Although a member of the public grilled former council member and mayoral candidate Donald Torres with questions last Wednesday, that hasn’t deterred him from his aim to serve on the Warwick Sewer Authority board.
Torres appeared before the appointments committee last Wednesday and was scheduled to come before the full council last night.
On Wednesday, Council President Bruce Place praised Torres and said he felt Torres is an ideal candidate for the position.
“The council needs to consider a strong person to take on a strong task and I strongly recommend favorable action for Donald Torres on the Sewer Authority,” Place said. “He has very strong communication skills. He knows the Sewer Authority – he knows how it operates, understands the budget process, and has considerable experience with regard to contract negotiations.”
But Ward 1 resident John Kennedy questioned Torres’ ability to serve on the board. He asked Torres, a resident of Ward 2, whether or not he knew what the customer service increases have been as of late, as well as the percentage of rate increases for usage. Torres said he was aware it went up, and Kennedy noted the most recent increase was approximately 12 percent.
Then, Kennedy asked Torres what he thought about connect capable fees and if he would support the fees. Torres said that when he was on the council in 2006, he was against the Sewer Authority trying to force people to hook up.
“I’m not in favor of the connectivity fees,” Torres said. “I wasn’t six years ago and if the information shows me something different, I’d say, ‘Let’s look at it,’ but I wouldn’t commit to it now. I don’t believe people should be forced into it.”
Further, Kennedy asked Torres of he knew what percentage of Warwick residents are connected to sewers and Torres said that he believed it was approximately 40 percent.
Torres went on to say that he had no problem answering Kennedy’s questions if Kennedy was simply looking for the facts, but wasn’t interested in playing games.
“If you want to try to embarrass me, that’s one thing…” Torres said, as Kennedy interrupted him. Their words were difficult to hear accurately, as both spoke at the same time. Torres also reminded Kennedy that he, just like every citizen, pays the sewer tax.
The questions didn’t stop there. Kennedy asked Torres to explain his qualifications as project manager in terms of the construction field, as well as what skills he would use to ensure that the sewers are completed on time and within budget.
“Nine of the last 11 projects were over budget,” said Kennedy. “Every phase beyond that, mistakes have happened.”
Torres, who owns and operates Express Embroidery at 1243 Post Road, said he ran construction jobs in the past, which included sewer lines. Also, he would be in favor of staying with the language and penalties within the deadlines and timelines of the budget.
“If, in fact, we run over budget, my questions would be, ‘Where were the overruns and extensions?’” Torres said. “I agree that an overrun and extension wouldn’t be helpful.”
Torres served on the council from 2001 to 2007. During his tenure, he chaired the finance, ordinance and appointment committees, and served as council president his last two years.
He said that one of the first things he did after being elected was put into place an ordinance requiring the city to make a fiscal note explaining a plan to maintain the acquisition when the city wanted to accept free property or purchase open space. He mentioned this in response to one of Kennedy’s questions about his fiscal responsibility.
In a follow-up interview Thursday afternoon, Torres said, “I’ve always been fiscally responsible and have always wanted to ensure that costs are kept down.”
At the meeting, Kennedy said he is concerned that the rates just keep going up. He’s so frustrated that he and a group of other Ward 1 residents last week created and distributed flyers in Wards 1 and 6 that express their aggravation.
The flyers targeted Ward 1 Councilman Steve Colantuono, Ward 6 Councilwoman Donna Travis and Mayor Scott Avedisian, and alleged that these politicians are to blame for sewer rate increases and other tax hikes.
The flyers also accuse Avedisian of appointing “politically connected insiders” to boards and committees. However, Avedisian last week emailed a Warwick Beacon reporter that the chairman of the Democrat City Committee, Jeff Gofton, nominates individuals to him and he simply forwards the information to the council.
Avedisian also noted that the first person Gofton nominated was former Councilman Carlo Pisaturo, whose appointment the council recently rejected. The next nominee on the list is Torres.
At the meeting, Kennedy said that the citizens of the city can’t afford rate increases and need people on the boards that understand that.
“When’s it going to end?” Kennedy said.
Torres said, “I’ve never been on any board or committee to waste my time or to waste the time of others. Whatever I’ve done, I’ve given 110 percent and it wasn’t to name my name on a plaque or in the paper.”
At that point, Kennedy’s questions ceased and Eugene Nadeau, a member of the Warwick School Committee, addressed the council and Torres. Nadeau, who has lived in Governor Francis Farms for 48 years, said that he and other members of the city, including his daughter, have lost a considerable amount of money due to sewer issues.
He said his daughter lost approximately $140,000 of equity on her house and that her mortgage is more than the value that the city places on it.
“There are so many elderly [and unemployed individuals] that can’t keep up with these costs,” Nadeau said. “I don’t know if they fully recognized what these people are going through. But I feel better in hearing your answers,” he said to Torres.
In a separate interview, Torres said while he found Nadeau’s comments and questions valuable, he didn’t think Kennedy’s interrogation was important.
“He’s just a spokesperson for a group of misfits, so it doesn’t really matter to me,” said Torres. “Any person who would print up a flyer and speak about me without ever meeting me or talking to me is nothing but a misinformed misfit. It certainly has no bearing on me wanting to participate in public service.”
He also said he’s not sure if he has the council votes, but believes he is qualified for the position.
“In all my years on the City Council, as well as being a business owner and managing a company and other companies, I’ve always been one to completely understand the whole situation on both sides to make a decision,” he said. “Leadership comes in a lot of different ways, and I think I could offer that to the Authority.”