For the second time in the last two months the City Council shot down an appointment to the Warwick Sewer Authority. Meanwhile, Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon believes the WSA should be dissolved altogether.
Solomon intends to draft a resolution to do just that. By the end of Monday’s meeting, he announced his plan during a docket session.
“I have a very important resolution entitled, ‘Resolution to our state legislature to allow the Warwick Sewer Authority to consolidate all of its duties to the Narragansett Bay Commission for more efficiency to the taxpayers of the City of Warwick,’” he said. “Details to follow.”
In an interview after the meeting, Solomon said he researched the Narragansett Bay Commission and noted that the Commission takes care of many of the same tasks the WSA is responsible for.
“I feel that there is a duplication of a lot of things,” he said. “That duplication could be consolidated for overall savings to the taxpayers of the city of Warwick. Heaven knows that the taxpayers of the city of Warwick need a break. They need some sort of relief and I think that this will bring them relief. Hopefully, the new council will see to support this request to the state legislature.”
Janine Burke, executive director of the WSA, said she would keep “an open mind” to Solomon’s proposal, although it does raise issues. She said there might be some economies if NBC operated the Warwick wastewater plant due to the scale of their operations, however, the city also might be faced with needing to maintain crews to service lines. She could not say what would happen to the authority’s system, which she estimated has a $350 million value or to its debt of $150 million.
“I think it’s worth looking at,” she said.
Solomon is taking a step further than a suggestion.
Solomon said that because the WSA is a legislative enabled organization, the authority can only be abolished by the legislature.
“I’m looking for a resolution of support from my colleagues on the council to send up to the State House so that our state legislators can address this issue in the proper form,” he said.
K. Joseph Shekarchi, the District 23 Representative-elect, said if the council passes the resolution, he would introduce it at the state level.
“If the City Council approves it, I’d be happy to work within my delegation to get it passed,” he said during a brief phone conversation yesterday morning.
Representative Joseph McNamara, who drafted legislation that put a halt to mandatory sewer hookups for Governor Francis Farms, was also contacted but didn’t reply in time for press.
Mayor Scott Avedisian opposes the idea.
“I do not favor turning over operations to the Narragansett Bay Commission since I favor local autonomy and control,” he wrote yesterday in an email. “I also believe that the Narragansett Bay Commission could not afford to buy out our infrastructure. To simply turn over an agency to them would not protect the millions of dollars of investments that the people of the city of Warwick have made to our sewer system.”
Jamie Salmons of the Narragansett Bay Commission spoke on behalf of Vincent Mesolella, the chairman of the Board of Commissions. She said the NBC is “happy to talk to anybody” about these types of issues. She noted that their enabling legislation provides the option for “mergers or acquisitions of or with authorities with the mutual consent of both.”
“It’s certainly not something that is prohibited by law,” she said.
“The Narragansett Bay Commission has been down this road before with other communities to discuss merging or to consult and offer advice. I think that would be our position on this one, as well. We have the utmost respect for all of the folks at the Warwick Sewer Authority. They do a great job, and they have a great staff. It’s an excellently run facility. At this point, we’re not planning to take over operations of the Warwick facility.”
At the council meeting, the council rejected the appointment of former councilman and mayoral candidate Donald Torres to the WSA Board on a 5-3 vote. Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla was not in attendance.
In October, the council denied the appointment of Carlo Pisaturo, another former councilman, on a 5-4 vote. Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis and Ward 8 Councilman Ray Gallucci voted against his appointment, as well as the appointment of Torres, because neither resides in Ward 7, 8, or 9. All three council members said they view both men as qualified but would like to see the western part of the city represented on the WSA.
“I’ve got to stay with my original conviction,” said Gallucci, who served on the WSA prior to being elected to the council. “As it is now, we have two people from Ward 1. That’s why I could not support Councilman Pisaturo and that’s the reason I cannot support the councilman this evening. I feel strongly that someone should represent our end of the city.”
Travis agreed, as did Vella-Wilkinson. She said while she thinks they each have “tremendous” qualifications, she also feels it is “imperative” the WSA has a broader representation “to ensure that the different geographic sections of the city should be represented.”
Vella-Wilkinson also spoke to how the list of recommendations is created, and wondered why a request was never made to the council seeking nominations.
“I have not, in the two years that I’ve been on this council, ever received the opportunity to provide a name or speak to anyone from my ward, which is not represented [on the WSA], to see if they were aware [of] anyone in Ward 3 that was qualified,” said Vella-Wilkinson.
Avedisian noted that the two appointments rejected by the council are for one of the two seats designated for the city's minority party. The city charter dictates that the minority party is the party opposite of the mayor.
“It seems to me that there is some kind of disconnect between the eight Democrat members of the council and their party chairman,” said Avedisian.
He plans to send Jeff Gofton, the chairman of the Warwick Democrat City Committee, a letter asking for a new list of candidates by the end of the year so he can select another person to go before the council.
“If there is no list forthcoming, I will seek another charter provision allowing me to choose anyone known to me to be a Democrat,” Avedisian wrote. “For many years, the council has rejected candidates for the Sewer Authority. They have had numerous good quality candidates, including former council members Pisaturo and Torres. They also rejected Cynthia Gerlach, the first woman to serve as a member and who was fully qualified. She now serves as a member of our Planning Board.”
Fred Sullivan, whose term on the WSA expired in January, still attends WSA meetings and functions as an active member. Vella-Wilkinson suggested that they allow Sullivan to stay in his seat until they are able to find a candidate from Ward 7, 8, or 9. However, Place pointed out that Sullivan now spends most of his time in Florida, and has been flying to Rhode Island monthly for the meetings.
“I’m not sure how long he’s willing to do that,” Place said. He continued, “we need a person with experience, a person that knows how to deal with people, a leader, and Donald Torres, in my opinion, is that leader. He is imminently qualified for this position.”
Colantuono feels the same, and spoke in favor of the appointment of Torres. He said that in the four years he’s been on the council, sewers have been a “tremendous” issue in his neighborhood, and viewed Torres as a great candidate for the position, noting his leadership qualities.
“I know there’s a concern about what ward we appoint folks out of, I’m just looking for the right people to fill these positions,” Colantuono said. “I’m happy that someone of Mr. Torres’ quality and character has stepped up to do that in this situation.”
Colantuono and Place opposed Pisaturo’s appointment. In contrast, Ward 5 Councilman John DelGiudice voted in favor of both Pisaturo and Torres.
“I know the argument was made that because [Pisaturo] was from Ward 5, but all members of the Sewer Authority represent the whole city, it’s not ward-specific,” DelGiudice said. “If this council feels that strongly that it matters where the representative comes from, then maybe they should look into changing the bylaws of the Warwick Sewer Authority to make it more specific to regions around the city.”