Term limits, altering School Committee sparks debate
The question of whether the School Committee should include appointed members dominated City Council discussion Monday on a proposal to implement term limits of the mayor, the council and the committee.
Drafted by Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson, the resolution asks voters to decide whether the terms of the mayor and the City Council should be increased from two to four years and that they be limited to two terms – eight years. If approved, the question would appear on the November 2014 ballot.
It was Vella-Wilkinson’s suggestion that the School Committee be expanded from five to seven members, with a majority of those members appointed by the administration that drew the most fire. Under her plan elected committee members would also have their terms limited to eight years.
Vella-Wilkinson stressed her resolution was not to decide on the issues mentioned but whether or not the questions should be on the 2014 ballot.
Vella-Wilkinson has been a firm advocate for term limits since she was elected for Ward 3. She believes term limits would allow more people to get involved in the legislative process.
Wilkinson said, “Let a new person come in. Let as many people get involved; allow fresh voices to enter positions.”
Roger Durand said term limits seem great on a surface level but recognized the work is done by longstanding councilmen for the city.
With so many questions, public speakers suggested that the issues be split up and written as separate drafts. In this manner each question would be given proper attention.
As for composition of the School Committee, Vella-Wilkinson suggested four members would be appointed while one person from each of the three districts would be elected. She believes that the motion would allow more diversity of expertise within the committee.
Former Council and School Committee member Robert Cushman and Ed Turner called the proposition a “power grab.”
Cushman said, “The council is inappropriate to want more power over the school committee.”
Cushman believes that the school committee is doing their job and focus should be shifted to those programs and committees that are not.
Turner’s belief is that the true issue is the fact that not enough money has been put into the school system. In response, Vella-Wilkinson said she resented having been called a “Gestapo” outside of the meeting and the indication that she was attempting to intentionally manipulate the power of the school committee. She assured her genuine interest in betterment of the committee.
Jeremy Rix, coordinator for the Warwick Progressive Democrats, suggested to Vella-Wilkinson that the committee should have seven members instead of five, but that only one of them should be appointed and two individuals from each of the districts should be elected to the committee and their elections would be staggered.
School Committee member Gene Nadeau’s concern was the students of Warwick public schools. He doesn’t want the children of Warwick to be forgotten about in the debate.
Nadeau said the Warwick School Committee “may have their discrepancies, but there is not one person on the committee who doesn’t put the students of Warwick schools first.”
Vella-Wilkinson’s final comment was, “I am not trying to hoodwink the committee. I am trying to have a discussion.”
She agreed to redraft the proposal or proposals taking into consideration the opinions and suggestions from the public present. A decision was postponed to no designated date for Councilwoman Vella-Wilkinson to have ample time for her redrafts.