Six volunteers resign from North Smithfield Conservation Commission

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – The entire North Smithfield Conservation Commission resigned on Tuesday, Dec. 17, saying they feel their work is not appreciated following delays in the reappointment of three long-serving members by Town Administrator Gary Ezovski.

The resignation of the six-member group also follows a confrontation at a meeting Monday night between Conservation Chairman Paul Soares and Town Council President Paul Vadenais over speaking on the issue.

“It has recently become evident that there is a lack of appreciation on the part of the town administration for our many years of dedicated volunteer service to the community, our collective concern for the protection of natural resources in North Smithfield, and the substantial effort we have put forth over time,” stated a letter submitted Tuesday and signed by every member of the volunteer board.

Ezovski, meanwhile, asserted Monday that he is still not ready to make appointments to the board.

The topic of reappointing three members whose three-year terms on the commission were set to expire December 1 first came up in November, and Ezovski asked for more time on the decision.

Longtime members Paul Soares, Mike Calo and Glenn Vario have been seeking reappointment to the board, an action that in past years has often been done quickly by the administrator, and with little discussion.

Ezovski has instead sought additional volunteers for the commission and other boards in need of members, advertising the roles in his weekly newsletter.

The delay led Commission member Carol Ayala to send out an email to many residents Friday noting that they could speak on the issue during public comment Monday night.

Resident Cynthia Roberts said she discussed the topic on the Facebook page for her organization, Engage North Smithfield, and that many people wanted to know more about the appointment process.

“I would like to see more transparency in how the commissions go through their vetting process, and it’s not just me – I’m speaking for other folks who have reached out to me,” Roberts said.

“As a resident it doesn’t make sense to me that folks who have served admirably would not be reappointed unless there’s a reason that was given,” she added.

Resident Bethany Levin said she was also confused by the delay.

“They have all done a great job by this town,” Levin said.

Responding to the comments later, Ezovski said, “It’s interesting tonight that I’ve been admonished for not making the appointments and we’re questioned for how the process works.”

“I take this obligation – my appointments – very seriously,” Ezovski said. “We should make an effort to make certain anyone that has interest has the opportunity to be able to put their name forward. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. That’s what I’m going to continue to try to do.”

“I am not ready tonight to make appointments to the Conservation Commission, the Economic Development Commission, Juvenile Hearing Board or the Personnel Board,” he said. “I will be making recommendations as soon as I believe I’ve heard from the community.”

Councilor Paul Zwolenski questioned the administrator’s decision to wait.

“Mr. administrator, you don’t have the faith in these individuals who have served a combined 29 years,” Zwolenski said. “I don’t know Gary… you may have your reasons. I don’t understand it. These are volunteers. The spend their time. They spend their own money because they are woefully underfunded. I’m at a loss for words.”

Ezovski said his choice, “is not denigrating in any way any contribution that any member has made.”

He also clarified in an email to NRI NOW that his intent was not to replace anyone but “to assure every interested resident had opportunity to be considered so the town realized the best opportunity.  Nothing more.”

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. They also maintain 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; work that members say has required significant time and labor over the years.

Council President Paul Vadenais pointed out that the members whose terms have now expired could continue to serve until they were replaced.

Soares got up to speak, and Vadenais told him he was out of order.

Ignoring the admonishment, Soares continued, “It’s outrageous to keep people in limbo like this. We’ve been volunteers for 14, 10 and 5 years,” he said of himself, Vario and Calo, respectively. “How do you expect us to continue to operate with an attitude like that?”

Vadenais stood up and unplugged the microphone, yelling “Mr. Soares, you are out of order. I will have you removed from this meeting.”

The following morning, the resignation letter was submitted, effective Tuesday, Dec, 17 and signed by Soares, Calo, Vario, and Ayala, along with members Denis Chamberland and Jeff Delasanta.

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