Officials question vacancies as Ezovski looks to replace three members of N.S. Conservation board

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – Town Administrator Gary Ezovski is looking to replace three longtime members of a volunteer municipal board who are seeking reappointment, a decision others in town questioned this week as the roles remained vacant.

North Smithfield Conservation Commission Chairman Paul Soares, Vice Chairman Mike Calo, and long-term member Glenn Vario had three-year terms that expired on Sunday, Dec 1.

The board works to protect natural resources in town, and typically weighs in on the impact of various projects, providing advisory opinions to planning and zoning on proposals that could affect resources such as wetlands.

But the seven-member group has had only three members since the term expirations, leaving it unable to operate without a quorum as the normal date of their monthly meeting passed by.  Member Scott Perry resigned earlier this year when he moved out of town, and his spot also remains vacant.

In the past, appointments to the commission have often been a routine item on council agendas with little discussion, with the administrator naming those who wish to serve, followed by council confirmation.

But when the issue came up at the council meeting on Monday, Nov. 18, Ezovski asked for more time.

“May I ask why,” asked Councilor Paul Zwolenski.

“Because it’s my appointment and I want to make sure that I’m doing the right thing,” Ezovski answered.

The item came up again at the council meeting on Monday, Dec. 2, and Ezovski again asked for more time, saying he was would be ready at the following meeting to make appointments to the Conservation Commission, as well as the Economic Development Commission, the Juvenile Hearing Board and the Personnel Board.

“I’m keeping the door open and looking for interests on as wide a basis as possible,” the administrator said.

Soares has been a member of the commission for 14 years and has led the board since 2009. Calo has served for the past five years and Vario for the past ten.

“They have 25 years of service to the town, combined,” noted Councilor Paul Zwolenski. “They have served this town admirably.”

In addition to providing opinions on conservation issues in town, the group maintains several town-owned parcels of land, including Cedar Swamp, Monica’s Gardens and another 69-acre lot by the Greenville Road exit off of Route 146.  Their work includes jobs like maintaining duck boxes to protect the town’s population of wood ducks, and they can often be found out using their own tools, vehicles and equipment to rake leaves, clear brush, install signs or build picnic tables.

As part of the volunteer job, Soares has spent hours balancing on the ice for several days each winter, cleaning and maintaining a dozen boxes built and installed by the commission.

“For residents interested in local conservation, it should be of serious concern that these very experienced and committed volunteer members are being overlooked,” said Commission member Carol Ayala, who also serves on the North Smithfield Land Trust. “Experienced leadership is a valuable commodity, and it is in the town’s best interest to maintain a knowledgeable and capable advisory board by reappointing these willing individuals.”

Ayala pointed out that one unfilled vacancy already exists on the commission, and even with the three appointments there would be an opportunity for a newcomer.

“This is an excellent situation in which to appoint a new member to grow within the organization,” she said.

Zwolenski is also questioning the decision.

“If they’re doing a good job it’s up to the administrator to reappoint them,” he said, noting that the action might be disheartening to others who wish to serve. “What’s that do to the morale?”

Zwolenski noted that there are also other municipal boards in town seeking volunteers.

Soares says that over the past 14 years, he’s spent “hundreds” of hours volunteering for the town, between attending meetings, issuing opinions and working in the field. He said he’s unclear why he has not yet been reappointed.

“I firmly believe that I’ve always done the very best I am capable of for the town,” Soares told NRI NOW.

Recently, the Zoning Board was seeking the commission’s recommendation  on expansion auto body shop.

In an email sent out to several town residents on Friday, Ayala called on supporters to speak in favor of the appointments at a meeting scheduled for tonight, Monday, Dec. 16, noting that they could weigh in during open forum.

“The town administrator has allowed these terms to lapse, and decided instead to actively seek new volunteers from the community to fill these positions,” she said.  “It would be very persuasive if individuals concerned with keeping a strong, functional and experienced Conservation Commission in town, would speak in favor of reappointing these three dedicated members to the commission.”

Ezovski, meanwhile, advertised the roles in his weekly newsletter, along with other town boards.

“Though there is no compensation for any volunteer position, these positions offer opportunity to learn more about how things work and how one person’s input can make those things better,” noted the administrator. “If you have interest, have questions about the activities related to each commission or board or know someone who has interest in serving, please contact me by email, phone or any other means that work. I will begin making recommendations to the town council on Monday evening.”

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