2014-10-16 / Front Page

City Panels Formed

By Barry Bridges

Following the Charter Review Commission’s work that prompted recent discourse about the role of Newport’s panels and boards, the City Council has expanded the municipal roster to include a Harbor Walk Commission (HWC) and a permanent Finance Review Committee (FRC).

Council members endorsed resolutions creating the two entities at their regular meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 8.

The HWC was originally proposed at the council’s Sept. 10 meeting and was introduced by Third Ward representative Kathryn Leonard. At that time, councilors discussed how it would differ from the existing Waterfront Commission and thought that the new panel’s duties and goals should be better outlined. By October, city staff had worked out more details on the plan and councilors gave the measure their unanimous support.

As described in the resolution, the commission’s task will be to “protect and expand public access on the shoreline and harbor fronts and to provide stewardship of the Newport Harbor Walk.”

“The new commission will continue the great work that has been done by Friends of the Waterfront for decades,” Leonard told Newport This Week. “Many years ago, Friends’ founder Mary Ferrazzoli kept seeing more and more of the waterfront being privately used and shut off. Thanks to this group, we now have 23 rights of way that are protected and designated with signage. The creation of the [HWC] grew from their membership’s desire to have the city offer additional help in their mission to preserve public access to the water.”

She added, “The Waterfront Commission has a different role, as it focuses more on what is in the water, such as moorings and docks.”

The seven-person panel will be drawn from members of Friends of the Waterfront, Clean Ocean Access, and the Waterfront Commission; from the general public; and from city staff.

The formation of the FRC is an extension of the temporary committee that was appointed last fall. That group wrapped up its work in May and presented City Council with 26 recommendations to strengthen the city’s bottom line. Among its ideas was to establish a standing FRC, which “could methodically and thoroughly explore many more opportunities and present proposals for City Council and, where appropriate, School Committee consideration on an ongoing basis. The FRC is too good an idea to be a one-time event.”

Adopting that viewpoint, Second Ward Councilor Justin McLaughlin said, “I think the council would benefit from a permanent entity to advise us.” He added that the recent FRC committee presented good ideas but that such work can’t be done overnight.

The resolution also provides that a subcommittee of the council will be appointed to work with city staff in crafting a more comprehensive charter to define the mission of the FRC.

Councilor Naomi Neville suggested an additional goal of working on a regional basis with other municipalities. “There is a lot of overlap where we could find fiscal savings,” she said.

Leonard thought that the FRC proposal needed a bit of fine-tuning before being implemented. “It’s a broad and important idea and we need a cross of people with different skills,” she said. She also hoped to see someone from the city’s Trusts and Investment Commission named to the new panel, to which Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano replied, “The TIC has a different role. Their mission with pensions and investments is a very different function.”

Councilor Michael Farley said, “I will support this, but I want people to be mindful of a few things as the FRC’s charter is put together. The elephant in the room is that the [previous] FRC put forth 26 recommendations and we have done nothing with them. The council has a lack of conviction. I hope issues will be put forth by FRC members who will fight for them.”

FRC designees will be appointed to four-year terms no later than Jan. 28. There will be seven to 11 members with backgrounds in fields such as banking, accounting, investment planning, municipal government, and public policy. In other business, the council:

. Directed the city manager to conduct a comprehensive review of the parking situation around Narragansett Avenue in light of the seasonal paid parking system instituted there and the recentlycompleted Cliff Walk restoration. Residents are concerned about cars spilling over onto nearby streets.

. Unanimously endorsed a resolution supporting Question 5, the Rhode Island Creative and Cultural Economy Bond. McLaughlin reported that the Newport Opera House in Washington Square is earmarked as a beneficiary and would qualify for up to $4.1 million in matching funds. “It will be a fantastic venue when it’s all done, and [Question 5] presents a tremendous opportunity to improve something right in the heart of Newport,” he said.

. Authorized city administration to proceed with an external recruitment process in hiring a permanent city manager. Interim City Manager Joseph Nicholson had earlier outlined the pros and cons of using professional recruiters versus city staff and recommended that an outside source be used. Upon the vote, Nicholson stated that the city will move forward with a request for proposals and hopes to have responses before the end of the month. By Nov. 12, council will have his suggestion on which firm is best suited to find his replacement.

. Received a gift from the Newport Garden Club, which will install a professionally-designed garden at the Newport Public Library to commemorate the club’s 100th anniversary. The group has already dedicated around $50,000 to the Centennial Reading Garden project and will raise additional funds to complete pathways, install historically appropriate lighting, and remove and bury overhead power lines.

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