2015-04-02 / Front Page

AIPC Seeks New Director

By Olga Enger

A planning body that works to build consensus across Aquidneck Island will soon be looking for a new director.

Since the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission’s (AIPC) executive director Tina Dolen stepped down last July, the organization has not rushed to fill the position. Dolen, who had been with AIPC for a decade, accepted a position as executive director of the Newport Tree Society.

“We wanted to take a look at what AIPC could be on the island," explained Sarah Atkins, the interim executive director. “We have been very internally focused lately.”

In 2014, while still under Dolen’s leadership, the AIPC utilized a van Beuren Charitable Foundation grant to hire a Massachusettsbased consulting company, Third Sector New England, to help develop a strategic plan.

At the end of the six month process, the group hopes to make three critical determinations: the AIPC’s future role on Aquidneck Island, funding options, and the skill set of the future executive director.

Atkins expects to start looking for a new director within a few months.

“I’d like to start looking soon, because the issues that we face are so very urgent,” said Atkins. “We hope to find someone local. I believe we should be able to find somebody within the state.” She added it is important for the individual to understand the stakeholders as well as the challenges of the communities.

The new director will be the first change in leadership the AIPC has seen in a decade. Established in 1985, the AIPC has worked in concert with the three island municipalities as well as Naval Station Newport to study issues that span borders, such as land use, water quality, transportation and technology.

One recent change that has injected energy into the AIPC is a new board structure. The new 12-member board has doubled in size and is made up of a wider range of skill sets than previous years, explained Atkins. The new structure has four members from each community, with experience ranging from engineering to transportation.

“We did extensive outreach to the community to generate interest, and we also reached out to community members individually,” said Atkins about the selection process. “They are very involved. They have met a dozen times since September.”

The board is currently prioritizing the issues that the group will focus on in the near future. Atkins said that sea level rise, broadband and transportation appear to be on the top of the list.

Each community allocates $18,000 annually to the AIPC, and that amount will not change under the new structure. In fact, according to Atkins, the communities receive a healthy return on their investment. Since 2004, the AIPC has brought in around $3 million of charitable grants that were spent on research projects that benefit the island.

Atkins is no stranger to government or the local community, which has been her home for six years. She is the sister of U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and moved to Newport from Washington D.C. to be closer to her family. She also works part time for Newport’s Economic Development Office, where she would like to eventually focus her efforts.

“I am technically parttime [at AIPC], but there is a lot of work to do, so I end up working a lot more than that,” Atkins laughed. The lean organization only has one other part-time employee, Allison Mc- Nally, who moved to Newport from Virginia in 2005.

“The energy of the new board is a result of Tina’s and Sarah’s efforts,” McNally commented.

Despite the intense strategic planning process, the AIPC is still making progress on their internal projects. A proposal for the Aquidneck Island Bikeway will be presented to the Portsmouth Town Council in the near future.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” said Atkins about the organizational remake. “The AIPC will emerge stronger, more diverse and visible.”

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