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SOUTH KINGSTOWN – Tempers flared at Monday night’s South Kingstown Town Council meeting when the issue of the sale of Browning Farm was addressed.
The council intended to hold a public informational hearing regarding development rights to Browning Farm. This pertains an application from the South Kingstown Land Trust for funding in accordance with the town’s “Open Space Project Funding Policy,” in order to potentially purchase the development rights to 14 or more acres of Browning Farm.
When the hearing began, Councilman Jim O’Neill immediately recused himself from the discussion and any votes on the issue.
Councilwoman Mary Eddy was absent from the meeting, but wrote a letter to the council addressing her concerns with the Browning open space acquisition and asking at the discussion be continued upon her return at the next meeting, June 25.
In her letter, dated June 7, Councilwoman Eddy wrote, “I have two concerns about certain aspects of this proposal. The first concern is with the dual role of the legal advisor for the proposal, and the second is I would like full knowledge of the role played by one of my fellow council members in the deal.”
Councilwoman Eddy concluded her letter with, “I think the council would be wise to address these concerns before using any of the South Kingstown’s tax payers’ money to purchase open space, no matter how desirable that space may be.”
Councilwoman Kathleen Fogarty asked for a clarification as to why Councilman O’Neill is recusing himself from this issue.
O’Neill stated, “As the owner/broker of Coastal Properties, I’ve shown this property to a number of clients and also I’ve released any interest, any claim to any commissions or fees from the Browning sale…I don’t think I’ve had to say that publicly, I think it’s fairly obvious.”
Councilwoman Fogarty then asked for the date when Councilman O’Neill stepped away from the property’s brokerage.
O’Neill said he released his recusal documents June 9. He added that he would have preferred to sell the land to a private client who did not need town funds, in which case he would have earned a commission.
O’Neill then became upset with Councilwoman Fogarty.
“I think you know all about this…because that’s what my job is, Kathy, to bring buyers and sellers here. This is my client, Kathy,” he said.
Council President Whaley interrupted the argument, and the council voted 3-0-0 with one recusal to continue the public hearing on Browning Farm to June 25.
The council also postponed appointments until the June 25 meeting when all members will be present.
O’Neill disagreed with this, though it has traditionally been council practice to have all council members present before voting on appointments.
“Should we have cancelled the entire agenda because Polly wasn’t here? We’re always accommodating Polly,” Councilman O’Neill said, referring to Councilwoman Eddy, as the meeting concluded. As O’Neill became upset again, Town Council President Ella Whaley quickly called for adjournment and the other councilwomen moved to adjourn.
In other council news, Town Manager Steve Alfred presented changes to the 2012-2013 fiscal year pay schedule in a public hearing. Alfred called for approximately an $8,600 increase in the budgeted amount for town employee salaries. The adjustments include a move of three positions in the grade nine pay scale to grade 10. These positions include executive assistant, deputy town clerk and police administrative assistant. An additional adjustment is the approximately 4 percent increase of the grade 19 salary, received by the finance director. Alfred argued that all individuals in these positions have taken on greater responsibility in recent years; the council agreed and voted to adopt the adjusted pay scale 4-0-0.
The council also noted two individuals leaving their positions. Joseph T. Laffey is resigning from the Canvassing Authority effective June 30 and Robert Beagle, is retiring as advancement vice president of the University of Rhode Island.