2014-12-31 / Front Page

Napolitano Turns Page to 2015

By Barry Bridges

It’s safe to say that the last year was a tempestuous one on the Newport municipal front. The divisive casino referendum, victualing licenses at The Elms and Marble House, the Yachting Center sale, the city manager’s resignation, and the election were among the items that kept city councilors on their toes in 2014.

Against this backdrop and as the calendar ushers in January, newlyinstalled Newport Mayor Jeanne- Marie Napolitano commented to Newport This Week on her priorities for the upcoming year. Selected by her peers for a second term as mayor and chair of the council, Napolitano reiterated some of the themes that she emphasized during her fall campaign, while also outlining additional objectives.

With the end of a two-year council cycle that sometimes revealed conflicting personalities, Napolitano looks forward to working with the different dynamics of the new panel. “Individually and collectively, this is the best council we’ve had in years,” she remarked. “It is well rounded, with everyone having their own goals and expertise.”

“Administratively, we’re going to improve our communications with the public,” she said. Much of this effort will center on Engage Newport, a website launched by former City Manager Jane Howington. The site notes that it is “an extension of the official City of Newport website which encourages residents to share, get involved, and voice their opinion on city-wide projects and plans.”

Napolitano explained, “Engage Newport puts forth a wealth of information in a very engaging way, and more and more residents are starting to visit the site.” She also hopes that it will soon link to Newport’s neighborhood associations. “This would be extremely useful to people, particularly where an issue is impacting a certain neighborhood.”

Additionally, the mayor anticipates moving forward with a new strategic plan for the city, consistent with the dictates of ยง 9-1 of the City Charter. “We need a plan that is defined, encompassing, and involves the input of citizens,” said Napolitano. “Although future councils would not be obligated to do anything, we need to establish both immediate and long-term goals.”

Returning to a theme that she highlighted during the election, Napolitano intends to lead the charge in making needed infrastructure upgrades. She praised work initiated by Councilor Naomi Neville to make high-speed fiber optic Internet service more readily available to all residents. “Particularly in southern parts of Newport, there may be connectivity problems at times. We would really like to get some resolution to this. The fiber optic line is already in place, but the issue is one of access. The priority has been to get the city government and schools hooked up, but we’re finding a way to bring it to residents and businesses as well,” the mayor said.

Napolitano also empathizes with those impacted by the seemingly unending construction project and accompanying rough ride on Broadway. “I just want to get it done,” she stated. “We’ve tried to accommodate the restaurants on Broadway, but we have to be mindful of the other businesses there as well. They’ve suffered enough and it’s time to move things forward.”

Although the federal budget made its way through Congress, Napolitano says there’s always the chance that Broadway funding could be further delayed; but she is brainstorming possible solutions if they are needed, such as expediting the work during nighttime hours and possibly using city monies that would later be reimbursed when federal dollars finally begin to flow. She remains enthusiastic about the final result. “The Broadway Streetscape Project will make such a big difference along one of the main entrances to Newport. It will create a better road, better sidewalks, and bike lanes, all consistent with the Complete Streets concept.” Updating crosswalk visibility around the city is also on the mayor’s agenda.

In broader terms, Napolitano wants to “continue the vibrancy of the city” through job creation and a continuing focus on education. “Newport is so eclectic, from museums to historic houses and new homes and thriving businesses. We have to protect our city by creating job opportunities, especially for young people, so that families can afford to stay here. Many of them don’t right now.”

One aspect of bringing families to Newport and keeping them here involves continuing support for schools, she said. “By and large, I see major improvements at Pell as a result of everyone being under one roof.” She also pointed to accomplishments at Thompson and Rogers. While the schools are under constant budgetary pressures, she acknowledged the need to stay within the city’s financial means and praised the “expert department heads” who have seen notable successes in obtaining grant money for various purposes.

“Part of our success depends on thinking from a more statewide or island-wide perspective to be where we need to be, like the fiber optic initiative,” Napolitano observed. “We sometimes need a bigger mass.”

Napolitano continues to be excited by the untapped possibilities of the North End. “Right now, the area is zoned for commercial and industrial use, but we might want to change some of that to accommodate different uses. We have an opportunity to plan it out, and, particularly if we can change the access road to the Pell Bridge, that would free up many acres for large scale parking, relocating the visitor’s center, or a whole host of things.”

The mayor mentioned a practical difference between her current term and her previous one that began in 2008 – the slowly improving economy. “Now we can hopefully have a little more financial flexibility to accomplish things,” she concluded.

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