North Kingstown voters will be faced with a series of local questions on the ballot this November, including how many members should serve on the North Kingstown School Committee.
On Monday night, the North Kingstown Town Council approved several changes to be voted on this election, following a . Among the changes is a proposal to decrease the number of school committee members from seven to five; to institute term limits for elected officials in town and those appointed to boards, committees and commissions and to give the town manager free rein to hire department heads.
The majority of the discussion was devoted to the size reduction of the school committee, with the council opinion split on the issue. Councilor Carol Hueston favored the current configuration of seven members while Chuck Brennan pointed to the benefits of five.
“I’m looking at this as an opportunity for the voters to fix the problems on the committee and creating a five-member committee could achieve consensus and be a better working committee,” said Brennan, who was confident that voters would approve the change.
According to the Charter Review Commission’s research of other municipalities across the state, 16 communities have seven members (including South Kingstown, East Greenwich and Portsmouth) while 14 have five (including Barrington, Narragansett and Coventry). The majority of the commission favored the current configuration and recommended against reducing the number of members.
During public comment, three members of the North Kingstown School Committee took to the microphone to speak against the proposed reduction, including Vice Chair Richard Welch, Lynda Avanzato and John Boscardin.
“The makeup of our committee is very diverse and quite frankly it’s needed because of the range of issues we handle,” said Welch.
Boscardin added that decreasing the number of members would also make it more difficult to fill spots on the school board’s subcommittee’s – a task that is already difficult to accomplish. Additionally, Boscardin warned that a smaller committee wouldn’t necessarily result in a consensus.
“If you were to reduce it to five, you very well could get a group of five with two people who are not cooperative, similar to what you have now,” said Boscardin. “A smaller number does not mean a consensus.”
The measure passed the council 3-2, with Hueston and Council President Elizabeth Dolan dissenting – mirroring an earlier motion to authorize the town manager to appoint department heads. (Both Dolan and Hueston voted in opposition to that measure.)
Ed Cooney, a former member of the council, told members of the council that this change would be a “big mistake.”
“If you pass this, this could change the character of North Kingstown,” said Cooney.
Michael Bestwick favored the motion, citing that numerous municipalities follow this model.
On the topic of term limits, the council unanimously approved a question to institute at 12-year limit, similar to the restrictions imposed on elected officials in East Greenwich. Elected officials or appointees to committees/boards/commissions would not be able to serve for more than 12 consecutive years – unless an exception is made by the council. Additionally, they could not be reelected/reappointed to that body for two consecutive years thereafter. Most cities and towns do not impose term limits, according to the commission’s findings.
These questions will be put before voters at the general election on Nov. 6.