TOWN COUNCIL MEETING SEPTEMBER 21st
By Cynthia Drummond for BRVCA
Council Adopts Public Forum Amendments
RICHMOND — After a brief discussion at the Sept. 21 meeting, members of the Town Council agreed to adopt amendments to the Rules and Procedures pertaining to conduct during the Public Forum segments of meetings.
Councilors also approved an update to the council agenda format, which will now include communications received by the council.
Public Forum amendments, first proposed by council President Nell Carpenter at the Sept. 7 council meeting, would prevent members of the town’s public bodies from responding to comments made during the Public Forum.
Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth presented a draft amendment at the Sept. 21 meeting which, she said, more accurately reflected the position of the Rhode Island Attorney General on complaints regarding violations of the Open Meetings Act.
In a memorandum to the council, Ellsworth wrote,
“It seems to me that the intent of the OMA [Open Meetings ACT] is not to prohibit town council members from responding to comments made by members of the public during a public meeting. Nor do I believe the statute is intended to prohibit town council members from briefly discussing a matter raised by a member of the public if the purpose of the discussion is to obtain more information - for instance, to get more details that would help the town clerk describe the matter on a future meeting agenda, to find out how many other residents have the same concern, or to determine which official a problem should be referred to. Instead, I think the intent of the OMA is to prohibit a town council from making a decision on a matter raised during a meeting if the public has no way of knowing in advance that the town council might make a decision about that matter.”
Ellsworth’s proposed amendment, which the council approved, states that members of the town’s public bodies may respond to comments made by members of the public but,
“may not initiate discussion of a matter not posted, and the town council may not vote on a matter not posted except:
I. To refer the matter to another body or official, or
II. When a vote is necessary to address an unanticipated situation that requires immediate action to protect the public health, safety or welfare.”
The council also approved the amendment adding “Communications” to Town Council agendas. The contents of written communications received to the town will now be included on council agendas, a practice which has already begun.
The council discussed the formation of the “Wellness Committee” proposed by Carpenter at the Sept. 7 meeting.
The town will receive $2.3 million in federal “American Rescue Plan” pandemic recovery - related funds, and Carpenter said the new committee would meet one of the requirements for inclusion in the federal grant program.
Carpenter also noted that she had researched acceptable uses for the funds on the United States Department of the Treasury website.
“I’ve printed this checklist out because councilman [Richard] Nassaney actually expressed some concerns at the last meeting regarding potential use, more importantly, what we are prohibited from using, and that is a concern I share too, because we need to be informative to residents in regards to the appropriate uses or eligible uses that the treasury department has given in this fact sheet, ” she said.
Two municipal uses that Carpenter said were clearly described as unacceptable are using the funds to offset a reduction in tax revenue and depositing the funds to a pension fund.
Permitted uses include COVID-19 prevention support measures for vulnerable populations and behavioral health care support.
Carpenter said the town also needed to consider the establishment of recreational facilities, as described in the town’s comprehensive plan.
“We need to develop new community recreation facilities on town land, with the Richmond Town Council, DPW and Recreation Commission as overseers,” she said. “…We should be developing short and long term recommendations for improvements in these services and programs. This Wellness Committee will serve that very need.”
Council members discussed the wording of a resolution which would definite the membership of the committee, as well as its goals and tasks. Town Administrator Karen Pinch will place an advertisement in local news media soliciting members for the new committee.
Another funding opportunity
In other business, the council heard details of a “T-Mobile Hometown Grant” which awards up to $50,000 to towns for special projects.
Councilor Lauren Cacciola, who proposed the grant application, asked councilors to suggest projects and both Ellsworth and Pinch noted that a requirement of the grant is that it be used for a project that was already earmarked and ready to build.
“We could use a ton of new equipment at Beaver River Playground,” Pinch told the council. “Something like that would be great.”
Finance Director Laura Kenyon suggested that the grant proposal could be written as a more general request for funds for new playground equipment.
Ellsworth asked the council to make a motion asking town staff to look at the details of the grant and draft a proposal for the council’s approval at a future meeting.
No action on food trucks
At a continuation of a public hearing that began at their Aug. 17 meeting, council members also discussed, but on the recommendation of Karen Ellsworth, declined to act, on proposed amendments to the ordinances pertaining to mobile food trucks.
“Generally speaking, it’s not something that’s appropriate to regulate by zoning, because zoning is about the use of land and this is an activity that takes place on the land, so it would be really difficult for us,” she said.
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