Voters may get to limit council, mayoral terms
Warwick voters would have the opportunity to decide whether terms for elected city officials should be limited under a resolution introduced by Ward 3 Councilwoman Camille Vella-Wilkinson.
Should the resolution pass, members of the General Assembly would be asked to put the question on the Warwick ballot in November. It would then be up to the voters to decide whether to keep the system of unlimited two-year terms for mayor and City Council and four-year terms for the School Committee. It would not affect Warwick State Representatives and Senators, whose terms are not limited and are up for election every two years.
Following Monday’s council meeting, Vella-Wilkinson said she favors two-year terms for the council and mayor. She favors a four-term limit – eight years – for the council but has not made up her mind on term limits for the mayor.
Her effort is largely motivated by council pensions.
Vella-Wilkinson lobbied to eliminate council pensions. While she wasn’t able to gain approval of that measure, she was able to alter the eligibility from six to 10 years of service.
She notes if council members were limited to four terms, they would not qualify to receive pensions.
“We’re doing a part-time job and we’re getting a pension,” said Vella-Wilkinson. She knows of no part-time workers who get pensions, adding that many of her constituents don’t get a pension at all. Under action introduced by member Eugene Nadeau, the School Committee eliminated pensions for its members.
Apart from the pension issue, Vella-Wilkinson said unlimited terms make it difficult for those seeking elective office for a first time to get elected. She called term limits “a great equalizer” to incumbency. She also believes there should be term limits on state and Congressional offices, but she doesn’t see that happening soon.
“If we have to, start locally,” she said.
“I know people say, ‘Let the voters decide at the polls,’” she said of those arguing against term limits. Her answer to that is to have voters decide whether they want term limits.
Vella-Wilkinson said she hasn’t made up her mind whether the mayor should be limited to four or five terms – eight or 10 years. Her resolution is scheduled to come before the council on Feb. 10.
At Monday’s council meeting, a frustrated Joseph Solomon (D-Ward 4) sought answers to bids and contracts before the group. He noted that the council was being asked to vote on the sale of 17 items of Department of Public Works equipment for a total of $21,000 without knowing what the items are.
“How can you say it’s OK to sell them when you don’t know what you’re selling?” he said.
He also wanted to know why the city recommends buying bottled water at a price that is double what his wife had paid for it at BJ’s and he questioned why the city hadn’t followed up on Ward 9 Councilman Steve Merolla’s recommendation to pursue a reduced contract with Verizon in support of city approval for Verizon to build a cell tower near Fire Station 1 in Apponaug.
“The city should pick up the phone and make the request … that’s not the job of the councilman. That’s why we hire department heads,” he said.
Solomon also said he lacked the details on $17,000 in tax abatements.
“This is crazy,” Solomon said. “I don’t want to delay this for another week, but I’m not going to vote on it.”
Those items Solomon questioned were pulled out of the consent calendar so that city personnel could provide answers at next week’s meeting at which time there would be a vote. The Verizon lease for the cell tower will be heard Feb. 3. Also, Solomon docketed a resolution calling on department heads or their representatives to attend council meetings.
On another matter of city finances, the council held a resolution introduced by Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur that would mandate the color-coding of budget line item reports provided to the council monthly. Ladouceur would yellow code accounts where 50 percent of the budgeted amount had been spent and red code those where 80 percent was spent.
Ladouceur said the system would spotlight problem areas before the end of the fiscal year when it is too late to take corrective action. Already, he said, the city has spent $1 million in overtime and looks to be headed to surpassing its overtime budget.
While she favors the intent of the measure, Vella-Wilkinson thought the council liaison could produce the same product without requiring changes to the city’s financial accounting system. Ladouceur agreed to wait a week to see whether that could be worked out.