SOUTH KINGSTOWN – The school building committee has unanimously elected community member Melissa Towle to serve as its new chair.

Towle, whose career has focused on commercial interior design, is the only committee member who is not either an employee of the town or an elected official. She was first appointed to the school building committee in May 2018, and since then, has seen a great deal of change in town and district leadership. 

This, in part, is why she garnered multiple nominations. 

“Melissa has been a member of this committee since its inception,” Councilwoman Deb Kelso said when opening the floor for nominations on Wednesday night. “She was chosen from a field of candidates by a school committee — a few school committees ago.”

“She’s been engaged, and I think she has a command of everything we’ve been through,” Kelso added. 

School committee member Kate Macinanti said she also planned to nominate Towle that evening, since “she’s the only one who’s not either a town employee or an elected body.”

“All of us that are elected officials are only left with two-year terms,” Macinanti said. “I think this committee has seen far too much turnover when it comes to the chair role.”

At the time of her appointment, members of the committee included former Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow, former Chief Financial Officer for the district Maryanne Crawford, and former Building Official and Zoning Enforcement Officer Wayne Pimental, who has since left South Kingstown for Narragansett. 

In the time since her appointment, there has also been two elections — causing turnover on the town council and school committee. 

The most recent chair of the school building committee, Town Council Vice President Bryant Da Cruz, decided to not seek re-election this fall. School committee member Jacy Northup, who’d served as the committee’s secretary, had hoped to continue serving on the committee, but was not successfully re-elected. 

Macinanti also received a nomination to serve as chair of the school building committee from Director of Administrative Services Aimee Reiner. 

“While I certainly respect Melissa and have enjoyed being on the committee with her, I know that Kate is actively involved,” Reiner said, even when Macinanti was an official member of the school building committee. “She’s been engaged and on the committee for quite some time.”

“She is certainly someone who listens to all voices, deliberates and makes fair judgments and decisions,” Reiner added. “I think she would do a great job — especially as a member of the school committee.”

Despite there being multiple nominations on the floor, Towle received unanimous support from the school building committee — with the exception of her own abstaining vote. 

“I’m happy to step into this role,” Towle said, “but I’d equally be as happy if Kate stepped into this role — or anyone else since I just have great respect for everyone on this committee.”

Kelso also nominated school committee member Emily Cummiskey to serve as the school building committee’s new secretary. 

In addition to taking notes on all of the proceedings, Towle requested that Cummiskey also keep a running tab of all requests for information or task assignments doled out during the meeting. In order to stay on top of deadlines and efficiently move things forward, Towle made the request that the running tab of “action items” be shared with the entire committee the following day.

“I’ve found that throughout the meeting that sometimes, somebody has been asked to do something, and then come back the next meeting, and it’s been forgotten, brushed under the table or wasn’t completed in a timely fashion,” Towle said. “I thought it would be helpful to have a separate list of things people are committing to throughout the meeting.”

Having this sent out right after the meeting or the following day, as opposed to waiting until the next meeting, will help move things along and make better use of the committee’s meeting time, according to Towle. 

Town Manager Robert Zarnetske also recommended that recapping action items be recapped at the end of the meeting, just to assure that everyone’s on the same page before the official list goes out to members. 

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