Town Council Meeting Summary - January 2019

My first Council meeting is in the books. It was a friendly agenda for a new Councilor, without anything particularly controversial or costly. It provided me with a strong affirmation that I’m meant to be doing this, and reaffirmation in the process of democracy. Please read on to learn more about that, and more importantly, to stay informed about what’s happening in our town.

If I make reference to any letters, ordinances, or the like, links to each can be found in the official agenda, posted here, under “Council Agenda” for the January 7th meeting. (NB: this is not a substitute for the official minutes of the meeting, and includes my personal interpretation and opinion of events. Official meeting minutes will be posted shortly, and formally approved/amended at the next Council meeting, on Feb 4.)

The first item on the docket was the swearing in of two new Patrolmen to the Barrington Police Department. We heard about the lengthy interview process for recruits, and that Patrolman DaCosta and Patrolman Mailhot were selected over 84 applicants. They’ve been training for a year to reach this point and will continue on-the-job training in their new rank. It was an honor to welcome them, thank them, and to applaud their commitment to protecting and serving our town.

Following that were announcements by Town Manager, Jim Cunha. Most pertinent being the Special Election to be held on Tuesday, February 5, for our vacant Town Council seat. The deadline to request a mail ballot is January 15th. Click here for that form (PDF).

Up next was the consent agenda. This section of the agenda is a series of standard items, such as department reports, committee resignations and re-appointments, minutes and permit approvals. All these items are approved with a single vote and no discussion. If any member of the Council or public wishes that items be removed from the Consent Agenda, they can ask for such, and the item can be discussed. I asked that the minutes from the November meeting be removed, because I’d not been at the meeting and couldn’t attest to their accuracy. They were voted on separately and I abstained.

Next up were new appointments to the various boards and committees that serve the town. I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of having to tell people on-the-spot who had just requested to volunteer for our town, in front of an open meeting, that there isn’t room for them. It’s part of the job though, and I was prepared to do it. However, there were a few applicants who withdrew their requests earlier in the day, which set me at ease a bit, to be honest. Barrington is extremely fortunate to have people serving on our commissions with tremendous experience.

We then heard from the Bristol County Water Authority. For those not familiar, this is a joint effort with Barrington, Warren and Bristol, supplying our potable water. The main focus of this agenda item was to discuss a Council resolution in support of a letter from the BCWA to RI state leaders to make them aware of challenges we face. Currently Bristol County is served by only one source of water. Law requires, and good planning demands, we secure a secondary source of water, should the primary system fail. As you’d imagine, this is a costly project. The state law provides 50% reimbursement for the project, but to this point, we’ve been told the state funds are not available. Of additional concern is that our secondary source could -- and should -- also be a secondary source to East Providence, as well. Because of the city’s financial challenges, it is not able to support the project, so the BCWA will need to scale back. The Council voted unanimously to support the letter.

We then saw a presentation from a pair of a students who worked with some classmates to create a flood protection website. This valuable resource can be found on Barrington’s website (barrington.ri.gov) and it shares a wealth of easily navigable information related to floods; check it out before (or if necessary, during or after) a flood. The students did all the research, design and coding. It was my first, first-hand look at the real talent in our schools (aside from my first grader, of course), and I am impressed!

During the Public Comment portion of the meeting, one resident spoke to request the Council take the opportunity of the current middle school construction project to invest in turf fields at the school. He urged that the Town and School District work together to come up with a plan. I agree that we should be working together to address these field use issues, and more. I’m undecided whether installing turf at the middle school is the way to go, but do believe we need to be working collaboratively to resolve this ongoing issue. I wish it were as simple as the two groups sitting down with town and school administrators to come up with solutions.

However, Open Meeting laws prevent a Council member from discussing any Town issues with more than one other Councilor, unless it’s at a meeting open to the public and scheduled in advance. The same holds true for School Committee members. This is a rule we take very seriously, because as challenging as it can be for us, it is to the benefit of the people. It maintains transparency and helps to prevent “back room” deals. The fields situation is an issue I care about, and I will be working to move it forward. I have some ideas how to start brainstorming, but they’re still being developed. Once anything sticks, I’ll post it!

We then set our committee liaison assignments. Each board or commission in town has a representative from the Town Council (or two, in some cases) assigned to it. For some committees, this is a more active role than others. It depends on the structure of the committee and the work at hand. For example, there is a liaison to the School Committee (me!), and in this role, it’s simply to share information and keep one another informed, rather than for me to actively participate, as anything other than a parent and resident. However, with commissions like the Housing Board of Trustees (also me, and Councilor Boyajian), I’ll be able to work more closely with the members and help advance their initiatives. I’ll also be liaising with the BAY Team, the Planning Board, the School Building Committee, the Barrington Preservation Society and the East Bay Chamber of Commerce.

A splash pad is coming to Barrington! We approved the purchase of a splash pad for Police Cove Park, the bulk of which is paid for by a $95,000 grant from RI DEM, to enhance the benefit of the park and draw more folks in to make use of it. Here’s an example of one that configured differently, but similar scale.

Sample splash pad; configurations vary.

Sample splash pad; configurations vary.

I questioned the location of the feature, seeking to ensure other locations had been considered, such as by the beach. The reason this bid was obtained, and the grant was received, was specific to promote the use Police Cove Park. It’s a great location, situated along the bike path and by the water, but remains underutilized. I voted to approve it as planned, as did the rest of the Council.

I’m sharing the next two points in reverse order. We had only one ordinance for public hearing and vote; to create a system by which people or companies can install “wireless facilities” in the “public way.” Generally speaking, this is to regulate the installation by wireless service providers of equipment on telephone poles and the like. This is a new regulation at the state level and a recommendation was passed to all municipalities to add this to our ordinances to ensure consistent local regulation. Here is where my faith in the democratic process and representative government was reaffirmed...

A resident offered public comment asking about the purpose of the equipment. It was his assumption that it is for 5G network coverage. He let it be known that there are studies that indicate this equipment may create a detriment to public health. His comments led to some good amendments to the language of the ordinance, strengthening the town’s ability to review each application and the merits on which a permit can be approved or denied. With these changes, and the knowledge that we will be able evaluate the public health risk, if and when the concern arises, we voted unanimously to approve the ordinance.

Prior to that, we introduced four ordinances that are scheduled for public hearing and vote at next month’s Town Council meeting, 7:00 PM on Feb 4, at Town Hall. One deals with public waters and moorings, another with the application process for elderly and disabled tax exemptions, another with zoning related to neighborhood restaurants, and the final with Town Hall hours. You can read each by clicking the links in the Jan 7 agenda, near the bottom.

We also announced a Workshop (public hearing at which stakeholders and community members can discuss a proposed ordinance--or other issue--and its impact) for an ordinance related to banning the use of polystyrene at businesses where food is sold (restaurants, coffee shops, markets, etc.). It is scheduled for January 23, 7:00 at Town Hall. The ordinance draft is linked to minutes from the October meeting, which is not currently available on ClerkBase. If you would like to review it in its current form prior to the hearing, please contact me and I will work to get you a copy.