2014-05-01 / Front Page

Sticker Plan Parked

By Barry Bridges

With the high turnout at the Newport City Council’s regular session on Wednesday, April 23, comments offered at the meeting by Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin seemed especially accurate. While commending the Council on its resolution to discourage texting while driving, Kilmartin spoke of the vital role that local government plays in the lives of constituents.

“This is where, in government, the rubber hits the road,” he said. “When you speak of trash issues, fines, licenses, outdoor festivals, and upcoming tourism, that really is government at its best, and it is at the closest level. That’s where it’s most important.”

Perhaps the dozens of residents packing council chambers to protest a change to the parking ordinances would agree with Kilmar- tin’s allusion to the famous remark that “all politics is local.” Their attendance was a driving factor in the council’s rejection of a proposal to add 45 streets to the city’s residential parking sticker program, which would have restricted overnight parking in those neighborhoods.

Councilor Justin McLaughlin quickly acknowledged the mood of the room as the matter came up for debate. “I am responsible for this,” he said, “but I am going to make changes tonight.” He explained that the original intent of adding new streets to the sticker program was to address the problem of cars overflowing to other roads when existing parking limitations are enforced. “We decided to be proactive, but there was no intent to impose something on residents who don’t want it,” he contended.

In light of residents’ objections that they had received only a lastminute notice of the broad proposal, McLaughlin suggested an amendment to cull many of the streets from the list to allow for more advertising and public comments.

Councilor Michael Farley opposed that idea, feeling that it would complicate matters and that it was better to have an upor down vote on the whole issue. Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano concurred, saying that it was better to avoid amendments because it was clear that the public wasn’t able to have their say, while Naomi Neville also felt that eleventh-hour changes would be confusing. Third Ward representative Kathryn Leonard said, “I agree. This wasn’t vetted enough, and the issue needs further input.”

The motion to amend the streets included on the sticker list failed 3 to 4.

After hearing additional public comments against the original plans, McLaughlin made a second motion to simply expand the sticker program to the three streets whose residents had petitioned the city for restricted parking. However, by that point in the proceedings, it was clear that a strong momentum had taken root against the proposal in its entirety.

The second motion also failed ona1to6vote,andinlightof the public’s objections the council promptly voted to indefinitely continue the entire issue. In other business:

The Council extended the report submission deadlines for the Finance Review Committee and Charter Review Commission to May 20.

Members received a communication from City Manager Jane Howington outlining the additional expense of installing cobblestones on Clarke Street. Residents of the street would have to absorb a differential of $343,000 over normal costs if they continue with their request to replace the asphalt roadway with Belgian blocks.

City staff submitted its recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2015, which assumes a three and one-half percent tax increase over last year’s rates. A series of hearings is scheduled over the next several weeks to discuss the proposed budget prior to the approval of a final version in June. McLaughlin encouraged public participation, commenting on traditionally low attendance during the process, even though establishing a budget is among the most important functions of the council.

Howington prompted a brief discussion on the city’s new arrangement with Waste Management when she remarked on educational efforts to help make residents aware of the different trash and recycling protocols that will be implemented later in the year. Some Council members continue to receive pushback on the size of the two city-supplied carts that households will be expected to use. Recognizing this concern, Leonard said, “We have the cart before the horse; we should have done our homework [before signing a new agreement].” As for residents wanting smaller bins, Mayor Henry F. Winthrop said, “We will be as flexible as necessary within the confines of the contract.”

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