COVENTRY — If reelected to the Coventry Town Council, incumbent Debra Bacon has vowed that she’ll “continue to put principle over politics,” beholden to no special interest groups.
“I will continue to push for fiscal responsibility,” said Bacon, who was elected to the District 5 seat in 2016. “I will continue to ask tough questions and continue to insist that all supporting documentation be included with all agenda items so that councilmembers can make well informed decisions as well as fostering transparency.”
Bacon has been advocating for years for a performance audit of the town and school departments. She'll continue if elected to push for one, she said, and had hoped this year’s budget would have included funding for it.
“Every year our taxes are being raised, and do we see a level of service that’s improving? Not improving?” she said. “I want to be able to see where we are excelling in the town, where we’re a little flat, and where we need to improve.”
When she was first elected to council, for example, Bacon was surprised to be given an iPad without having to sign a user agreement.
“If the town is giving out iPads, and there’s no user agreement between the town and the employee or elected official, then how do we know that that’s going to come back? And what are the rules about using that piece of equipment?” she said. “We still don’t have that… and with a performance audit it will show that we need to improve on that.”
Transparency is a big concern for Bacon, who would like to see that important information be more easily accessible by residents than it is currently.
The town should develop an app, she said, offering a one-stop shop for accessing things like meeting recordings, ordinance amendments, information on rights-of-way and conservation lands, upcoming votes, public works request forms and forms for pet, fishing and other licenses.
Such an app would improve community engagement, Bacon said, and would streamline the licensing and permitting processes for residents and businesses.
In addition, she said, she’d like to revamp the town’s online resources so that town hall services are always available. There should be a clear place where people can go to find information on bid requests, she said, and people should be able to fill out permits online.
And while residents should be able to easily find information, Bacon said, so should local officials and board and commission members.
Bacon said she’d like there to be a binder given to all those who serve that contains the town’s charter, its comprehensive plan, a guide to Rhode Island’s Open Meetings Act (OMA), the state’s Code of Ethics and information on the rules and procedures pertaining to the particular organization.
Bacon said she would also like each year to invite the Department of the Attorney General and the state Ethics Commission to give an informational presentation to local officials, town employees and board and committee members.
“This way we don’t have Open Meetings violations, and when [Access to Public Records Act] requests come in, everyone knows what they’re supposed to do,” she said. “It would be nice that we’re all on the same page.”
Bacon would also like to see department directors providing regular updates to councilors and residents.
“Just so we know what are their needs, what is working for them, are there any upcoming events that they want to share with the public,” she said, adding that it would lessen the risk of being blindsided by future requests.
A lot of the town’s ordinances, as well as fee and license scheduling, need to be updated, too, Bacon said, adding that a committee could be formed to review ordinances and make recommendations.
And when an ordinance is proposed — whether by a department director or a town councilor — Bacon said she would like to have attached to it an explanation as to why it was put forth in the first place.
One of the biggest tasks awaiting Coventry’s new council is the appointment of a town manager.
A local ballot question asks voters their thoughts on easing up on some of the requirements of a successful candidate for the town manager position — for example, if the measure is approved, the requirement that Coventry’s town manager hold a master’s degree in public- or business administration or a similar field would be removed.
Bacon is opposed to lowering those requirements. The council has received some impressive resumes since the town manager search began a couple of years ago, she said.
“We did receive several applications and resumes,” she said. “People were qualified — that was not an issue.”
Bacon has also advocated for the council to be given a list of every place that the search firm working with the town has advertised.
“We need to be very active in [the search],” she said, adding that the council “need[s] to be meeting more frequently regarding all the resumes.”
Bacon has been living in Coventry for around 16 years, and recently returned to work in the infant room of a daycare after spending 26 years as a stay-at-home mom. She doesn’t call herself a politician, she said.
“I’m just trying to help my neighborhood and my community,” she said. “Coventry is absolutely beautiful, and that’s why we moved here. It’s a little bit of country and a little bit of city — it’s the best of both worlds.”
In her four years on the council, Bacon said she’s been “more than happy” to speak with constituents and to help get issues resolved. And that’s been particularly important, she said, during this year’s budget talks.
“Some of the conversations I’ve had have been very heartbreaking — when people are saying, ‘you need to understand, we could be losing our home,’ you need to listen,” she said. “You need to be open-minded, which I am. You need to think out of the box, and you need to ask questions.”