By JOHN HOWELL While the pandemic has put the City Council on a virtual meeting mode for the foreseeable future, newly elected Council President Steve McAllister aims to more actively engage the public and make meetings more meaningful. McAllister was
While the pandemic has put the City Council on a virtual meeting mode for the foreseeable future, newly elected Council President Steve McAllister aims to more actively engage the public and make meetings more meaningful.
McAllister was unanimously chosen by his colleagues for the leadership role in a caucus held outside of his home in Greenwood last month. His election was reaffirmed in a vote taken Tuesday night.
In an interview Monday, McAllister outlined his plans to give the public watching the online Zoom meetings an understanding of what’s happening, how to involve the public and a rundown of his committee appointments.
Noticeable by his absence as a member of any committee is Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, who broke ranks with his council colleagues in endorsing independent Frank Picozzi over incumbent Democrat Joseph Solomon for mayor. Ladouceur headed the Finance Committee as appointed by then City Council President Solomon and reappointed by City Council President Steve Merolla.
McAllister said he thought it was time for a change in the committee and informed Ladouceur he intended to name Ward 3 Councilman Timothy Howe as chair. Other members of the committee are newly elected William Foley of Ward 1 and Vincent Gebhart of Ward 9.
McAllister said Ladouceur asked him to remain as finance chair and told him he would not be interested in serving on other committees. Ladouceur said in an interview he expects to remain as active in questioning city finances and expenditures as he was as chairman. He intends to continue to push for revisions in benefits for retires who currently don’t co-pay, as do active employees, for health care. Ladouceur also remains focused on bringing the Bayside sewer project to fruition.
He said Monday that during his tenure as finance chair the “culture” of municipal bidding changed and that many more companies are competing for the business to the benefit of taxpayers.
As for no longer being a member of the committee, he said, “It will give me more time to dig into the issues.”
As a means of acquainting the public with the council and introducing the council to individuals and organizations, McAllister said he is entertaining suggestions of people and groups who could lead the council in the Pledge of Allegiance. To start things off, Gebhart’s children will have that honor at the second meeting of the New Year. He envisions individuals deserving of recognition, such as a veteran, leading the council in the pledge.
McAllister also wants to start council meetings on time at 7 p.m. regardless of whether committee meetings are completed or not. Committee meetings would be put on pause so that the council meeting starts and matters such as announcements and recognitions are completed so as not to keep people waiting. On occasion, committee meetings have extended to as late as 10 p.m., leaving members of the audience frustrated.
As part of that on-time start to the meetings, McAllister would also hold the 15-minute public comment portion of the meeting, which comes up once a month, after opening the meeting. Furthermore, he said he would work with the city’s MIS, or management information services, to see whether it is possible to post an agenda as part of Zoom meetings. That way, viewers would know what is being discussed as well as what has already been covered and is coming up. As part of that informational process, especially during protracted committee meetings, he would like to have committee chairs periodically announce where they are on their agenda.
In an effort to expedite committee hearings, McAllister is asking committee members to review their binders that are made available 10 days before the meeting and to target questions they might have of department directors prior to the meeting.
He stressed he is not attempting to discourage questions, but rather stimulate a better-informed discussion.
Would the mayor be invited to participate in meetings?
McAllister said the mayor is welcome to request to address the council and that he expects his department directors would be available for questioning as it pertains to the council agenda. McAllister said Mayor Picozzi briefed him on his department director appointments before publicly announcing them and that lines of communication are open. He is hopeful of establishing a scheduled meeting on a regular basis.
McAllister agreed with the priorities Picozzi identified in an interview reported in last Thursday’s Warwick Beacon. He said something needs to be done to bring city offices together and that the annex building that has been closed since a frozen water pipe burst three years ago needs to be replaced. He would also like to see city parks and recreational facilities upgraded, and he said that the water and sewer infrastructure is aging and needs to be addressed.
He is thinking of a special meeting to address sewers once Picozzi has selected a director of the Sewer Authority.
Of all the issues facing the city, McAllister put the financial impact of the pandemic on the top. He noted that COVID-19 will have a dramatic effect on meals and beverage tax revenues as well as airport parking tax and hotel tax revenues.
McAllister, who is the executive director of the Eastern Region for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce overseeing 11 states, said that as of this point no federal aid for state or city governments.
“There are no funds for the states or municipalities,” he said, “that puts us in a tough spot.”
McAllister announced the following appointments: Donna Travis of Ward 6, president pro tem; William Foley, chair of Public Safety, with Jeremy Rix, Ward 2, and James McElroy, Ward 4, as members; McElroy as chair of Intergovernmental, with Anthony Sinapi, Ward 8, and Foley as members; Travis as chair of Economic Development, with Howe and Gebhart as members; Gebhart as chair of Appointments, with Rix and Sinapi as members; Rix as chair of Public Properties/Land Use/Community Affairs, and Foley and Gebhart members; Sinapi as chair of Ordinances, with Rix and McElroy as “all lawyers” members; and Howe as chair of Health, Education, Welfare, with Sinapi and McElroy as members.