Open government, transparency and inclusion are merely words to the Charlestown Citizens Alliance. As president of the Charlestown Town Council, I know first-hand of their abuse of power. Case in point is the way in which items are placed on our Town Council meeting agendas.
Since my election in November of 2018, I have submitted numerous items for the agenda, and some of these have been repeatedly removed by the council’s CCA majority. Among my proposed past agenda items were the following:
. Establishing a fund balance policy: A fund balance policy would address the use of unassigned surplus and prevent whimsical, unplanned spending.
. Expanding electricity to the new pavilion at Ninigret Park: Completing the pavilion project by connecting the electrical was a safety issue and also allowed town residents expanded use of the pavilion.
. Using lights for the Chariho Cowboys: A very simple request by our local team. Did the approximately 100 people who showed up at a council meeting to support temporary lights behind the Town Hall believe its absence on the agenda was efficient and effective government?
. Installing fencing around the basketball courts at Ninigret Park: I requested this item in May 2021 so that the funding could come from council contingency before the end of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021. The CCA majority voted to move this item to the October meeting.
Let’s see what happens in October.
Some of these items were eventually addressed — but only after my continued insistence. Contrary to the sentiments expressed at the Aug. 10 meeting by one of the CCA-endorsed councilors, items are not removed in order to “manage agendas.” Over the past three years, this same individual has repeatedly attempted to remove items, because, in her own words, “I don’t want to talk about it.” This reason has been consistently applied to issues placed on the agenda by me, the council president.
The Charlestown Town Council rules provide a process for placing items on an agenda. There is no provision that allows the majority to remove items placed by fellow councilors.
Pay close attention to the comment by the writer of the recent Letter to the Editor when she opined that, “Long, unwieldy agendas containing items that do not have council support.”
These words are most telling. The only way to determine if agenda items have “council support” is through an open meeting, with a public discussion.
The sole purpose of an agenda-setting meeting is to create a list of items to be fully discussed after notice to the public, IN PUBLIC. Discussions in such regards, outside of a properly noticed council meeting, are a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act.
By failing to follow the rules in excluding agenda items, the CCA majority is abusing its power. If open, transparent and inclusionary government is to become reality, the behind-the-scenes, closed-door operations of the majority of the Charlestown Town Council need to change. Residents need to hold everyone on the council accountable for their actions as well as their words!
The writer is the president of the Charlestown Town Council.
This article appeared as a Letter to the Editor in The Westerly Sun on September 8, 2021.