive direction with good dialogue and ideas that are being brought to the table.”
Filippi: “We are blessed to be a part of Block Island. It is the constant we all share — one that we have a responsibility to protect. We lose a piece of home every time one of us moves away because we cannot afford to live here any longer. Let us work together to preserve Block Island for each other and our posterity.”