Council Meeting Summary - July 2019

Executive Summary:

Town finances should finish the year beating budget

Despite some scaling back due to construction cost increases, many positive renovations are still planned for the Peck Center

Boss Thai was awarded Barrington’s first BYOB license

Discussions on composting, the town’s sexual harassment policy, the opioid epidemic and volunteerism

Click here for my usual “disclaimer.”

And here is the July meeting’s agenda.

Full Recap

Following the pledge of allegiance, led by President Carroll, Town Manager Jim Cunha (TM) shared some announcements:

  • Remaining Summer Concert Series (all at 6pm)

    • 8/4 @ Latham Park

    • 8/11 @ Barrington Beach

    • 8/18 @ Barrington Beach

  • Barrington Middle School Ribbon Cutting, 8/26, 9:00 AM @ BMS

  • Barrington Beach Community Campout, Friday 9/6 - Saturday 9/7 (details)

  • Dedication of Coach Murgo Lane, Friday 9/6 (time and details TBD)

  • Next Town Council Meeting, Monday 9/9 @ Barrington Public Library

  • Annual Fiddle N Folk Festival, September 21 @ Cove Haven Marina

For the Consent Agenda, which is the next series of agenda topics (4-10), I pulled a few items (last month’s minutes, the finance director report, and a letter from the Sr Services Advisory Board, which was also pulled by Vice President Weymouth) 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.

I pulled the Minutes to clarify comments made at the previous meeting by the Barrington Director for the Bristol County Water Authority (BCWA). At the prior meeting I’d expressed concerns I heard from residents about the installation of new Smart Meters. People wanted to know if they are required to allow them to be installed on their homes. His answer, as I recalled, amounted to “yes, they are required” but that in extenuating circumstances other arrangements can be made. This wasn’t accurately reflected in the minutes, and I moved to have it amended. The was the understanding others had, as well, and the change was made.

I had noticed in the Finance Director’s report that the revenue shortfall reported, of $13mm, was roughly matched to a single line item for state aid, and I wanted to know if they were directly connected or if there were other variations. The response was that the $13mm overall shortfall was a timing issue for tax receipts, and that they had come in during July (the report was through June). As a result, we’ll end (have ended, as of the publishing of this post) the year ahead of budget.

The reasons VP Weymouth and I both pulled the correspondence from the Sr Services Advisory Board was to discuss the status of the renovations at the Peck Center. VP Weymouth, who serves as the liaison to the board, wanted to give them an opportunity to address the Council. We learned that they have concern that the initial plans for renovation are being scaled back because of a lack of available funds for the project. TM Cunha shared that the primary reason for the scaling back was due to the cost of the roof replacement being greater than anticipated, but necessary. He shared details of what is still planned for the renovation, which seemed to be more positive than the Board anticipated. In all, I think it is important to emphasize the renovations are a priority and the scaling back was due only to necessary changes relating to safety and health, and not a lack of priority for the desire to enhance the Peck Center for Adult Enrichment.

We then heard the monthly report from the BCWA. Due to concerns from the manufacturer of the “slip liner” that was going to be installed in the leaking pipeline, that is no longer an option. Work will begin in the coming weeks to install a plastic pipeline through the existing pipeline that runs underneath the Providence River. This solution is expected to resolve the leak with no impact to water availability in the county. At the last BCWA meeting, on July 25, the Executive Director shared that to date, the leak has cost approximately $750,000. It is not expected to result in increased fees.

We then held two public hearings. The first was for Boss Thai restaurant’s request for a BYOB permit. This is the first request following a recent ordinance change to establish a BYOB permit, ensuring the restaurants offering that service are complying with similar regulations as those that sell alcohol. I asked if prior to the ordinance they had been operating as a BYOB, which they had. They stopped doing so once notified of the ordinance, and this would allow them to resume. There was no public comment, and we voted unanimously to award the permit.

The next was a hearing that had been continued from the prior Council meeting, relating to a Comprehensive Community Plan amendment to establish “Developer Guidance” for two lots in the Bay Spring Avenue corridor. This effort goes back a few years, long before my involvement. I’d listened to several discussions about this project during Planning Board meetings, which I attend as the Council’s liaison. We heard more public comment at the meeting, from residents in the area and an agent from the developer who owns the properties in question. The residents all shared appreciation for the process. Their preference would be that the land remain undeveloped, which is understandable, but were in consensus that the new guidance in the amendment is a good compromise between their desire and the needs of both the town for increased residential options for seniors and others, as well as developers’ needs to realize a return on their investments. With one recusal (Councilor Boyajian), we voted unanimously to approve the amendment.

Next we held interviews for (what would have been) a variety of positions on the town’s boards and commissions. Most of the people who had applied for positions were unable to attend, so we tabled most of the decisions. We did appoint John Stafford, unanimously, to the Board of Assessment Review. His background in data analytics and experience with land and commercial property investments will be an asset to the group.

Next we heard public comment. One resident used the opportunity to accuse the town of wrongdoing in a recent controversy regarding the Governor’s appointment of a new Public Utilities Commission director. The woman appointed for the position had been a Massachusetts resident at the time of the appointment, planning to establish residency prior to starting the job (it’s a requirement that the person in the position be a qualified elector in RI). The appointed director filed residency and registered as a voter using her cousin’s Barrington address, at which she stated she lived. Allegedly, she did not live there, and has subsequently withdrawn her nomination. While I appreciate the concerns of “gaming the system,” the resident speaking had been a member of the Town Council and should be well aware that the Council has no involvement in voter registrations, and the town administration had done its job in collecting an affidavit from the registrant. With that view in mind, I took the unfounded criticism with a grain of salt. I think it would be far to invasive, and far too costly to the taxpayers, for our town to investigate the residency of every registered voter in town. That is why the Board of Elections exists and has oversight authority in these matters. Following that public comment was a related comment, accusing the cousin, who is a Barrington resident, of participating in voter fraud. It was an unsubstantiated and possibly slanderous claim by the head of a partisan organization.

It is a shame that this is what our public discourse around partisan politics has come to. Many people assuming the worst in others and attacking, rather than working together to bring out the best in one another. But, on to more positive conversations…

We then discussed, again, composting initiatives. President Carroll added this to the agenda because I had spoken about it with him in the past, and he knew that Vice President Weymouth had been working with the Conservation Commission on its initiatives related to recycling and composting. Outside of an Open Meeting, the three of us aren’t able to catch one another up on what we’ve been working on. He acknowledged that constraint and offered to “step back” so that VP Weymouth and I could work together. We heard folks involved with the Barrington Farm School speak about the work they are doing and how they see a path forward for much wider implementation of a composting program for the town. VP Weymouth shared what the Conservation Commission has been discussing and invited the folks from BFS, and me, to the next CC meeting. We’ll all attend, and I look forward to progressing with this initiative. Not only will it be a forward step environmentally, but there are multiple ways it can lead to cost savings for the town

The next item on the agenda was to discuss a recommendation made by the Parks & Recreation Committee (P&R) to add a representative from the Planning Board to the Ad Hoc Athletic Fields Advisory Committee (AHAFAC). The P&R Committee voted unanimously to make that recommendation to the Town Council and School Committee at its June meeting. Councilor Boyajian, who is the Co-Chair of the AHAFAC said that it’s a big group already, but the Planning Board should really have been there from the start. He didn’t see the harm. I agreed that the input of a PB member would be valuable and that the insight of that Board is important, but that I did see the harm. The AHAFAC is our largest committee and the work is broad research that will involve a lot of discussion and deliberation, built upon the work already undertaken. Making it even bigger is detrimental to productivity, in my opinion. The motion was made, and I was the lone vote against adding a representative; so it passed.

I reached out to the Chair of the PB and the representative of the PB on the P&R committee to express my sentiments that I think their representation will be a valuable addition, but that I voted against it because I think “addition” at this was excessive, and that at this point, I wanted to draw the line. Subsequently, the School Committee voted against the addition of another member of the committee. I am uncertain where that leaves things. In any case, the next full meeting of the AHAFAC is scheduled for Aug 19, at 6:00 PM in the Council Chamber.

Next was an item I’d asked be included on the agenda. We discuss the town’s Sexual Harassment Policy. The idea to address this policy had been shared with me by a constituent who learned that North Kingstown recently amended its policy. My interest here was to expand the categories of people covered by the policy to include members of the Council and the town’s various boards and commissions. I want us to be both obligated to uphold and to receive protection under the policy. We had a discussion of the constraints and our town solicitor confirmed that if a person violated the policy, the Council does have the authority to take action, including removing a violator from their position, whether appointed or elected.

It is my belief that elected officials and those in a position of public trust must hold themselves and one another to the highest of standards. This is an effort to codify that in our town’s policies. During the discussion, I sensed agreement from my fellow Councilors and we discussed how it could be amended and implemented. My thinking of the basics was that we would simply add something like “elected and appointed officials” where the policy says it applies to employees. TM Cunha expressed that the policy is written specifically for employees and most of it focuses on reporting and investigation procedures that wouldn’t apply clearly to elected and appointed officials. To avoid complicating matters, he suggested a separate policy that has the same general protections. The town solicitor will draft a proposed policy that we plan to discuss at our next meeting.

We then discussed an issue raised by Councilor Boyajian, in the wake of the recent overdose deaths of two Barrington residents, in Providence. Apparently these young men were using recreational drugs that were laced with fentanyl. This has become a common practice in black market narcotics, in order to improve profits. It is resulting in an increase in accidental opioid overdoses, especially when mixed with non-opioid substances, because the user is unaware. Fentanyl is far more potent than other opioids, and that makes it increasingly lethal when used in drug production outside medical laboratories that meet have safety regulations in place. The science and criminal aspects of the issue are not why Councilor Boyajian wanted this brought to our attention.

These young men graduated from Barrington High School just a few years ago. Had they still been in school here, this tragedy would have been bigger news and more would be done to offer a response and discuss ways to avoid such tragedies. This is why Councilor Boyajian brought the issue to our attention. Denise Alves from the BAY Team addressed the Council and attendees to share news of the work they are doing in this area. The discussion was timely, as the week prior the East Bay Regional Coalition (led by the BAY Team) awarded almost a dozen grants to community organizations to run programs during the second half of this year to support opioid overdose prevention and substance misuse prevention.

Following that difficult conversation, we discussed something a bit more uplifting. I am involved in an initiative with a new organization, Engage Barrington, that will promote civic engagement and volunteerism in town. The group is holding its first event, a Walk Audit & Community Lunch, on Saturday, September 21. It will start at Police Cove Park at 10:00 AM, where people will receive some instruction and materials to walk in small groups along various routes to schools, businesses and public spaces and document aspects related to the safety and appeal of the walkability in town. These volunteers will then reconvene at Police Cove Park to discuss the experience and anything else town-related, over lunch. President Carroll wanted this event added to the meeting’s agenda to be sure the Council was aware of it, and he suggested voting to officially endorse the event. It passed unanimously. I hope you’ll join us!

We then heard and voted on the introduction or continuation of six ordinances for which we will hold public hearings and votes at our next meeting, on September 9th. Then we moved into Executive Session.

As always, if you have any questions about the content of this post, the meeting agenda, or anything else going on in town, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I look forward to hearing from you and discussing what we can do to make Barrington event better!