NEWS

Should politics pay a role in Mayor's appointments?

By ALEX MALM
Posted 10/7/21

On Monday night the Warwick City Council approved three appointments to the Zoning Board of Review. 

But the appointments didn’t come without debate on how the procedure should work …

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NEWS

Should politics pay a role in Mayor's appointments?

Posted

On Monday night the Warwick City Council approved three appointments to the Zoning Board of Review. 

But the appointments didn’t come without debate on how the procedure should work when it comes to boards and commissions appointments. 

The charter states, “there shall be minority party representation on all boards and commissions. The minority party shall mean the party other than that of the mayor. The mayor shall make such minority party appointment from a list of five names submitted by the chairman of the city committee of the minority party at least five days before such appointment is to be made; provided, however, if the chairman of such city committee shall fail or refuse to submit a list as aforesaid, the mayor shall appoint any person known by him to be a member of the political party entitled to said appointment.”

Since Mayor Frank Picozzi does not belong to either recognized state party it leads to the question of whether or not he needs to follow the rule. 

Councilman Jeremy Rix, who sits on the appointment committee questioned if any of the appointments being made, would be a member of the Republican Party. 

The Board had a Republican vacancy because the late Don Morash held the position until his passing in December 2020. 

Picozzi said that he got an opinion from the City Solicitor and other attorneys who told him that he wasn’t obligated to the rule since he doesn’t belong to either party. He said that the issue came up in February and the City Council was satisfied with it. 

“I don’t know why it came up last night,” Picozzi said Tuesday. 

Multiple City Councilors expressed support for the nominations put forth by Picozzi saying that they thought it was more important to appoint qualified applicants rather than appointing people based on their political affiliation. 

“We were presented with three solid candidates selected via public campaign to identify qualified, capable, and willing individuals for open roles on critical posts on boards across the city,” said Councilman Vincent Gebhart who chairs the appointments committee. “I'm so grateful that we had the opportunity to interview each one, that the public had the opportunity to weigh in, and that the quality of the applicant and their willingness to serve were the only criteria for selection.”

Rix said that he views the rule differently than other members of the City Council. 

“I agree with my colleagues that Zoning Board members should be appointed on merit, not just politics.  But, we are obligated to follow our Code of Ordinances and our City Charter,” Rix told the Beacon following the meeting. 

“The Charter sets a process for the Chair of the state-recognized minority party to nominate five persons for the Mayor to select from to fill one seat.  The Charter was not written in mind for a situation where the Mayor is not a Democrat or Republican,” Rix added. “But, even if the section cannot be taken literally, I think that we are obligated to follow the spirit of it.  The spirit would be that there should be a minimum of one Democrat and one Republican on the Zoning Board, as both parties are ‘part(ies) other than that of the Mayor.’  So, I could not vote to fill the seat of the former Republican member, leaving the Republicans with no representation on the Zoning Board.  That may be a violation of the Charter.”

Rick Cascella, the Chair of the Warwick Republican City Committee said he tried to make nominations for Picozzi to submit to the Council without success. 

“I’m very disappointed that the Mayor didn’t respond to my request to speak about the appointments as I believe that the Republican City Committee should’ve been able to nominate (a board member),” he said. 

Cascella said that he wouldn’t be opposed to the City changing the rules for how they appoint members to boards and commissions but said unless they do change the rules, he thinks they should be following the ones they have in place for now. 

Picozzi said he posted on Facebook asking interested residents to apply for the open board positions. 

He said in total he received 22 applicants. He said he would be reaching out to those who didn’t get picked to see if they are interested in serving on any other boards or commissions.

“They had outstanding resumes,” Picozzi said.

On Tuesday Picozzi gave insight on how he decided whom to recommend to the Council. 

“I sat down with the planning department and we picked who we thought were the three most qualified and those were the three people that were there last night,” he said. “That’s what I want on the boards.  I want qualified people that want to serve the City.”

The three appointed to the Zoning Board of Review are Constance Beck, Lorraine Caruso Byrne, and Walter Augustyn. 

Byrne spent her career as an engineer most recently working as the assistant town engineer for East Greenwich from 2015 to 2017. Beck’s most recent experience has been with the Rhode Island Department of Transportation where she has worked as a real estate appraiser since 2003 according to her resume. Augustyn is the project superintendent for AZ Corporation, in North Stonington, Connecticut. According to his resume he has been in that role since October 2018.

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