The Block Island Times
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Featured Letter: Herm Mast responds to Councilor Chris Warfel

Oct 28, 2013

To the Editor:

I hope that your readers gave Councilor Warfel’s Oct. 12, 2013 “Featured Letter” a close reading. It revealed qualities that have become hallmarks of his public discourse since taking office; namely, unsubstantiated, vaguely sinister condemnations by innuendo of the conduct of Town business. Thus, in the Oct. 12 letter, the Town Hall is portrayed as riddled with “problems” and “finger pointing” at the vortex of which is yours truly, an absentee, slacker Project Manager, who cadged some town funds under the guise of volunteerism.

Now, I cannot fathom exactly what prompts such pettifoggery, but by turns I’ve concluded that it could be malfeasance, or perhaps lack-of-feasance, or maybe the Councilor simply has come down with a little touch of McCarthyism. Whatever his motivations, his strategy is unmistakable: if he can discredit the efforts of those whom the Town Manager/Public Works Director called upon to help steer the project (i.e., the Town Hall Building Committee: Amy Land, Marc Tillson, Don Thimble, John Hopf, Frank Roldan, and especially its Chair, Herman Mast), that might strengthen his case for showing the Town Manager the door. (Your readers may find it strange — as I did when I recently polled all Building Committee members who continue to live here — that Councilor Warfel apparently has never discussed the trajectory of the Town Hall project with any of them.)

So I now join the growing ranks of those who must defend their best efforts for the Town, hoping to disabuse Councilor Warfel of his prejudices — or, failing that, to at least set the public record aright. Here are some essential facts about the building itself:

The total budget for the Town Hall was $2.5 million ($750,000 bonding authorized in 2002; $1,350,000 bonding and a $400,000 draw from general fund reserves authorized in 2006).

At the 2006 Town Financial Meeting, on behalf of the Building Committee, I pledged that we would bend every effort to complete the building on or below budget; we delivered on that promise, and in 2012, $46,231 in residual contingency funds were released from the Town Hall construction budget to dredging at Old Harbor.

Shortly after the building was occupied in the Spring, 2007, the Rhode Island State Building Commissioner, Jack Leyden, toured the building, declaring it “one of the very best designed and constructed public structures I have examined statewide.”

The Town Hall is arguably the only town structure which currently functions at a reasonable level of energy efficiency. In Fiscal Year 2011, expenditures for heating oil were $6,140 and for electricity $19,889; in FY 2012, they were $6,472 and $23,466; and for FY 2013, they were $6,571 and $21,929 respectively. During those same fiscal years, the Block Island School consumed roughly 10 times more fuel oil and six times more electricity. Naturally the two facilities are scarcely comparable because they differ so much in physical size, function, and numbers of clientele. But comparison is beside my point here. Instead, I urge readers to keep in mind that careful scrutiny throughout planning/building is an indispensable component of efficiency, and that it’s no coincidence that the Town Hall is easy on energy. Rather, it is a result of the Building Committee keeping its eyes on the prize, and exercising imaginative stewardship of the Island’s municipal future. Solar panels were one of many, many such choices. When federal funds became available for a solar installation, the Building Committee did not hesitate to commit $29,000 of unspent contingency funds for the Town’s share of solar collection. Electrical savings at the Town Hall are on the verge of equaling the community’s investment, and we can look forward to years of municipal savings.

Meanwhile, here are several particulars about my project management:

Because the Masts believe that public service is both an essential component of one’s humanity and an essentially private matter, I am loath to tally my time spent on the Town Hall project. In this poisoned climate, however, I feel compelled to account. Between 2005 and 2013, my conservative estimate of involvement is more than 3,000 hours.

When I agreed to be Project Manager, I did so under specific terms agreed upon from the beginning. My salary was to be $1.00. Because I was living on the island only about seven months yearly, however, I requested an allocation for periodic travel from California to the island in order to maintain supervision of the build, and also to participate in policy decisions face-to-face in our Building Committee. The Town Manager and the Building Committee budgeted $5,000 maximum for travel and heavy cellphone usage. For my seven, week-long trips to the island between November 2005 and February 2008, I was reimbursed a total of $4,243.42, the receipts for which are public record. I believe that all principals concerned were comfortable with this arrangement for the following reasons. The builder, Misty Mountain Construction, had demonstrated consistent integrity on the jobsite. Furthermore, the builder and I had detailed daily telephone conversations as the project progressed. Also, in my absence, I could (and did!) rely on the New Shoreham Building Official, Marc Tillson, for back up — so that consistent attention was paid to the build. In my travels, I tried always to conserve taxpayer dollars — utilizing the cheapest red-eye flights, staying with island families to avoid room and board charges, and so on.

My grandmother, who was no stranger to civic betterment in a small Midwestern farm town, stressed the importance of giving her neighbors “value received” when spending municipal dollars. She also was fond of saying that “A clear conscience makes the softest pillow!” I sleep soundly knowing that the Town Hall provides a wholesome, safe, and proper venue for Town employees and for conducting community affairs.

I trust that when Councilor Warfel has got several thousand more hours of public service under his belt, he’ll be able to embrace a more generous view of attempts to contribute to the public good.

Herm Mast

End of the Laneway

Corn Neck Road

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