The Block Island Times

Contention over statue of Rebecca

And more contention over Dodge’s salary
By Stephanie Turaj | Jan 13, 2014
Photo by: Bruce Montgomery The old Rebecca, as she stands now at the Dulac and Veldman residence.

For about 13 years, it seemed that no one was interested in caring for the old Statue of Rebecca, which had been sitting in the Block Island Power Company (BIPCo), after a new statue was re-conditioned and placed in the center of town.

But after a photo of the old Rebecca, which is now outside at a private residence, ran last week in The Block Island Times, several people called the Block Island Historical Society, asking if the statue could be recovered by the society. It has been in the care of Seth Dulac and Jess Veldman for the past seven months or so.

This is what Historical Society President Pam Gasner said when she approached the Town Council at a Wednesday, Jan. 8 meeting, asking if she can place the statue in the Historical Society.

But the forthcoming answer was complicated, as BIPCo co-owner Cliff McGinnes, Sr. said he had already given Rebecca to Dulac and Veldman.

“I tried to find a home for it, but no one wanted it, including Town Hall,” said McGinnes. “It was sitting in the power company collecting dust, and at one point its arm was fractured. A while back we were cleaning up the power company, and I gifted it to Seth [Dulac] and Jess [Veldman].”

Members of the Town Council and Town Manager Nancy Dodge contended that McGinnes did not have a right to gift the statue to anyone, as it was town property.

However, it became clear that Dulac and Veldman had invested significant time and money in repairing Rebecca, including its broken arm, and Dulac said he was not ready to give the statue up.

“I think the town appreciates the care you have given her,” said Town Councilor Norris Pike, “But the right thing to do is send it to the historical society.”

Pike suggested that there be a plaque installed with the statue to describe the work Dulac and Veldman have put into it.

The council agreed to give Dulac some time to consider what he wants to do with the statue, and will revisit the topic at a future meeting.

Meeting with recreation board

At the Jan. 8 meeting, members of the recreation board met with the Town Council to discuss updating the recreation board’s charge and mission statement.

First Warden Kim Gaffett went line-by-line through the Recreation Board’s mission statement, and board member Chris Willi responded to each point. Some of the tasks of the board include: advising the Town Council on the board’s budget, maintaining the island’s parks, and helping with event scheduling and program development.

With this feedback, Gaffett said she will draft a new mission statement that the board will then review.

The two groups also discussed how the Recreation Board could promote its programs. Recreation Director Robbie Closter said that in the past he sent a flier in the mail describing recreation and other community events, but he said this became too expensive.

Board members made a request to use social media such as Facebook for promotion. The council agreed to develop a policy allowing the board to do so.

Also, Councilor Chris Warfel asked the Recreation Department to plan more activities for island residents and adults. Many current programs include school recreation and triathlon races.

“The largest payers into the Rec. Department budget are the taxpayers, and they’re getting the least personal benefit from it,” said Warfel. “There are sometimes that it’s not all about bottom-line profit, but more about providing opportunity for the older people on the island to just do something different, even if it’s just indoor Wiffleball. I understand there’s a cost for supervision of these events, but I’d like to see some more programs like this.”

Discussion about Town Manager

One item on the agenda “Receive report from Councilman Warfel re: Washington County Regional Planning Council Legislative Breakfast,” prompted Councilor Chris Warfel to bring up the topic of Town Manager Nancy Dodge’s previous pay increase.

Warfel acts as the Town Council representative for the Washington County Regional Planning Council (WCRPC), a local organization that represents the towns in Washington County. The WCRPC had discussed what laws should be proposed during this legislative session.

Warfel connected one WCRPC proposal with a past Town Council discussion, that occurred when the council was reviewing Dodge’s job performance. At that time, Warfel claimed Dodge received a pay increase when her contract with the town had expired, and this was not proper procedure. Dodge disagreed, arguing that her pay increase was voted by the town voters during budget season.

At the Jan. 8 meeting, Warfel again called this pay increase “illegal” and said he had discussed the situation with members of the WCRPC.

Dodge disagreed that the situation was “illegal,” and also took issue with the fact that it was discussed outside the Town Council.

“We already had this discussion, and it was a painful discussion,” said Dodge. “You [Warfel] don’t agree with the rest of the council; you’re in the minority. Let it go.”

Warfel disagreed, “It’s about our process not being good.”

First Warden Kim Gaffett noted, “I don’t think we should be debating this,” but she took no action to stop the conversation.

Instead, Warfel motioned to have a “professional legal opinion on whether or not a pay increase can be given to someone [a town employee] whose contract is expired.”

Second Warden Ken Lacoste seconded the motion for “purpose of discussion.” The motion failed in a 1-4 vote. Warfel was the only aye vote.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Suzanne D Cotter | Jan 13, 2014 11:52

First of all, I am basing my comments on what I have just read, since I don't get to the Island but once a year now, for two weeks, much to my dismay!!  But, I grew up coming summers to Block Island for 45 years, so it is ingrained in my soul!!  I just don't understand how Mr. McGinnes comes off  "gifting"  property to people of his choosing, that wasn't his to "gift", but was being stored at BIPCO until she (Rebecca) was either going into the Town Hall or back on her pedestal (not remembering exactly which at this point!).  My suggestion would be to at least reimburse Dulac & Veldman for their expenses, after which, since they are in possession of property that is not rightfully theirs, they should be most willing to send it on to the Historical Society.  She (Rebecca) seems to be sitting outside rusting in the elements and having no care at this point in time anyway.  I am betting that, given a little of the right publicity, there are those that would be very willing to donate towards Rebecca's upkeep!!!!  She was such a memorable part of Block Island and should not be left to rot in someone's back (or front - whichever) yard!!

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