Town Council Mtg Recaps: 11/22 & 11/29
Updated: Jun 17
The agenda initially set forth for the 11/22/21 meeting was ultimately divided into two sessions, with the second taking place on 11/29/21 to account for Councilperson Brimer’s absence on 11/22/21. Views expressed in this post are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my fellow Town Councilors.
In the first meeting, we (the Town Council) addressed the following:
We thanked Robert Jackson and Anne-Marie Balboni for their service to the town. The former stepped down from the Economic Development Advisory Board and Planning Commission, and the latter from the Leisure Services Advisory Committee.
We thanked individuals for their generous donations toward town services.
We awarded bids, contract extensions, holiday sales licenses, refuse collector licenses, and victualling and licenses. For a detailed account of all expenditures, please see the meeting agenda here and note that all items passed unanimously.
Town Manager Ralph Mollis reported the following via his Manager’s Report:
The annual North Kingstown tree lighting will take place Thursday, December 2 at 6 pm at Updike Park in Wickford. A very special guest (Santa himself!) is slated to appear!
The town will issue grants of up to $1,000 for Post Road businesses who decorate their properties for the holiday season. Call or email Joe Donohoe of the Planning Department with questions.
NK Library is resuming Sunday hours (1-4 pm, excluding holiday weekends).
The Economic Development Advisory Board hosted a highly attended forum on balancing growth with preservation.
McGinn playground will close on 12/20/21 for renovations.
Meetings continue to resolve issues with Elm Grove Cemetery.
The police department will receive new copiers/toners via emergency funding approval.
Finance Director Jim Lathrop gave a detailed financial overview. We are, at this time, projecting a small surplus. To listen to his full report, you can watch the meeting video beginning at 29:00.
We appointed the following individuals to various boards and commissions:
Thomas Charlton, Sheila Brush, Jacob Clemen, and Bjorn Wellenius to the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB); Larry Mandel moved from alternate to full member.
Michael Donohue and James Shriner to the Historic District Commission.
George Brennan, Doreen Picone, and Dana Long to the Wickford Advisory Committee.
Betty Givan to Wickford Village Design Guidelines Committee.
We directed the Town Clerk to re-advertise vacancies on the Assessment Board of Review, EDAB, Information Technology Advisory Committee, and Wickford Village Design Guidelines Committee.
The 11/29/21 meeting involved robust discussion around a very serious issue: the allegations of misconduct brought against former North Kingstown High School coach Aaron Thomas. For those not familiar, many students have come forward expressing concern regarding “fat tests” Mr. Thomas is said to have conducted over his approximately 30-year tenure with the North Kingstown School Department. At present, there are several investigations taking place: one by outside counsel, retained by the School Committee; one by the Attorney General’s office; and one by attorney Tim Conlon.
After weeks of public comment and correspondence from concerned citizens, one question loomed large before the Council: how could we act to further ensure justice, accountability, and transparency; restore the public trust; and protect our children in the wake of such egregious allegations? Some called for an additional investigation, but, as we discussed during the 11/29 meeting, doing so could actually compromise or hinder other investigations already underway. What if victims did not wish to be interviewed yet again? What if reinterviewing them was retraumatizing? What if, upon the third or fourth interview, victims inadvertently changed or confused certain details? What distinct findings could yet another investigation produce that would warrant such a vast undertaking? Ultimately, though we all understood the desperate want for answers, it seemed another investigation was not the appropriate remedy.
Council President Mancini had proposed an alternative solution: obtaining outside counsel to synthesize and review the findings of all existing investigations, relevant documents, and other pertinent information. The appointed person(s) could then make recommendations to the Council regarding what, if any, further investigation was warranted. Moreover, this person could issue guidance, if appropriate, on how the Council can act within the scope of its powers (granted by the Town Charter) to correct any wrongs and prevent recurrence.
The Council passed President Mancini’s idea for independent review unanimously, with an initial budget of $25,000. Each Council member reiterated, in turn, our commitment to child safety, and our profound sadness, remorse, and horror that such events might have taken place in our town.
We were divided, however, on who might best lead our external review. Ultimately, the assignment was awarded to retired RI Superior Court Judge Susan E. McGuirl.
I voted for McGuirl for several reasons - first and foremost being her demonstrated capacity to hold town and state officials and entities accountable in instances of wrongdoing. For instance, according to the Providence Journal, she “made headlines most recently in 2018 when she issued a blistering ruling castigating the East Greenwich Town Council for willful and repeated violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act.” As a prosecutor, she was known as the “AG’s avenging angel.” She was appointed to serve as judge by a Republican governor and was renowned for her exemplary service on the bench. I trust that her judicial code of ethics will prevent any conflict of interest and will ensure a diligent, thorough, balanced, and transparent review of the many complex, moving pieces related to this issue.
I am confident that the 11/29 votes gave the Council the appropriate and necessary mechanism to turn shock and dismay into decisive action. As is the case with any issue of this scope, the road to justice is long and complicated. There are no fast or easy answers. We need to act in a timely way, but also, as I stated during the meeting, “we need to do this right.”
Councilors Brimer and McKay have, at several junctures, made clear their staunch objections to various school committee policies and actions - most notably those related to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. They again raised those issues during the 11/29 meeting. Ultimately, though, Council President Mancini redirected them to the agenda items at hand. I believe it is critical that, when discussing the Aaron Thomas allegations, we remain focused and diligent in our commitment to resolving this issue to the greatest degree possible. We must not conflate or confuse these very serious allegations with other personal, political, or philosophical concerns.
In a passionate and heartfelt speech, Councilperson Brimer noted correctly the enormous toll that sexual abuse takes on its young victims. As a clinician who works with victims of childhood sexual abuse, I agree with her sentiments, and I applaud her for voicing them. However, I vehemently disagree with her word choice referring to these victims as “broken adults.” Parts of our system may indeed be broken - and those need immediate fixing. That’s why we voted the way we did. But abuse survivors are not broken. They may be suffering, and they may encounter numerous and even unimaginable challenges -- but to any abuse survivors who may be reading this post, I offer you these words: you are not broken. We will strive to do right by you, and to fix whatever harm was done -- and we believe in and we support your resilience, every step of the way.
--Katie Anderson, NK Town Council member