Charlestown: Reflecting on 2013 and Looking Forward to 2014

The following letter appeared in local newspapers and is reprinted here with permission of the author Tom Gentz. Mr. Gentz is President of the Charlestown Town Council.

Thomas B. Gentz
Thomas B. Gentz

As the curtain drops on 2013, Charlestown residents can take pride in their collective work ethic that forged a number of successes in the past year. The frugal, honest, and self-sufficient ways of our rural community served as the backbone for many achievements. Charlestown residents spent hours volunteering, and Town Hall management and staff can celebrate a number of successes based on their own hard work and collaboration with these volunteers.

A nine-member search committee unanimously selected Mark Stankiewicz for the position of Town Administrator. With a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and years of work as town manager in Connecticut and Massachusetts, Mark brings a wealth of professional experience to Charlestown.

Informed by the positive recommendations of the Conservation and Planning commissions and by the testimony of US Fish and Wildlife and six non-profit conservation organizations, the Town Council approved the purchase of the Charlestown Moraine Preserve. This 78 acre parcel features vernal pools and the type of forest amenable to nesting songbirds, raptors, small mammals, amphibians, and invertebrates. Mark Stankiewicz and Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero negotiated with the seller and carried the purchase to fruition.

Winter storm Nemo brought out the best in Kevin Gallup’s Charlestown Emergency Management Agency and in Alan Arsenault’s Public Works Department. With public safety as her first priority, Acting Town Administrator Patricia Anderson briefed the Town Council on the impending storm, and the Town Council proclaimed a public emergency on February 7. Police, Fire, Ambulance staff and volunteers were ready for battle in the police station’s operations room. Staff and volunteers worked to respond to emergencies and clear roads.

Several departments worked efficiently and seamlessly behind the scenes this past year to maintain our low tax rate, publicize the new FEMA flood maps, and protect our groundwater and coastal ponds. Town Treasurer Patricia Anderson and Tax Assessor Ken Swain, who managed this summer’s revaluation, worked with the Budget Commission to maintain our position as the Rhode Island town with the third lowest tax rate.

GIS Specialist Steve McCandless hosted information sessions on sand movement with URI’s professor emeritus Dr. Jon Boothroyd. He collaborated with Wastewater Management’s Matt Dowling to write a grant application to the Department of the Interior for the dredging of the salt ponds.

Zoning’s Joe Warner raced to provide timely inspections for occupancy permits after the damage from Nemo and Sandy. He earned the Flood Plain Manager Certification that affords the town future discounts on FEMA’s flood insurance.

Critical to all residents, Town Clerk Amy Rose Weinreich kept public records and meetings in compliance with state regulations. Her work required professionalism and a sense of organization that defies most mere mortals. She completed the courses needed to achieve her Certified Municipal Clerk (CMC) designation.

The core values of health and education flourished in Charlestown. Our own Parks and Recreation Department provided learning opportunities for residents of all ages through sports programs and its community center. Chariho Public Schools ranked sixth in the state in student performance. Superintendent Barry Ricci crafted a regional budget that demonstrated respect for the taxpayers and met the needs of youth with all abilities. To prepare them for the future, Chariho funded Technology 1:1 with Apple Laptops for every sophomore, junior, and senior starting in January, 2014. ( Congratulations to the School Committee, Superintendent, Teachers, Support Staff, parents, and students.

With all these successes, the ongoing pain and frustration of the Copar Quarry neighbors and the lost funding, nixed late in the game by Rhode Island Housing, for two affordable housing projects, ChurchWoods and Shannock Village Cottages, cannot be overlooked. These issues demand our attention in 2014 so the Copar neighbors have some relief and ChurchWoods and Shannock Village Cottages, both supported by the Affordable Housing Commission, can be funded.

Major projects for 2014 include working with Coastal Resources Management Council and our partner towns to attain a Department of the Interior grant to dredge the coastal breachways.  The Conservation Commission’s plan for the Charlestown Moraine Preserve and the reviews of the Planning Commission’s Comprehensive Plan with Jane Weidman, interim Town Planner, and of the Parks and Recreation Commission’s Ninigret Park Long Range Plan will also be on the 2014 agenda.

I congratulate my fellow Town Councilors for being respectful in debate and for working together to solve policy issues.

Finally, I have been selected to sit on the State Low and Moderate Income Housing (LMIH) Study Commission and will advocate protecting Charlestown’s precious coastal ponds and aquifer from high density building encouraged by developers with comprehensive permits.

I am honored to have served as your Town Council President since 2010. My family and I wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy holiday season, and all the best for 2014.

Tom Gentz