Council Meeting Summary - June 2019

Executive Summary:

The Bristol County Water Authority has lifted water restrictions, and outdoor water use is allowed, again.

Unanimous passage of a resolution in support of gun violence prevention.

We have highly qualified and greatly appreciated first responders, in both safety and medical situations.

Discussion of changes to the Financial Town Meeting and of ethics concerns relating the Committee on Appropriations.

We need to clarify a piece of the polystyrene ordinance.

We discussed Barrington’s waste management options and potential initiatives.

Click here for my usual “disclaimer.”

Full Recap

President Mike Carroll asked everybody to remain standing following the pledge of allegiance in order to share a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the Virginia Beach shooting. As he noted, standing in a municipal building three days after that massacre really hit close to home.

We again had the privilege of starting the meeting with the promotions of four members of the Barrington Police Department. Stating yet again how professional and qualified our officers are may be unnecessary and will surely get old, as these promotions continue, so I’d like to just share a single example: I counted at least two masters degrees, a law degree and a pending law degree recipient among the four police officers.

Next, Manager Jim Cunha shared some announcements:

  • Water ban has been lifted by Bristol County Water Authority

  • Blood Drive: Tues, June 11(click for more)

  • Summer Concert Series!!

    • First: July 7th, 6:00 PM at Latham Park

  • Next Council Meeting: July 29, Library Auditorium

For the Consent Agenda, which is the next series of agenda items (5-12), I pulled a few items (police report, planning report, and two letters from residents) so that we could discuss the topics directly. All items not pulled are voted on as a group, because they are routine and no Councilors or members of the public felt discussion was warranted.

Police Report: I pulled this because in reading it, I’d noticed that for the second month in a row, the same officer, Officer Mailhot, seized a loaded gun during a routine traffic stop. I commented on it last month, via email, to the Chief and Town Manager, commending him and the department. Officer Mailhot is one of our new police officers, and I felt it should be discussed at the meeting to shine light on the efficacy of the department’s training and policies. I also wanted to ask if this was a regular occurrence, or if the past two months are merely a coincidence. We learned from the Chief and Town Manager that it’s not typical (hasn’t happened in years), but that it’s two small a sample to make any conclusion, other than coincidence, at this point.

Planning Report: I asked to have this report pulled from the consent agenda because I wanted to ask Town Planner Phil Hervey about the “Complete Streets” initiative in the report, and about the timeline for formalizing a policy and how we can increase the number of sidewalks in town. I hear from residents regularly that this is a safety concern as well as an opportunity to promote connectedness and improve the quality of daily living in town. There is not a specific timeline for the policy, and I got clarification that the initiative is less about more sidewalks and more about how sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and the like are factored in when doing road work. I will continue to push us toward increased sidewalks.

From the correspondence section, I pulled a letter from Paul O’Brien and a letter from Elizabeth Jacobs.

The letter from Elizabeth Jacobs was pulled because I wanted to call attention to it. She had written to our emergency medical responders, complimenting their work in a life-saving situation. Her neighbor had a heart attack and they responded. She is an emergency room physician, and her expression of gratitude from that perspective of expertise carries an extra weight with it. Manager Cunha elaborated that she actually rode in the ambulance with the team into the hospital, and was part of the entire experience. I believe she also offered to work on some continued training with our team.

The letter from Paul O’Brien was pulled in order to discuss some of its points with the Council. The letter was written to express ethics concerns regarding the Committee on Appropriations election. Lisa Daft, who was elected during the Financial Town Meeting (FTM), is the spouse of a school Vice Principal. Concerns were expressed relating to the lack of disclosing the conflict of interest before voters voted, and of the conflict itself; serving in a role to recommend the funding that will pay her spouse. I too shared these concerns, among others, and stated that. Separating my other concerns, which I did not address with the Council, I shared that I’d called the state’s Ethics Commission to explain the situation and ask if there is a conflict. I was informed by the Board that because a school budget is a single line item, there is not a direct conflict. The influence a member of the COA (or any elected official) has on the compensation of a school employee, other than the Superintendent, is negligible. The Town Solicitor and I believe President Carroll also made comments about the letter and understanding the concern but viewing it as not a conflict of interest.

The next item on the agenda was public comment. Statements were made by three residents, one about a serious vandalism problem at the Barrington Cove Apartments, another about our FTM, and finally about the School Resource Officer position.

You may have read in the paper, as I just did this week, about the vandalism to cars at the Barrington Cove Apartments. A resident of the building spoke to the Council to ask for help. She estimates well over $100,000 in damages already to cars; most having been “keyed” multiple times. With no suspect, she is concerned it will continue to happen and she is worried. I had no idea of the extent to which this was happening, and share her concern. Manager Cunha and Chief DeCrescenzo spoke about the work they are doing to investigate and hopefully prevent this from continuing.

The resident who spoke about her frustrations for the FTM shared that she was concerned that a relatively small number of people who are able to attend the meeting have an outsized say in our town’s budget. She noted that there are people who have to work during the FTM or have to be home with children. She asked that we look into improving this process. I was grateful for her commentary, as I share that opinion. I believe in the merits and purpose behind the FTM and would like to improve upon it to better realize its democratic potential, more aligned with modern life. I shared my appreciation for her statement and opened a discussion with the Council to evaluate our FTM and potential changes. Statements were made that it had been looked at in the past and that a workshop was held with poor attendance. I heard a variety of reasons why certain things would be expensive or present other obstacles.

I understand the value in a formal workshop; getting community input and building support for a change. But I personally would like to work in a small group to come up with a tangible idea of how we can restructure the FTM. A tangible solution is easier to “shop around” for input than soliciting new ideas. I will pursue this in the coming weeks and months. If you are interested, please reach out.

With the promotion to Detective of Josh Melo, a resident expressed concern over how the role of School Resource Officer will be filled. Chief DeCrescenzo (or maybe Manager Cunha) stated that the role hasn’t been filled yet, but they are looking at options. Officer Melo served well in that role because of his background and I believe also because it was his full time post. I appreciated the public comment that the community feels a single officer in the post full time is in the best interests of students.

Next was our report from Allan Klepper, the Barrington Director for BCWA. He gave an update on the status of the leak and reiterated that the water restrictions had been lifted. At the moment, they do not anticipate any impact on water rates as a result of this leak, which continues. Having heard concerns from members of the community about something else related to the BCWA, I took this opportunity to ask Director Klepper about it. Some people are concerned with the health impact of smart meters, which are being installed. People want to know if they are allowed to opt out of having them. He seemed frustrated by the question and dismissed the concern of any negative impact. I did not get a direct answer as to whether people can opt out, though it sounds like they don’t provide that as an option. He stated they have worked with some residents who were adamantly opposed to smart meters being installed on their homes, and they dug a meter pit away from the home to install the device. Perhaps the only option is for a homeowner to have a well installed on their property, and disconnect from BCWA. (I’m not an expert, so that may not even be possible.)

We voted unanimously on the recommendation of the Parks and Recreation Commission to allow Barrington Little League to install shade structures over the dugouts at Sherwood Park.

Noting the audience, President Carroll asked to move the Resolutions agenda item (#21) forward in the meeting so that people in attendance for that would not have to sit through the other preceding items.

The first resolution ratified a vote from the FTM, allowing issuance of debt for land acquisition. The second was to encourage an initiative to ensure all Rhode Islanders are counted for the Census, and to support the raising of $1.2 million for that effort. I sought clarification on the source from which the money would be raised, and when it wasn’t available, asked that it be removed from the amendment. VP Weymouth seconded my motion to strike that line. During the discussion that followed, the Solicitor shared that he’d found more information relating to it, and the funds were being sought from private sources, and not tax revenue. With that information, I withdrew my motion and we passed the resolution unanimously.

The final resolution was the purpose for several orange-clad members in the audience, there to advocate for the prevention of gun violence. We discussed the resolution to the General Assembly and the Governor in support of three pieces of legislation related to gun violence; the Safe Schools Act, a ban on high capacity magazines, and a ban on assault weapons. Representatives from the RI Coalition Against Gun Violence and from Moms Demand Action spoke in support of the resolution.

The resolution included a listing of a few of the more deadly mass shootings in recent years that all had a connection to the bills referenced in the resolution. I asked that a line be included for the shooting in Virginia Beach, at which multiple high capacity magazines were used in an extended gun battle with police. That line was included and we passed the resolution, unanimously.

We then discussed a letter from the General Manager at Shaw’s, regarding the new polystyrene ban. The first phase goes into effect on July 1, and the store is seeking an extension or exemption from certain aspects. They also sought clarification about some of the plastic types listed in the ordinance as banned. Manager Cunha expressed that the store had been very cooperative in achieving compliance. Vice President Weymouth reiterated that the types of banned plastics were intentional and are correct, and we asked to Solicitor to put forth an ordinance amendment to clarify some of the language.

We then discussed waste collection and removal. I asked that this be added to the agenda following my most recent trip to Boulder, Colorado (I go a few times a year for work). The municipal waste removal as well as private business options for waste removal is conducted in a way that is better for the environment, convenient for people and may even cost less. I wanted to discuss this as a Council because I know composting is of interest to President Carroll and generally all environmental initiatives are of interest to Vice President Weymouth. We can only discuss these things in any substantive way at an Open Meeting. I shared the experience in Boulder -- nearly any place you see a refuse bin, it has three labeled holes: recycle, compost, landfill.

Separating the items and collection for a third category would add cost, but eliminating heavy food waste from what we send to the landfill would reduce costs. There are already a couple options for composting, but none that are currently scalable for the whole town. VP Weymouth shared that the Conservation Commission is looking at this, which I was happy to hear. A resident involved with the Barrington Farm School shared his thoughts and wondered if it’s possible to have a municipal composting site at Walker Farm. He noted that food waste is actually a resource, and we’re just throwing it away. For anybody who would like to advance this initiative personally, the Farm School, located at the corner of Federal Rd and Middle Highway, has a food scrap bin, and buckets. A couple weeks ago, I brought a bucket home, collected my food scraps over the subsequent week and dropped them in the bin this weekend. I felt good about doing it, and it probably saved the town a few cents… Not much now, but every week and many people, and it could be thousands of dollars saved in landfill fees and less fertilizer purchased.

There were then two unanimous votes on expense policy changes; allowing the Town Manager to make purchases from capital reserve accounts in line with the small purchases made with operating funds, and a clarification in the language of a policy change made two months ago to ensure that a Council vote is required for spending surplus funds that have been held above the 30% balance for capital improvements.

We then awarded a bid for a new roof for the Peck Center (the building that houses the Library, TAPIN, Senior Center, Barrington Preservation Society). It is more expensive than anticipated, but the Town Planner spoke to the efforts taken to reduce the initial bids and explained the discrepancies between the early estimate and current bid.

Two ordinances were introduced and scheduled for public hearing and vote at our July 29th meeting, and six ordinances were heard for public hearing, all of which passed unanimously, without public comment and with limited conversation.

The first ordinance on drainage imposes a fine and remediation cost for property owners that have a sump pump or other system draining onto the street. This poses a safety concern with ice forming in the streets and other problems. During the brief discussion I shared that personally I’ve had issues with this due to poor installation of my home’s sump pump discharge drain. It wrecked part of my lawn and my neighbors, and the best option to avoid that without exorbitant cost was to discharge toward the street, but recessed back from it. During heavy rain periods, a steady flow could end up reaching the street. Given the safety issue, I still supported the ordinance.

The only other comment I recall on the ordinances was clarification I sought in the price of a limited liquor license when we voted to set the BYOB license fee at $250. I wanted to ensure it was substantially lower than the limited liquor license, which it is (at 25%).

Following the unanimous passage of all ordinances, we awarded the newly available limited liquor license to Black Pear. The general manager was in attendance and noted that they sought this to fill a need they saw in the community for offering more “brunch-style” options.

Following that, we set the agenda for the next meeting, moved to executive session to discuss collective bargaining agreements, then adjourned.