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What an Engaged Council Looks Like


I am writing to address the concerns raised regarding conducting Charlestown business through special meetings, committee meetings, and regularly scheduled Town Council meetings.


While regular Town Council meetings are essential for addressing routine matters and fostering healthy debates, they may not always provide the flexibility or time required to examine complex issues thoroughly. We can allocate focused attention to critical concerns by utilizing special meetings, resulting in more thorough and efficient deliberations.


It is worth noting that the decision to hold special meetings does not diminish the importance of regular Town Council meetings. These meetings continue to serve as a crucial platform for broader discussions, policy development, and citizen input on various town matters. By balancing special and regular meetings, we can ensure that urgent issues receive the attention they deserve without neglecting the broader scope of our responsibilities as a council.


Furthermore, special meetings present an opportunity to engage subject matter experts, consultants, and stakeholders who may not be available during regular meetings. Their specialized knowledge and insights contribute to a more thorough examination of the issues, leading to well-informed decisions and solutions. This collaborative approach strengthens the integrity of our decision-making process and ensures that diverse perspectives are considered.


Regarding budget discussions, in convening a special meeting and the multiple regular Town Council meetings dedicated to the town budget, the Council can focus exclusively on this crucial matter and make informed decisions for presentation at the budget public hearing and ultimately voted on by the citizens.


In response to concerns about the increased number of committee meetings, it is essential to acknowledge additional committee meetings reflect the Council's commitment to addressing pertinent matters facing the town. Exploring ordinance changes, reviewing the town's charter, and selecting a new town administrator are significant endeavors that require dedicated discussions and thorough considerations.


Any Charlestown public body meeting dates and times are on the town website calendar. Moreover, all Town Council, Planning Commission, and Zoning Board meetings are live-streamed and found on the town's website at charlestownri.gov. Because these meetings are accessible to the public in real-time, citizens can stay informed about the discussions and decisions of their public bodies even if they can't attend in person. Furthermore, the availability of past meeting videos on the town website ensures that interested individuals can review discussions and decisions at their convenience. Videos of Town Council meetings, special or otherwise, over the last decade are available to watch, every single one.


Additionally, by exploring new platforms such as YouTube, we strive to enhance accessibility and widen public participation. Through these collective efforts, we can strengthen transparency, citizen engagement, and the overall effectiveness of our governance.


I respectfully disagree with the assertion that the current Council and the use of special meetings for important town business is inefficient, burdensome, or lacks transparency. While public attendance during special meetings may vary, they are still all open public meetings, which will continue. These meetings and additional efforts are essential for reviewing and discussing matters and allowing the Town Council to address critical issues promptly.


Respectfully,

Stephen J. Stokes

The author is a member of the Charlestown Town Council and can be reached at stephen.stokes@charlestownri.gov


This article appeared as a Letter To the Editor in The Westerly Sun on May 21, 2023.

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