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Charlestown held its own through all the ups and downs of COVID in 2020

When we welcomed in 2020 last January, no one could have imagined where we are today.

The largest crowd ever witnessed the annual New Year’s Eve Bonfire that bid farewell to 2019 and ushered in 2020.

Three months later, the world as we knew it changed. Our governor issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Soon after, the Charlestown Town Council signed a state of emergency declaration that is still in effect today.

The town quickly pivoted to virtual meetings.

Despite the restrictions and protocols put in place to protect our residents, Charlestown continues to remain open for business. The dedication and hard work of all the town’s staff, under the leadership of Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz, has provided us with continuity during this difficult time.

Charlestown Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) Director Kevin Gallup deserves special recognition for the countless hours he has spent overseeing the town’s response to COVID-19. He has worked closely with the CEMA staff, Deputy Director Dr. Sara Michaud and Assistant Directors John Zabriskie and Lisa Schipritt.

No year-end recap would be complete without recognizing the tremendous work of our first responders; Chief Michael Paliotta and the Charlestown Police Department; Chief Andrew Kettle and the Charlestown Ambulance Rescue Service; Chief Donald Rathbone and the Charlestown Fire District; Former Chief Chris DeGrave, Chief Keith Kenyon, and the Dunn’s Corners Fire Department. All of these organizations, along with all of our front line workers, deserve our utmost praise and gratitude.

The pandemic forced a change to the town’s budget process this year. In April, the town administrator and the Town Clerk’s Office proactively planned for the first-ever mail-in ballot budget process. Charlestown’s first virtual Budget Public Hearing occurred in May. Ballots were mailed to Charlestown voters, and we were given the option to vote by mail or in person.

Our townwide survey is underway and should be completed in 2021. A pre-survey postcard was mailed to every registered voter and property owner in Charlestown. The results of this survey, based on input identifying your priorities, will be used to plan for the future of Charlestown.

Throughout the year, people have been encouraged to “Take it Outside”. Charlestown saw an increase in visitors to our beaches, ponds, Ninigret Park, and the town’s walking and hiking trails. Please continue to use the areas with the proper safety protocols in mind.

Sadly, favorite events such as the Charlestown Seafood Festival, Rhythm & Roots, and sporting events had to be canceled this year.

Many of our businesses have been hurt by the pandemic and recovery will not be easy. Our restaurants and retail stores are suffering due to the restrictions that have been imposed to slow the spread of the virus. The Cross’ Mills Public Library, Charlestown Historical Society and the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce have all had to find new ways to stay in operation or have had to close temporarily. These are stressful times, so please support these organizations and local businesses when you can.

Some of our friends and neighbors are out of work and suffering during this time. Our local food pantries have seen an increase in the need for food donations and financial support. The town, along with its residents, has stepped up to help, and I am confident that we will continue to do so.

The pandemic changed the way voting was held throughout the state. Early in-person voting was held from Oct. 14 through Nov. 2 at the Town Hall. The Town Clerk’s Department, along with the Board of Canvassers, secured poll workers for total coverage in addition to the all-day vote, which was held on Nov. 3. The town saw possibly the largest voter turnout in Charlestown’s history.

A new Town Council was elected in November and I look forward to working with my fellow councilors Cody Clarkin, Susan Cooper, Grace Klinger and Bonnie Van Slyke. I am hopeful for what we can accomplish together.

I thank former Town Council President Virginia Lee, Councilor Julie Carroccia and Councilor David Wilkinson for their past contributions to our town.

Hopefully, the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccines will get us on the track back to normalcy. We’ve all had enough of 2020.

Goodbye 2020. Hello 2021.

By Deborah Carney, president of the Charlestown Town Council.

This article appeared as a Guest Column in The Westerly Sun on December 27, 2020.

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