Council honors Warwick leaders, Coutcher and Shapiro
Council members bowed their heads in a moment of silence at Monday’s meeting to honor two men who had a profound impact on the city: the late Robert J. Shapiro, retired superintendent of schools, and the late John Coutcher, retired chief of police.
Also, a resolution to change the Sept. 17 meeting to Sept. 19 in observance of Rosh Hashanah was unanimously approved, and an ordinance in regards to parking major recreational vehicles and equipment on streets was approved for first passage.
When Council President Bruce Place spoke about Shapiro, he shared his deep admiration and affection.
“We lost one of the most respected and experienced educators in this country,” Place said. “Mr. Shapiro was a good man. He was a teacher, mentor, role model and leader to many of us. His contribution to our school system and our community will be remembered.”
Shapiro, who dedicated 50 years to Warwick Schools before retiring in 2007, died at the age of 81 Thursday morning at Miriam Hospital. More than 500 people attended ceremonies Sunday at Temple Sinai. Burial followed at Sinai Memorial Park in Pawtuxet.
Guests included the governor, past and present mayors, as well as teachers, school administrators, former students, friends and family.
“He was my friend and he was the friend of every student, every teacher and every parent in this great city for the past 50 years,” said Place. “We will miss Bob Shapiro.”
Ward 9 Councilman Steven Merolla agreed. He noted that Shapiro was the principal at Toll Gate during his high school days.
“He’d talk about a play I made in football or baseball 20 years afterwards,” he said. “He’d always remember and that showed me a true passion for learning. He was a hell of an advocate and an amazing person.”
After the meeting, Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis shared her sentiments on Shapiro. The two had been friends for more than 40 years.
“He was amazing,” she said. “He was bigger than life [and] cared so much for every child.”
Travis said Shapiro went above and beyond for the community.
“He was at every event,” she said. “You’d know he was going to be there. I still picture him at the VOWS Chopstick Auction and he used to spin the wheel. The last two times, I took it over but he was there with me. It’s never going to be the same without him sitting with me.”
Coutcher passed away at his Buttonwoods home last Wednesday and was buried Saturday at Pawtuxet Memorial Park with full military honors, as he served in the United States Navy during World War II and the Korean War.
Coutcher was part of the Warwick Police Department for 35 years, serving as chief for a decade before retiring in 1988. He was a member of the Police Chiefs Association and active in several organizations.
“He always did a lot for the city, whether it be for public safety, protection of the citizens to the city of Warwick or lending a supportive hand to anyone who was in need,” said Ward 4 Councilman Joseph Solomon. “He was always there to help. He touched not only his generation, but generations to follow.”
In terms of the ordinance involving parking major recreational vehicles and equipment on streets, sponsor Ward 8 Councilman Ray Gallucci said he drafted the ordinance for safety purposes. His constituents have complained to him that their neighbors frequently park trucks with their boats attached, resulting in blocked roads.
It was approved for first passage on a 7-2 vote, with Merolla and Solomon in opposition.
“In my ward, there’s a 40-foot boat with a neighbor that just wants to keep it there,” Gallucci said. “Between the pickup truck that he leaves attached to it and the boat, it’s about 60 feet long. Neighbors have problems getting by it, especially if they are coming in different directions, and they are concerned that emergency vehicles and fire trucks can’t get by.”
To fine-tune the ordinance, Gallucci suggested making an amendment to remove a clause to allow a vehicle to be parked on residential property in order to load or unload for a period not to exceed 24 hours. The amendment was unanimously approved.
At first, Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson and Ward 5 Councilman John DelGiudice were apprehensive about deleting the clause. DelGiudice said he, as well as other citizens, own small boats that they store in their backyards. When leaving early in the morning, DelGiudice often hooks his boat up to his truck the night before and parks in front of his home to save time.
“Nobody complains,” he said. “Basically, this law says they cannot park anywhere.”
Vella-Wilkinson also expressed concern. She noted that the city often hosts dog shows at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, at which dogs and their owners arrive in RVs and need a place to park. Also, Winslow Field hosts tournaments that draw visitors from out-of-state, who often commute in RVs.
But Gallucci said constituents are unlikely to complain unless there’s an emergency situation. In which case, authorities are alerted and the operator is given a reasonable opportunity to move it.
“If nobody complains, it’s not a problem,” said Gallucci.
In a phone interview Tuesday morning, Merolla said while he agrees vehicles should be moved if they cause traffic issues, he voted against the ordinance because it doesn’t include the 24-hour provision.
He said the same problem came up about seven or eight years ago and “the Commercial Fisherman’s Association went nuts.” He worries the same will happen this time around.
“It’s unreasonable that you can’t park in the street, especially in the Ocean State,” said Merolla. “It seems anti-Rhode Island. Could you imagine if you said that to a landscaper? It’s mayhem.”