Dodge contract renewed
In a unanimous 5-0 vote, the Town Council decided to keep Town Manager Nancy Dodge in her role as Town Manager.
Councilors did not decide on the specifics of Dodge’s contract at a Wednesday, Aug. 28 meeting. The next step, said councilors, is to discuss the terms of the contract in a future meeting.
“[The motion is] to renew a contract, not to extend her current contract,” said First Warden Kim Gaffett. Councilor Chris Warfel added that an option for the council could be to completely rewrite the town manager contract.
Warfel also advocated for the next discussion to be in closed session. However, Nancy Dodge told The Block Island Times the following day that there is no reason to go into closed session and this meeting would be held in open session.
One audience member, who declined to give his name to The Block Island Times, stood up at the end of the meeting and asked for future discussions to be held in the open.
“It’s been healthy to have to see the councilors think in public,” said the audience member. “This is a topic of important community interest. It should not be held behind closed doors.”
The council has been debating Dodge’s job performance since June 27. Previously, Dodge received mixed reviews from the council. Two councilors, Sean McGarry and Chris Warfel, have been critical of Dodge. Councilor Norris Pike gave Dodge a highly favorable review, First Warden Kim Gaffett rated her favorably and Second Warden Ken Lacoste gave Dodge an average rating.
Despite the low rankings from Warfel and McGarry, they did not give their reasons for voting to keep Nancy Dodge during the meeting, but both elaborated the following day.
McGarry told The Block Island Times that he never intended to remove Nancy Dodge from her post as town manager, but that the terms of her contract should be a topic of discussion. “We’re going to meet at a future time to talk about terms, and all sorts of conditions to draw recognition to our areas of concern,” he said. “I think everybody wants to move forward.”
Warfel told The Block Island Times that he hopes renewing Dodge’s contract will serve as a “transition period” to search for a new town manager. “Nobody has ever said that Nancy should be terminated immediately,” he said. “My vote is to basically recognize that I’m going to advocate for a transition period.” By this, he said that he hopes there will be a search committee formed to find a new town manager.
Lacoste also told The Times that, while he had said in last year’s election campaign that there would be a call for a new Town Manager, he said he “was referring to the fact that I knew at some point she was going to either retire or quit. I sort of had a feeling that this discussion was going to happen.” He said his intention was also not to remove Dodge from the position.
The vote to renew Dodge’s contract was taken after an amendment to this motion failed in a 1-4 vote. Lacoste motioned to amend renewing Dodge’s contract with the following specifications: a one-year term with a review after the first year, the council reviewing all bid proposals, hiring a new public works director, and goal-setting with regular reviews in areas of Dodge’s performance that may need improvement (personnel administration, public relations, staff development and intergovernmental coordination).
“I’d like to be more specific,” Lacoste said about his reasoning for the amendment. He was the only one who voted for it, as other councilors did not agree with certain parts of it, or felt that this discussion was better left to another meeting.
“I will say that I understand where Ken is going,” said Gaffett. “It’s not the procedure I disagree with, it’s some of the statements. I don’t feel that improvement is needed in all those areas.”
Council supports grant application
Previous to the discussion about Dodge, which took around 10 minutes and almost 70 people showed up to witness, there was about an hour-long conversation about an application for a renewable energy grant.
Councilor Chris Warfel, speaking in his role as president of renewable energy company Entech Engineering, said he is applying for a federal grant and would like the council to write a letter supporting his application.
This agenda item was originally scheduled after the Dodge discussion, but Warfel motioned to move his discussion first, stating that he didn’t think it would take too long and it would be important for the many audience members to hear the discussion. This motion passed 2-3, with Pike and Gaffett opposed.
But as the discussion lasted to almost an hour, island resident Richard Weisbroat said that it was “inconsiderate” to the many audience members who attended to hear the Nancy Dodge discussion. His comment was followed by applause from the audience and several murmurs of “I agree.”
The council and audience had many questions from Warfel about his grant. Warfel is applying for federal money that would allow him to do multiple projects. The projects include installing low-energy lighting in town buildings and optimizing low-income residencies and local farms for better energy efficiency. In addition, Warfel proposed installing solar electric systems in town buildings, and then selling the energy from the solar panels to the power company at a cost lower than the current fuel rate. This would save island residents money on their electric bills, according to Warfel.
While First Warden Kim Gaffett expressed some concern that the town has not had a recent conversation with Warfel about his proposed projects, the council voted 3-1 to send a letter supporting Warfel’s grant application. McGarry was opposed and Warfel recused.