Leadership, not score-settling needed to implement town improvement projects

Leadership, not score-settling needed to implement town improvement projects

It’s just my opinion, but it seems that this kerfuffle with the town improvement projects is more about political score-settling between various factions in town than it is with any insurmountable challenges of implementing the plans as approved by voters.

I get that I picked up some vocal adversaries in the course of my own service on the Town Council. Making difficult decisions and standing up to some who would fleece the taxpayer in the name of fiefdom-building will do that. So be it – that’s life “in the arena.”

Following my term on the Town Council (2012-2014), the 2014-2016 Town Council appointed me to serve on the now-former Public Buildings Improvement Commission to help oversee implementation of plans that were vetted in public over 18 months and that voters approved in 2014.

It’s unfortunate for residents that these important projects continue to be delayed (and likely changed from what they approved) while construction costs and interest rates continue to go up.

Since the 2016 election and change of leadership, there have been many misleading statements made to justify a “new direction” and to impugn the work of the previous committee. The two most prominent arguments seem to be that the projects were never properly funded in the first place and that we have a set of construction documents fraught with problems. I beg to differ on both counts.

There was never any question that it would be a challenge to undertake all the town’s most pressing needs within a $12M budget - that was the maximum borrowing level recommended by the town’s independent fiscal advisor.

The building project committee worked with two separate architects to develop modest plans that were within the town’s means, that would address seriously deteriorating building conditions and that would consolidate all town and school administration offices in a restored Kendall-Dean, while making improvements to expanded space for the police department in the Bushee School.

It’s true that construction bids came in over budget in October 2016. However, the difference in amount was manageable and the now-former committee planned to recommend modifications to the bid specs and then go back out to bid in order to get the job done within the town’s budget.

Within days of taking office and with no substantiated facts, newly elected leadership was pledging to disband the committee and replace it with a new group (including some former adversaries) to “fix” the problem. The Town Council refused repeated requests to meet publicly with the committee to discuss its recommended re-bid proposal. In my opinion, their minds were made up, they’d chosen a new path and didn’t want to hear a case for staying the course.

The state of the town’s infrastructure has been neglected for many decades. Dealing with the town’s pressing immediate needs and bringing its facilities into a state of good repair while also planning for the future is going to require patience, sacrifice and real leadership, not score-settling.

John Flaherty

North Smithfield