The Block Island Times

Gun control sparks debate at council meeting

Council tables the issue after residents oppose resolution
By Stephanie Turaj | Mar 13, 2013

A resolution drafted by a Block Island resident asking for an assault weapons ban resulted in a contentious debate at Monday’s council meeting, with opposing residents referencing their Second Amendment rights.

The resolution, drafted by resident Socha Cohen, stated: “Let it be resolved that ownership of assault weapons be banned from use by the private citizens of our nation.”

Cohen requested the council adopt the resolution and forward it to state and federal legislature. She said in a letter to the council that the purpose of her resolution was to reduce or eliminate the “unnecessary massacres of innocent civilians,” such as the elementary school shooting that occurred in Newtown, Conn., this past December.

About a dozen people at the meeting disagreed with the proposal and the council took no action at this time, and voted to table the issue to a future meeting.

“I draw a lot of safety in knowing that our guns are not going to be taken away,” said audience member Rich Tretheway.

“Don’t send one [a resolution] that makes it sound like almost every single person on Block Island is in accord with your idea,” said audience member Everett Littlefield. “It’s a misrepresentation of how many of us feel.”

The council itself did not have a clear consensus — councilors Sean McGarry and Norris Pike said they personally support an assault weapons ban. However, Second Warden Ken Lacoste did not agree with such a ban.

“You’re confused with what you’re referring to as assault weapons,” he said as the council debated to arrive at a clear definition.

“If we can’t even define the problem or resolution, how do we take action,” said councilor Chris Warfel.

McGarry also said that there should be greater focus on the nation’s mental illness healthcare, and Lacoste agreed. First Warden Kim Gaffett said that the town has sent a yearly donation to the nonprofit South Shore Mental Health.

Socha Cohen, who was in the audience, remained silent until the public voiced its opinions. Then, she stood up to suggest that — considering the opposition — the council not pass her proposed resolution.

“I don’t see a point in sending something on that is not being supported by the citizens,” said Cohen. “My goal was to have conversation, a dialogue started.”

The council also considered passing a second resolution, adapted from the Newport, R.I., City Council’s resolution. This resolution did not use the term “assault weapon,” and instead called for “open dialogue,” about gun safety and mental illness.

Audience member Chris Blane said that the council should read the Newport resolution more carefully. “At the end of the day, it supports going forward on legislative efforts,” he said. “Most of the people that spoke in this room tonight are telling you that’s not the way they feel.”

Possible taxpayer participation in sewer repairs

Sewer Commission Chair Peter McNerney presented a request to the town council, explaining that the town’s aging sewer system — installed in the 1970s — may need an estimated $3 million worth of repairs and upgrades.

He requested that the town’s taxpayers contribute in some way to the sewer system improvements, perhaps by re-instating a sewer assessment tax that had been used in the past. However, the Town Council had many questions that McNerney could not answer at the council meeting, and he was the only member of the Sewer Commission present.

The council agreed to have a joint meeting with the Sewer Commission to discuss the proposed repairs, and how and if the town’s taxpayers would contribute.

Council weighs in on wastewater act

The council also voted not to support a state act, titled “H5425,” which has been introduced to the Rhode Island General Assembly and that would prevent the island from setting its own standards for wastewater management review.

“If this act becomes law, it will negate what the Town has been working so hard for, the protection of our sole source aquifer,” wrote Town Wastewater Management Inspector Don Thimble in a letter to the Town Council.

Public Input

Audience member Chris Blane mentioned an article that appeared in the Providence Journal about feral cat populations in Rhode Island and suggested that the Town Council address Block Island’s feral cat population.


The council requested that the Electric Utility Task Group look into a filing by the Block Island Power Company (BIPCo). The power company has filed with the R.I. Public Utilities Commission, asking to extend BIPCo’s net metering policy.

Net metering is an electricity policy for customers who produce energy (for example, a privately-owned wind turbine). A customer is credited for generating electricity.

Also, the council moved to re-appoint three members to the Board of Canvassers: Marguerite Donnelly, Margaret Montgomery and Lisa Nolan.

Ardys Filippone has resigned from the Shellfish Commission. There is now an opening on the Shellfish Commission and an opening on the Senior Advisory Committee.

The council appealed a decision to revoke Robert Gilpin’s private mooring. Gilpin had received a notice that his private mooring would be revoked because he did not pay mooring fees by the December deadline. At this meeting, he council voted that Gilpin must pay the fee by April 1 to keep his mooring.

The council voted to allow Adrian Pearce to store his uninhabited 1988 Toyota Winnebago on his grandmother’s property for the next six months. It has been up for sale, but he has not successfully sold it. He had been storing the RV there for about a year now, and must come to the council asking for approval to store it every six months.

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