Town Council: Les Slate
With his legs rested up on the sills of his front porch, Les Slate (I) sits reclined in a chair, a cat in his lap and another frolicking at his feet. He motions to a bunch of bric-a-brac lying on the outdoor table, then looks out to the intersection beyond his front yard, where he can see the bustling activities of the town, and says: “This is my office.”
Slate refers to himself as an “island son,” having been raised on-island and held many roles here through the years. From Boy Scout to construction worker to road crew worker to cab driver, Slate says he really knows this town and its issues, and that’s why he’s running for Town Council.
“I think we need someone more in touch with the common man on the street,” he suggests. “It doesn’t get any more common than me. And I’m not going to change if I get on the Town Council.”
Changing the town, reducing the school budget
But there are some things he wants to change if he’s elected to the council, starting with possibly rewording some of the Town Charter. “There seems to be too many shady things going on,” at the current council, he said. He suggests restructuring the charter to reduce the power of the Town Manager, to start with. And, he thinks there needs to be term limits for council members, creating space for new talent to come on to the council more often.
Slate, who attended the Block Island School about 40 years ago and has watched its costs nearly triple since then, also thinks the school budget is out of hand. “No one can explain to me why it’s so much,” he said.
He’s therefore in favor of closely looking at the budget and cutting unnecessary lines. While he recognizes that state mandates place some requirements on the school, he also thinks both the size of the building and the amount of faculty are not needed, especially since the number of students has remained fairly constant over the years.
With some of the same money that now goes to the school, Slate has other priorities, such as adding streetlights and sidewalks. As a cab driver, he especially knows the dangers of the dark streets overrun with walkers and bikers. He even said at the last Candidate’s Debate that he avoids cabbing at night because he feels it's too unsafe.
“When you sit on this front porch, it’s dark at night,” he said. “Lights probably could have saved that guy's life on Chapel Street,” referring to a pedestrian who was struck by a car and killed in the past. He says that LED lights might help in town, and that there should be a sidewalk from the Narragansett Inn to Champlin’s Marina.
And to bring more money into the town itself, Slate wants to help out the businesses, and repeats a thought he proposed at the Candidate’s Debate in early October: He wants to build a pier off the island to catch the larger cruise ships that currently steam right past the little island. “They stop in Newport, so what about us?” he said, especially noting that the ships could provide more business in the island’s shoulder seasons.
Overall, he thinks the town makes things too difficult for island businesses. For example, he thinks compromise is called for over Champlin’s Marina's quest to grow. If not the full expansion Champlin’s asked for, Slate said, the town could “give them some expansion of the docks.”
Deepwater Wind and green energy
In regards to Deepwater’s offshore windfarm proposal, Slate said he’s actually completely changed his initial thoughts on it; once an opponent, he’s now largely for it.
What happened to change his mind? Slate’s willing to listen and learn, as he said the viewpoint shift came mostly after conversations with Deepwater Wind island liaison Bryan Wilson.
Even though he still doesn’t fully trust the company — he explained he drove a couple employees before in his cab, and they seemed like “scam artists” — he recognizes that Deepwater is currently the best bet for bringing in an electric mainland cable to Block Island, something he believes should have been done years ago.
But a cable isn’t the only way Slate thinks electricity costs should be cut. He describes himself as “pro green energy.” Not land-based turbines, as the island’s too small for that, he says, but more in the light of solar power and geothermal energy, especially as solar begins to lower in cost. He sends a nod out to island resident Rick Batchelder, whose windmill and solar panels heat his hot water.
“It could be enough to heat the whole school up,” Slate suggested.
Deer and conservation
In Slate’s view, the deer should have never been introduced to the island in the first place, and he supports full eradication of the deer. He knows many island residents feel the same, and says he’s willing to bet many residents would be willing to donate to bring in more hunters and trappers.
“I’d chip in for it,” he said. And if people are seeking a more humane solution, he suggested even trapping the deer and transporting them to the mainland.
Slate also serves as a member of the Conservation Commission, and he believes more should be done as far as conserving the land. Martha’s Vineyard’s Conservation Commission, he gives as an example, has more power than Block Island’s and therefore more power to do things such as keeping banks from eroding.
But it seems, in a way, like the island has been pretty well conserved. “The feel of the island hasn’t changed,” he said. Although, he notes with a laugh, there are new residents coming over that seem to think 20 to 30 years on-island means they’re an “islander.”
“That’s a good thing, though,” he said, acknowledging all they’ve given back to the island over their years here. But this true “islander” has his own perspective to bring to the council table.
It's a perspective brought on by a life on the island, and many years watching things happen here. A friend drives by while the Times is talking with Slate, and the friend yells out to Slate "Hey, do you have permission to sit on that porch?" Slate laughs, and then tells the Times that there have been jokes of creating a collage using photos of him sitting out here.
Yet, Slate's answers in this month’s Candidate’s Forum were short, and he explains this is on purpose: “So much can be accomplished with just common sense. There’s no need to get all these lawyers involved.”