2014-11-13 / Around Town

Middletown Councilors Select Leaders

By James Merolla

At an officially posted Middletown Town Council meeting on Sunday, Nov. 9, Robert Sylvia was unofficially chosen as the new council president with newcomer and top vote-getter Robert Kempenaar II named vice president.

The unusual, but not unprecedented, Sunday session was posted on Nov. 6, with the town councilelect stating the purpose as unofficially "discuss[ing] leadership, town council appointments and other matters related thereto.”

At the meeting, both Sylvia, who served as vice president of the former council, and Kempenaar were unanimously elected by their peers, although the results will not become official until the council’s regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday, Nov. 24.

Town Clerk Wendy Marshall said the votes taken on Nov. 9 will not take effect for 15 days, “when they are repeated during the inauguration.”

President-elect Sylvia said it was “not at all” unusual to hold such a special meeting. “This has been the case many times in the past,” he said. “Pursuant to our Town Charter, we have a defined number of days to certify the election, conduct the initial nominations, and prepare for the official swearing in.”

Returning council member Antone Viveiros said Sunday meetings have happened before.

“The meeting was called for ‘council organization’ purposes. When I served on the council from 2010-2012, a similar meeting was called on the Sunday following the election, for the same purpose,” said Viveiros. “It is customary to establish the leadership before the swearing-in. Councilors Sylvia and Kempenaar were unanimously elected to be president and vice president, respectively. There was strong consensus in support of this leadership team. The election will be formalized at the swearing-in, at our first meeting on Nov. 24.”

Of his selection, Sylvia said, “I am honored and humbled that my colleagues have chosen me to represent our great town as the next council president. I am looking forward to working with my fellow elected colleagues, our town administrator, and our town staff for the betterment of Middletown and its citizens.”

Sylvia added that it was not unusual for a political newcomer like Kempenaar to be named vice president.

“We have had newcomers on several occasions become the president. Mr. Kempenaar was the high vote-getter on Nov. 4, and has the qualifications and skill set to hold that position,” he said.

Kempenaar said he looks forward to the challenge. “I thought I would be more effective [with] Bob as president and myself in the supporting role, as Bob has many years of experience on the council. I was very humbled being the top votegetter,” said Kempenaar. “I look forward to working with Bob and the new council. I also would like to focus on the [future use of the] Navy land and the JFK aircraft carrier, bringing it back to make a museum for touring groups, to bring more tourism dollars to the island. I want to look to find new creative ideas to attract small business back to Aquidneck Island, which is a must.”

Council veteran Theresa Santos praised the selections. “They both will do well. When Mr. Kempenaar called me, he asked if I was interested in being vice chair, and I immediately said, ‘No.’ He will do fine.”

Sylvia said that Town Administrator Shawn Brown and his staff are in the process of drafting the agenda for the first official weekday meeting of the council on Nov. 24.

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