WEST WARWICK — The West Warwick Town Council met this week to appoint members to the Charter Review Commission, a board now tasked with sifting through and suggesting amendments to the document that guides the local officials in each of their decisions.
The West Warwick Home Rule Charter hasn’t been reviewed since 2010 — the charter currently dictates that a commission be appointed to review it every 10 years — and Town Council President David Gosselin pointed out that there are a number of areas where updates are overdue.
The Town Council set to work early last year accepting applications for commission members who would be charged with recommending amendments for voters to consider during the November election.
The pandemic derailed that plan.
The goal now is for the commission to come up with amendments in time to have them included in the town’s all-day budget referendum, to be held on the third Thursday in May.
“There could be 50 questions on that ballot, who knows — it all depends on how much the Charter Review [Commission] decides to change,” said Gosselin, who warned that the task of going through the entire document in such a short timeframe will be time consuming.
The amendments adopted by the commission will go before the Town Council before ultimately being approved or rejected by voters.
Out of 12 residents who applied to serve on the commission, the Town Council was only permitted to appoint nine, per the the town charter. Political affiliations within the committee were to be mixed, with no more than five members of a single political party allowed on it.
The charter also prohibits anyone currently sitting on the Zoning Board of Review from participating, which effectively disqualified two of the applicants.
Of the remaining 10 applications, five were from Democrats, one was from a Republican and four were from unaffiliated residents.
Gosselin recommended including the chairs of both the West Warwick Democratic Town Committee, Felix Appolonia, and the town’s Republican Town Committee, Christopher Boucher.
Boucher, the only registered Republican to apply, said Tuesday that he’s concerned about the loss of sovereignty of both the Town Council and the School Committee. He said there seems to be an increasing dependency on the state and federal governments.
“Every town is different. Every town has its own unique idiosyncrasies, and no two towns are exactly alike,” Boucher said. “I want to retain the town’s sovereignty and individuality, and I want to make sure that we can create rules and mandates that are more conforming to the interest of the Town of West Warwick.”
Beyond those two appointments, whittling the applicants down was a daunting task.
“You’re here tonight to select nine out of 10, and I know that sounds horrible,” Town Solicitor Timothy Williamson said, “but, given the fact that there’s no authority to allow you to appoint 10, you have to appoint nine.”
Councilor Jason Licciardi suggested that each of the four applicants in attendance at Tuesday’s virtual meeting should be appointed.
“I think the person that’s left off should be somebody that’s not on the call tonight,” he said, noting, however, that “every one of the applicants would serve the town well.”
In the end, in addition to Appolonia and Boucher, the council voted unanimously to appoint Matt Raiche, Christopher Black, Mary Flynn Bergeron, Mark Baker, Jack Lancellotta, David Gaipo and Frank Flynn.
Council Vice President John D’Amico called Flynn, who taught in Cranston for 34 years and serves as president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, his top pick, adding he “would serve this board extremely well.”
“I’ve been well served by the town,” Flynn said, “and I think it’s time for me to do something to support the town, and I thought this would be a good vehicle to do that.”
The decision not to appoint Chris Messier to the committee came down to the fact that he was the last person to submit an application — while the others submitted their applications in March, he submitted his in October.
Councilor Jason Messier suggested he could be kept on standby as an alternate.
“If you get left off, it’s not because we don’t want you,” he said, “and we very, very well may need you anyway.”
And while they can’t actually sit on the commission, as members of the Zoning Board of Review, Councilor Maribeth Williamson said she would still like to see applicants Richard Banks and Allen Horak somehow involved.
“Certainly they’re interested,” she said, encouraging Chris Messier to participate in whatever capacity he can, as well. “I think we would welcome as many opinions and thoughts that we can get.
Charter Review Commission meetings will be open to the public, Solicitor Williamson added.
“As a public body appointed by the Town Council, they can go into executive session,” he said, “but for the most part their work is done in public, and the public is absolutely, positively invited to partake and assist the commission in their endeavor to come up with some reasonable charter changes.”