The Block Island Times
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Gary Ryan appointed to Town Council

By Stephanie Turaj | Jan 03, 2014

Island resident Gary Ryan is the new member of the New Shoreham Town Council, having been appointed by the council on Monday, Dec. 30.

“Who could say anything negative about Gary Ryan and walk out of here with a clear conscience?” remarked Councilor Norris Pike, a comment met with laughter, a testament to Ryan’s well-liked personality.

Pike motioned to appoint Ryan to a vacant seat on the Town Council, and the vote passed unanimously. However, before this vote, Councilor Chris Warfel had motioned to appoint Mark Emmanuelle to the position. Not receiving a second, the motion did not carry.

Ryan was not present at the meeting, (he was working at the Grocery Store) but when approached by The Block Island Times later, he said, “I’m certainly a little anxious. But my first reaction was, I feel like I have the trust of a lot of people. It’s going to be a new experience for me, but I’m going to be nothing but honest. I’m coming in with no agenda.”

There was a vacancy on the council because Councilor Sean McGarry resigned in November, after discovering he could not bid on new town contracts while in office or for one year after leaving office.

At the Monday meeting, McGarry endorsed Ryan for the position.

“Gary has been an outstanding member of this community” said McGarry. “I’m Chairman of the Democratic Town Committee and it’s my vacated seat that’s being filled. The committee voted unanimously to endorse Gary Ryan for the position. I asked [the council] when I presented my letter of resignation to seriously consider whom the committee wants to put forward.”

According to the town charter, the council appoints the new member to the vacant seat. Ryan will fill the role only until Dec. 2014 if he does not participate in the elections next November (or if he runs and loses the seat).

“I’ve been a supporter of Gary,” said First Warden Kim Gaffett. “I think he brings a fresh perspective, is willing to work with the council, and has a calm demeanor.”

Ryan said he expects to work well with the other four councilors.

“I certainly hope we can come together,” he said. “I’ve know all of them for many years.”

Discussion about the applicants

Five people expressed written interest in the councilor role: Gary Ryan, Howell Conant, Mark Emmanuelle, Allan MacKay and Les Slate. At the Monday meeting, the council discussed the qualifications of each before voting.

Chris Warfel said about Conant: “In the last election, I think there was a voter consensus that some changes were good. They voted for two people that turned out not to be the ‘typical’ Town Council people — Sean and I tried to create an atmosphere for constructive change. And I think Howell did run with that in mind.”

Conant had run for First Warden and lost to Kim Gaffett last November. Conant received 401 votes and Gaffett received 514 votes.

Norris Pike disagreed with Warfel. “I hear what Chris is saying, but we don’t need a lot of contention,” Pike said.

Warfel made similar comments about Emmanuelle.

“I don’t agree with Mark on a lot of issues... but I believe that he would be to the benefit of this council,” said Warfel. “I think there’s a great resistance in town to change, and I can’t understand why. I would like to be someone who is going to, as he said, ‘be a stone in the shoe.’”

Pike commented about Emmanuelle: “I like Mark, I just don’t want to get into a big scrap over a lot of issues.”

As for MacKay, several councilors also supported possibly appointing him.

“I think it’s a very difficult choice because there are two candidates I support, Allan and Gary,” said Gaffett. “[Allan] has certainly done a great job with a difficult situation serving on the Sewer and Water Commission.”

As for Les Slate, Gaffett commented that he has been running to be elected to the Town Council “a number of times.” She noted he serves on the Conservation Commission.

The council also expressed potential conflicts of interest a candidate may have. For example, Howell Conant has a contract with the Block Island Power Company. MacKay works as a subcontractor for Pike, and Slate and Pike are cousins. Pike said he would recuse from discussing or voting on either candidate.

Also, Ryan has two family members who are town employees (his wife Bonny works as a town clerk and son Jordan works for the Water Department). There was a brief discussion about how this would affect his role on the council, with a suggestion that he may have to recuse during votes about town employee benefits.

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