Tom Gentz Council Comments, November 14, 2016
At the final meeting of the 2014-2016 Town Council, Tom Gentz read the following statement summarizing some of his work from his six years on the Town Council.
Congratulations to the elected officials in Charlestown:
Congratulations to all those who won elections in Town and State Offices. Service to our wonderful community of Charlestown is to be congratulated. Thanks also go to those that ran for office and lost. They took their time and effort to present policy points to voters.
I am humbled to have served the Town of Charlestown for six years. When I took office as president, elected office in the Town was not civil. I have worked hard to listen to all sides and use my best judgment to move the Town of Charlestown forward.
The Town Council is a policy making body. We do not manage the Town on a day to day basis, but the Town Council deliberates and sets policy. I could not be more proud to have served with the Town Councilors that I have served with over the past six years. I want to thank my current fellow Town Councilors Denise Rhodes, Virginia Lee, Bonnie Van Slyke and George Tremblay, all of whom I have enjoyed working with the past two years. Together, we have accomplished much.
I am going to break up my final Town Council Comments into two categories. What I accomplished during my six year term as president of the Charlestown Town Council and what I wanted to accomplish, but did not have time to finish.
What I accomplished:
The most important job a Town Councilor has is to hire the very best Town staff leadership. The Town Council hires the professional staff.
Police Chief Jeff Allen went through a rigorous and competitive process and was the unanimous choice to become the Charlestown Police Chief. Pat Anderson, then acting Town Administrator and I sat on the selection committee along with a Charlestown Police union selected Rhode Island municipal Police Chief, the Town selected another Police Chief and those two chiefs selected a third. Our Town Solicitor, Peter Ruggiero oversaw the process. We interviewed five finalists and Jeff Allen was the unanimous selection five years ago.
Thank you to Pat Anderson for her service to the Town in not only the Treasurer capacity, but also the Acting Town Administrator role. The Town financials continue to be the state standard of professionalism.
Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz was selected by a committee of Town residents. The committee went through a well thought out process of selection. Mark was the resounding choice of both the selection committee and the Town Council three years ago.
Hiring Chief Allen and Town Administrator Stankiewicz are my proudest moments as president. Without excellent Town leadership that has been demonstrated by these two appointments, our Town would not be where it is today.
Town Solicitor, Peter Ruggiero is my go-to person for not only legal advice, but a valued council. He is a professional, expert in land use, as he teaches the class to the Rhode Island Bar, and a level head when you need one. Thanks also go to his partners David Petrarca and Wyatt Brochu.
Other Town staff that I want to thank are Amy Weinreich, Town Clerk who has worked closely with me over the past six years and Carol who is here with us tonight; Joe Warner, Building and Zoning Official, who has saved residents money with his Flood Insurance work with FEMA; Jane Weidman, Town Planner, who has served the Town as the staff for the Planning Commission and completes work behind the scenes to prepare advisories and is working on the Town’s Comprehensive Plan that will guide the Town for the next decade and beyond, Matt Dowling, Waste Water Manager, who just received an $888,000 EPA grant that compliments the Potable Water Working Group, and who works with the Waste Water Commission to reduce nitrates in our drinking water; Steve McCandless, our GIS Manager who did the comprehensive first draft of the successful DOI Grant for $3.5 M to dredge the Ninigret Breachway and do salt marsh restoration. Thanks to all the Town Staff.
The Town Employee Handbook was prepared over almost a year of public hearings and deliberation. This Handbook was needed after the employee morale in Town Hall was at an all-time low in 2010, prior to the hiring of Chief Allen and Town Administrator Stankiewicz.
The Bradford Quarry has been an issue for Charlestown residents since I was educated on it when I went door to door in 2010. I attended the Westerly Zoning Board hearings for nine months along with then private citizen, and now Town Councilor Denise Rhodes. At that time there was 40,000 tons of silica dust on the ground in the quarry, half the weight of a US Aircraft Carrier. Now, there is 100,000 tons of cancer causing silica dust on the ground in the quarry. To reduce the threat to the citizens of both Bradford and Charlestown, I testified at the State House for six years on the dangers to all residents. Last year, working with State Senator Algiere and Representative Filippi, a law was passed to force the owner to water the stone dust pile so less fugitive dust left the quarry. For some reason, RI DEM has not taken an active role in protecting the citizens of Bradford and Charlestown. The quarry will be included in my not accomplished section of comments later as this job is only partially done.
In 2010, I was selected as the liaison to Washington County Regional Planning Council. Jeff Broadhead is the Executive Director and through his electrical energy research in our member towns throughout Washington County, we found streetlights were the largest cost to cities and towns. In 2013, with help from our consultant George Woodbury, we wrote the Rhode Island Municipal Streetlight Act. For over a century, the power distribution company has been profiting over $8 M annually on the backs of taxpayers. Doing the math, for a 100 years, that is cost to taxpayers of almost $1 B. The Washington County Board agreed to form PRISM.
PRISM is the Partnership of Rhode Island Streetlights Management and the fastest growing company in Rhode Island. PRISM has grown 2,594% over the past three years. I am the president of PRISM. PRISM is a not-for-profit collaboration of Rhode Island Municipalities designed to save local government’s money by handling maintenance and conversion to LED streetlights. PRISM has installed 16,000 LED streetlights in Providence, and soon will convert the Charlestown streetlights to LEDs. Once all the streetlights in RI are converted to LED’s municipalities and fire districts. It will save $12 M annually and reduce CO2 by 31,000 tons a year, or the equivalent of reducing 68 M miles driven annually. This is the “Greenest” project in the State’s history and it saves taxpayer money.
ChurchWoods will be completed by September 2017. ChurchWoods is an age 55 and up, 24 one bedroom rental units in seven single story buildings of affordable housing next to the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit along Rt. 1A. ChurchWoods will allow Charlestown residents to age in place in Charlestown. The good news is ChurchWoods is moving forward, the bad news is that it took six years and countless hours of testimony, meetings, harassing and lack of follow through on commitments by RI Housing. The only way ChurchWoods happened is by the monumental efforts of Geoff Marchant, our partner and the patience of the Episcopal Dioceses until funding could be found. Thanks go to Evelyn Smith, Chair of the Affordable Housing Commission, who is here tonight too.
Potable Water Working Group:
In January 2015, I formed the Potable Water Working Group. The Group consisted of about 15 diverse and interested members. We found that 20% of the nitrates in our drinking water in highly populated areas come from fertilizer and 80% from septic systems. In the spring of 2016, the Town sent out 3,100 letters and trifolds to residents in the most vulnerable areas about not using or limiting fertilizer use. Councilor Virginia Lee and I presented to ten community groups and about 350 people on the Charlestown Recommended Landscaper Process for those residents to use a sensible amount of fertilize.
Geese Egg Treatment:
The Town of Charlestown is the only Rhode Island municipality that has a goose egg mitigation program. The eggs are treated in a way approved by MSPCA and licensed by USF&W. To date the Town has taken 1.6 M tons of goose poop out of the three salt ponds in Charlestown.
What I did not accomplish:
The Bradford quarry continues to operate in a residential area in our neighboring town of Westerly. I support Westerly’s Town Council in writing an extraction ordinance to reduce the impact on the Bradford and Charlestown residents. However, the quarry continues to operate and there may be blasting and rock crushing in the future that will endanger Charlestown residents. I encourage the Town of Westerly to purchase the property and once and for all stop the operation. Under Councilor Denise Rhodes’ leadership the next Charlestown Town Council, can study the Westerly extraction ordinance and determine if that, or another extraction ordinance in Charlestown is needed to protect the health, safety and welfare of Charlestown residents.
Shannock Village Cottages is a workforce, affordable housing project with eleven rental units. This project is being delayed by RI Housing’s lack of funding. This project is shovel ready and should be built as soon as possible with the full support of the State. Stop the bureaucracy.
To secure the Charlestown Moraine Preserve as open space in the future, we need a conservation easement.