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July 13, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — Setting what Chairman Steve Lazo claimed was a "precedent," the Town Council rejected reappointing Rinaldo Bernardone to the Board of Health by a 4-4 tie vote.
"If we're going to set a precedent here, we'll have to go right down the line," he said, referring to the fact that several people sit on multiple boards in town.
Those who voted 'no' uniformly said they believed that can be a problem, although replacing those people could also be a problem. The first 'no' vote was from Catherine Nikolla, who described Bernardone as "a nice guy," but noted Bernardone also serves on another influential board.
"If Mr. Bernardone is on the Liquor License Board [which he chairs], I'd feel more comfortable having somebody else on this very powerful board," Nikolla said. Denise Clemence and David Livengood agreed.
The deciding vote, however, surprised audience onlookers — Richard Logan. Afterward, he said he "thought Cathy made a good point."
"I like Rinaldo; he's a good guy, but if [voting no] helps broaden the base of people participating" it's good for the town, Logan said, noting he was originally one of those who raised the issue, months ago, about overlapping memberships.
Not present at the meeting, Bernardone did not return a call afterward seeking comment.
There are many overlaps. According to the most recent list, the overlaps appointed by the town are: George Parent (on Conservation and Agricultural commissions), Ken Pickren and Maureen Doyle (both on Conservation and Trails), Ted Dubsky and Tom Ayau (both on Trails and Cable), Rene Tremblay (on Health and Planning boards), Tom O'Leary (on Health and the School Committee), Dean Cook (on Conservation and Health), Bruce Newlands (on Historical and Liquor), Peter Ramirez (on Planning and Registrars), Arnold Lanni (Scholarship and School Building), Joe Marino (Planning and School Building), George Chenier (on Fire Station Building and Airport), Michael Daniels (on Liquor and Conservation), and George Fournier (on Retirement and Traffic). This doesn't include several overlaps with town council subcommittees, which have two citizen members each but weren't in the list; nor does it include elected officials serving as their board's representatives on certain committees, town employees that do likewise; or people serving on multiple boards but appointed by someone other than the town.
Afterward, Conrad Vandal said, "I thought it was political. I don't like a person having two jobs, but I voted for Mr. Bernardone because I saw the politics."
That creates two open seats on the health board, since Judy Zaido decided not to seek reappointment when her term expired June 30. Before he went on vacation, Town Manager Chris Clark interviewed two people for them — Robert Checkosky and Anne Beinema. At the July 2 Council meeting, he said he was leaning to recommending Beinema because of her nursing background.
The Council did unanimously reappoint Thomas Smalarz to the scholarship committee and gave Paul Musci a new seat on the Planning Board, replacing Robert Tremblay.
They were also unanimous about writing a similar letter to the governor opposing the closure of the Registry of Motor Vehicles office in the Big Bunny plaza, and urged citizens to contact the Town Manager's office to help circulate a petition that would show public opposition to such a move.
"It amazed me to find out they [the state] have the impression the people of Southbridge aren't upset about closing the Registry," Larry McDonald said. "In fact, it's all they're talking about."
He urged the letter indicate the town is "opposing it under any circumstances" and noted a petition drive has just two weeks to act because the closing date is August 10.
Nikolla volunteered to write it, and citizen Roger Caouette volunteered to start petitioning.
All but one member (Livengood) voted to send a letter to National Grid opposing the utility's proposal to hike electric rates by 11 percent. The letter, read by Lazo, alleged the request was "not only unfounded, but serves National Grid's interests over those of the ratepayers" and was an example of "seeking profits at the expense of the well-being of the ratepayers." For Southbridgians specifically, it comes on the heels of large hikes in water and sewer rates in recent years, he added.
Even before the vote, Livengood said he'd vote 'no' because he has not read National Grid's proposal.
"I haven't seen what we're opposing," he said after adjournment. "It sounds ridiculous, but I guarantee they're probably going to get half of what they asked for."
Lazo also announced the new chairs of the council subcommittees: McDonald got General Government, Vandal kept Department of Public Works, Al Vecchia got Protection of Persons and Property, Clemence got Education and Human Services, and Logan got Planning and Development.
Gus Steeves can be reached at 508-909-4135 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.