NORTH SMITHFIELD – Among the first orders of business after new town councilors take the oath of office on Thursday, Dec. 1 will be addressing a growing problem in North Smithfield: a lack of volunteers willing to serve on the town’s boards and commissions.
Records shared with NRI NOW show that 22 people who served on various boards in 2022 have indicated they do not wish to be reappointed to the role. The new vacancies join 10 spots that were already open on the town’s committees, leaving a total shortage of 32 volunteers.
The task of filling most of those vacancies falls to members of the Town Council.
“I can’t speculate as to why individuals aren’t responding,” said Town Council President John Beauregard. “It may be a lack of awareness.”
The list of new and existing vacancies is long, starting alphabetically with the Asset Management Commission, where member James Deslandes has said he does not wish to be reappointed, leaving open a new, five-year term set to expire in November of 2027. His departure is added to an already vacant five-year term that will expire in 2026.
Gary Lapierre has indicated that he no longer wishes to serve on the Board of Assessment Review, opening up a three-year term to expire in November 2025, and the Conservation Commission will add another loss to two current vacancies as Jonathan Depault ends his tenure.
The Budget Committee already had one vacancy, and Douglas Osier’s election to the Town Council has created another, with a volunteer now needed to fill a three year term set to expire in 2025. Budgeter Teresa Bartomioli, meanwhile, was elected to the School Committee and will not be able to continue on the budget board after her term expires this month. And member Domenic Riganese has indicated he does not wish to be reappointed, leaving a total of four vacancies on the five-member board.
On the Economic Development Commission, Kenneth Peloquin is stepping down, adding a second seat to the existing vacancy, with openings that expire in 2023 and 2027. Two members – Anthony Guertin and Christopher Simpkins – meanwhile, have indicated they do not wish to be appointed to the Halliwell Review Committee.
Sarah Lane has said she does not wish to be reappointed to the Historic District Commission, adding a three year term to expire in November 2025 to the existing vacancy for a term running through 2024. Sandy Paul has indicated she does not want reappointment to the Juvenile Hearing Board, opening up a three-year tern to expire in 2025.
The Parks & Recreation Commission already had one vacancy, and as their terms expire this month members Ana Parsons, April Lombardi and Jessica Latimer have indicated they are not seeking reappointment. David Punchak is not seeking reappointment to the Planning Board, leaving open one five-year term to expire in 2027.
The Public Art Advisory Committee had two vacancies and three more will be added to the list this month – including the Town Council liaison. Kathleen Lewis and Tiffany Nguyen don’t plan to serve in 2023, and neither does Councilor Claire O’Hara. O’Hara has also indicated she no longer wants to serve on the town’s Senior Citizen Advisory Committee.
The Sewer Commission will get a second vacant seat as Philip Gasbarro ends his time in service. Paul Pasquarielli will not seek reappointment to the Zoning Board, and Gail Berlinghof has resigned, leaving open the remainder of her five-year term set to expire in 2024.
At the inauguration on Thursday, the Town Council will reorganize, potentially electing new leadership. But Beauregard said he hopes to propose changes to help address the issue regardless of what position he holds.
“It’s our responsibility to make people aware of the openings that do exist,” he said, noting the town should create a policy for periodic advertising of all vacancies. “I think we should codify something.”
Beauregard noted that in the past, the town has asked for resumes from all who wish to serve, but he said such documentation is not needed for the less technical roles, such as the arts or parks committees.
“We don’t need to make people jump through hoops in order to volunteer,” Beauregard said.
Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski is responsible for appointing members to three of the boards: the Parks & Recreation, Conservation and Economic Development Commissions. He noted that finding people to serve has been a challenge for many years.
“We’ve had more trouble since COVID,” Zwolenski said.
“When I was a council member I went around and sought people for these positions,” he said, noting that for many, the problem is time constraints. “I respect that – not everyone has time to serve on a board. I’ve reached out to very diverse business owners. It’s the time element.”
The issue of time constraint was echoed by
“It is a good group of people,” Lombardi said of the Parks & Recreation Commission. “I just don’t have the time right now. We have four teenagers in the house so I am getting pulled in a hundred different directions every day.”
“I will continue to volunteer at all the events etc, just not as a board member,” Lombardi added.
But lack of time isn’t always the primary deterrent.
“I was hoping to volunteer my time in a different way, through the School Committee,” Simpkins said. “Since that didn’t pan out this year, I haven’t completely ruled out seeking reappointment to the Halliwell Review Committee. I enjoyed my time as Vice Chair of the committee over the last two years and believe strongly in its mission.”
“I will admit that I was occasionally frustrated by the process and the hoops we had to jump through to move things forward, but it’s a great group of people that, to this point, have worked together really effectively,” Simpkins added.
Zwolenski pointed out that some of the roles also require specific skills and knowledge.
“It’s demanding,” he said. “You have to know what you’re talking about. These people have tremendous skills.”
Beauregard also pointed to the importance of the volunteer roles.
“Very often, these positions are the face of the town,” he said. “It’s important that we have the right people. They might be the only interaction some people have with town government.”
Asked if they’ve recruited anyone new for the many openings, Zwolenski said he has some individuals considering appointments and Beauregard said he has recently directed a few new recruits to fill out applications.
Those who wish to serve on a board can obtain a copy of the application here. The completed form can be dropped off at the town clerk’s office or mailed to 83 Greene St., North Smithfield, RI 02896.
For more information, contact Town Clerk Joanne Buttie at 401-767-2200, ext. 504, or firstname.lastname@example.org.