COVENTRY — Jonathan Pascua has a grand vision for Coventry.
“I think people want change,” Pascua said last week from his house overlooking Flat River Reservoir. “I see a new Coventry on the horizon.”
A resident of Coventry since he was 15, Pascua, now 37, has been involved in public service in the town for some two decades. He’s a local firefighter, an Economic Development Committee member, an advocate for Johnson’s Pond — and now, he’s hoping to serve Coventry’s residents as a member of the town council.
Pascua, who will declare his candidacy for the District 1 seat on the Coventry Town Council next week, has some big ideas for improving the town that he proudly calls home.
“We’re kind of stuck in 1940,” he said, “and we really need to bring the town into 2023.”
One area where Pascua would like to see change is in Coventry’s form of government — the town council-appointed town manager position should be cut, he said, in favor of a mayor-council government system.
“My goal is to push to have a mayor on the ballot for 2024,” he said. “I want the people to be able to select who they want to be in that position.”
Currently, the council is charged with hiring a town manager to serve as chief administrative officer of the town, typically searching beyond Rhode Island’s borders for someone qualified to fill the role.
Candidates for the mayor position on the other hand would need to be residents of Coventry, Pascua said, and therefore already familiar with the town and everything that makes it unique.
“One of the biggest qualifications that you can have to run Coventry is to know Coventry,” he said.
A mayor-council system would not only give residents more input into who runs their town, since they would be the ones to elect the person, he added; it would also give the town council more of a say in who fills department director positions.
Another area that Pascua feels strongly needs to change is the town’s fire service.
Over the years, Pascua, a firefighter and paramedic with the Coventry Fire District, has witnessed the near collapse of two of the town’s four fire districts due to fiscal mismanagement. And now, for the second time, the Central Coventry Fire District is on the cusp of failure.
“The result of having a bad fire department is inherently dangerous,” he said, adding that the town “has to do this right” or face dire consequences.
Pascua wants to build a committee comprising a member of the board of each fire district, two town councilors, two taxpayers and a fire chief, whose goal would be to identify the most appropriate option for structuring the town’s fire service.
Whether the town establishes a municipal department, combines its four districts into one, creates an eastern and a western district, or takes some sort of hybrid approach should be based on thorough research, Pascua said.
The Johnson’s Pond issue is also of concern to Pascua, who as a member of the Johnson's Pond Civic Association has been at the forefront of efforts to save the reservoir ever since problems with fluctuating water levels first started after Soscia Holdings purchased the Quidnick Dam and water-flow rights two years ago.
While losing the pond would be devastating to those who live there, he said, the hit that home values in the area would take would in turn cause taxes to go up on properties across the entire town.
“I don’t think it’s fair that the people on Washington Street, or Maple Valley Road, would pay more money on their taxes because of the loss of Johnson’s Pond,” he said, noting that significant strides have been made in the fight to save the pond.
As for issues specific to District 1, Pascua said that the wind turbines, which since going up have caused a lot of grief among those affected by shadow flicker, need to be addressed.
“I am going to advocate for a full investigation on that,” he said. “I would be very upset if it were in my backyard, and I feel that I owe it to those people to uncover everything that I can about the situation and make it right somehow.”
Pascua added that he feels strongly about preserving the rural character of western Coventry, and is opposed to developing that part of the town.
“People spend their life savings to move into the beautiful, pristine, natural beauty of western Coventry,” he said. “It is absolutely a massive priority of mine to protect that lifestyle.”
Still, Pascua does want to see development in other parts of Coventry. He was appointed last year to the Economic Development Committee, driven to apply for the role by a desire to fill the town’s vacant commercial spaces.
“Small businesses, larger businesses, we need all of it,” he said. “We need it because we want jobs in the town, and we need to take the tax burden and slide it off the residents’ backs and over to commercial.”
Pascua wants to bring more opportunities for recreation to the town, as well, whether by bringing in a bowling alley, or a cinema, or some kind of amusement park. He said he’d also love to organize an annual town-wide celebration featuring fireworks, carnival rides and local vendors.
“I want to increase the pride in our community,” he said. “I really think Coventry has massive, massive potential.”
When people elsewhere talk about Coventry, Pascua added, he wants them to speak fondly of the town — of a local business that they love, for example, or of the fun they had at an event there.
Running for office has long been something that Pascua has considered doing. But because he never felt that his ideas would be supported by other councilors, he never threw his hat in the ring.
“I’m not going to put my name out there and make promises, and then not be able to deliver,” he said.
Finally, he said, he believes that he’d have the support of enough councilors to make some of the changes he envisions.
From fighting to preserve Johnson’s Pond, to securing a $74,000 grant for the installation of a Direct Capture Exhaust System at the Anthony Fire Station, Pascua said he’s made it a priority to do what he can to save money for the taxpayers of Coventry.
“I want to carry that momentum into the town council,” he said. “I feel that I’ve done as much as I possibly could without the platform that I need to continue going.”
Candidate declarations for the November election need to be filed on June 27, 28 or 29. Pascua plans to declare early on the morning of June 27, he said, and he can hardly wait.
“If I’m elected, and we make these changes, this will be a new Coventry,” he said. “I’m determined to do it.”
For more on Pascua's platform, visit www.pascuaforcoventry.com.