The City Council has been rather busy lately filling vacancies on boards and commissions. Surely, I am not the only one who has noticed that the process has not always been transparent. At the March 10th Council meeting there seemed to be concern from two Councilors regarding appointments. They made valid points but the majority ruled. The good news is there are so many qualified, diverse and experienced individuals who are willing to volunteer their time to the City.
Recently the Planning Board had three vacancies and luckily several highly qualified applicants showed interest. These included 2 long time Newport residents, one with a BS in Public Administration, 2 attorneys, a public policy professional with a war college connection, a Brown University professor, an architect and a woman with an MBA. The interview process took place and the City Council appointed 2 applicants, both with long time Newport ties. One of whom was not even familiar with the Comprehensive Land Use Plan. I believe eyebrows were raised and a month or two later the Brown University professor was also appointed.
The Historic District Commission also had vacancies along with highly qualified applicants. One resume that I saw was frankly spectacular. A woman with a graduate degree from an outstanding architecture school along with a masters degree in historic preservation applied. What a gift and a seemingly ideal candidate. Alas she was passed over twice (HDC and Planning Board) for an applicant with fewer qualifications. In fact during the interview with City Council one of the applicants stated something to the affect of “I can’t believe I’m here, I have no idea what I’m doing.” He was subsequently appointed.
It appears the City Council chose to appoint political allies versus individuals with broader and more diverse backgrounds. I do not know the specific qualifications of those chosen and I’m not implying that they are not qualified but I do find it unusual that those with such strong resumes were rejected with no explanation. This is at the very least a missed opportunity for the City and rather short sighted on the part of the City Council.
The point is, the Council should be appointing the best candidates. The interview process should be transparent and the applicants should be selected based on the skills that benefit the board or commission, not based on cronyism. I am of the opinion that strong, independent and non-political commissions are vital to a healthy City government.
Diana Sylvaria Szapary
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