Town Council rejects sending administrator question to voters

Town Council rejects sending administrator question to voters

Residents to decide on significant changes to charter on Nov. 3

SMITHFIELD – Voters will not be asked about whether Smithfield should go to a new form of government with an elected town administrator in November, after the Town Council voted down the potential ballot question in a 3-2 vote.

During a six-hour meeting last Wednesday ending at 1 a.m., the council heard 26 potential changes to the Town Charter proposed by the Charter Review Commission. After a public hearing on each item, the council voted whether to bring the questions to the Nov. 3 ballot for the voters to decide, with 22 of the 26 approved.

Significant changes will come to the ballot in November after last week’s vote, including extending the length of Town Council terms and creating staggered seats, reducing the membership of the Planning Board, and creating a Financial Review Board to eliminate the Financial Town Meeting.

The council heard both sides of whether the current system of a council-appointed town manager needs to be replaced.


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Michael Lawton, Maxine Cavanagh and Dina Cerra rejected the ballot question, saying they would need to see more evidence of the need for a new form of government. Lawton added that without qualifications to run as administrator, the town could elect an inexperienced leader.

Resident Tom Hodgkins said the council’s position is to decide whether amendments are lawful and the voters decide if the change is wanted.

“I’m disappointed with the dim view of voters in Smithfield,” he said.

The majority of residents who spoke on the issue were against the change. Resident Jeanne Verity said she feels strongly that the appointed manager is working very well for Smithfield, calling the move a poorly timed political power grab.

“This is one of the bad ideas this commission has brought forth,” Verity said.

Others said the pandemic creates a timing issue.

“We’re in the middle of the COVID crisis. I don’t think it’s a good time to make a change to our form of government,” said resident Maryanne Dwyer.

Town Councilors Suzy Alba and Sean Kilduff voted to send the question to the ballot. Kilduff said voters are responsible and can be trusted with this decision.

“At the end of the day, I believe in you to do what is right,” Kilduff said.

Alba said because nine commission members did not unanimously support the question, she had no choice but to let the voters decide.

“Residents of the town of Smithfield will do what’s right and do what is best,” she said.

Commission Chairman Al Costantino said he took pride in presenting the ballot question to the council and felt Alba’s restriction of only two minutes of discussion on the item was “unprofessional.” He lobbied for the item, saying it will create a system of checks and balances necessary in government.

“There should be no reason to not send this to the voters. You have a moral obligation to allow voters to decide on all charter amendments,” he said.

Costantino said leaving the question to be voted on at 12:45 a.m., when most voters were sleeping, was not right.

Of the 26 questions, four ballot questions, including the administrator question, were rejected.

There was some debate last week over a rejected question to create employee contracts for all town department heads. Costantino said only three town directors, Police Chief Richard St. Sauveur, Deputy Chief Eric Dolan, and Town Manager Randy Rossi, have employee contracts.

“It’s not good morale. You just don’t do that in business,” Costantino said.

The council unanimously rejected the question, with Councilor Cavanagh agreeing with attorney Vincent Ragosta’s advice that the change would create potential legal action.

Commission member William Hawkins interrupted Cavanagh’s motion, calling her a “Republican douchebag.” Cavanagh is the sole Republican on the council and is not running for re-election this year.

Democrat members Alba and Lawton came to her defense, asking that the comment be put on the record. Cavanagh later stated that since she was elected in 2004, “there has been no change in the division between political parties in Smithfield.”

Cavanagh said she and several other women were outraged by his language.

“I don’t think that a person who exhibits this type of verbal public aggression should be a member of any future board,” Cavanagh said.

Other rejected ballot questions included changing the town clerk’s duties from serving at the pleasure of the town manager to the Town Council’s pleasure and mandating that the School Committee submit a budget estimate to the town manager by Feb. 15.

School Committee Chairwoman Rose Marie Cipriano said the department does not receive numbers on two large budget items, state aid and employee health benefits, until after February.

The council last week agreed that extending terms to four years on a staggered basis beginning in November 2022 will create continuity in goals and prevent a situation of an all-new council lacking institutional knowledge.

Cavanagh voted against the motion in a 4-1 decision, saying voters rejected the same charter amendment in 2008.

“I think they said what they want, and it should stay the way it is,” Cavanagh said.

Voters will decide if the Planning Board should be reduced from nine members to seven members, while lengthening terms from three to four years.

Commission member Michael Iannotti said Planning Board members’ attendance record disheartened residents during the Sand Trace public hearings. He said seven members is a more manageable number and will help the board run more efficiently.

The Financial Town Meeting may be a thing of the past, as the council agreed to send the proposal for a Financial Review Board to voters. The seven-member board would meet monthly to review and make recommendations to the Town Council based on the manager’s budget.

With fewer people attending the “archaic” FTM every year, Costantino said, special interest groups can show up in numbers to sway a vote.

Voters will also be asked to add language to the charter to codify the Land Trust Emergency Management Agency, Parks and Recreation, and the welfare director’s name change to director of human resources.

Voters will also decide whether the council can appoint an unaffiliated replacement to the council or school board if an unaffiliated member leaves more than 12 months before the election. 


Comments

Looks like Democratic control in Smithfield is about to turn the corner and become true to form liberalism!! Not trusting your residents to vote in the best interest of the town shows just how close the town board is leaning toward a liberal dictatorship!!
And the residents of Smithfield should be appalled with the conduct of Mr Hawkins! ONE COULD ONLY HOPE THAT MR HAWKINS BE BROUGHT UP ON ETHICS CHARGES FOR HIS DISRESPECT OF A FELLOW BOARD MEMBER!

Does anyone see the need for change??

Democrats are but one political party and is no better than the Republicans!