WOONSOCKET — The City Council moved to discuss a possible site for a new water treatment plant in closed session Monday evening but not before a local resident voiced opposition to the step.
Lorraine Corey of Huntington Avenue, a fiscal watchdog, questioned why the matter was not aired in public session given the costs involved.
Corey’s objections were raised after Mayor Leo T. Fontaine told the council the city’s Water Advisory Board had presented a recommendation on two lots to be considered as a possible site for the city’s proposed $35 million to $40 million updated water treatment plant. The new facility is needed to replace the aging water treatment plant off Manville Road and add new treatment technologies to meet state and federal water treatment standards.
Corey said she should be able to learn how much money the city planned to spend on the site and “who” it would be given to before a final decision was made.
Fontaine, however, said that “there still needs to be some discussion, and there may need to be some more negotiation on price,” in justification of a closed council discussion of the plant’s possible site.
“We want to do this to the best advantage of the city,” Fontaine said of the proposed close door discussion.Corey was not swayed and told the panel “I am in total disagreement with having this in closed session.”
Fontaine explained the need for such a negotiation to be held in closed session but it still did not sooth the resident’s concerns.
“I came here tonight to say you are going to have to call somebody to carry me out,” Corey said. “This is not open government,” Corey said while stating her objections to the closed door review of the potential water treatment plant site.
Members of the council, however, sided with Fontaine on the point that negotiations for a site were not yet completed and as a result it was too soon for a public review of the proposal.
Councilman Roger Jalette said a vote on acquiring a site would not be done in closed session and assured Corey nothing improper would be done during the proposed discussion. “As long as I am a part of it, it will be done legally,” he said.
The council subsequently voted unanimously to hold the closed-door discussion on the potential site.
Corey eventually agreed to leave the second floor conference room but not before reminding the members “It’s my check and I don’t write a blank check for anyone.”
The panel returned to open session less than an hour later and City Council President John F. Ward reported no votes had been taken during the closed meeting.
The panel members voted to seal the minutes of their discussion and then moved to open a public session on creating a new ordinance authorizing the Fontaine Administration to continue work on a purchase and sales agreement for a new site. The measure was then tabled to a later meeting of the panel.
Ward said it was determined during the closed meeting that there were still issues to be addressed in the proposal for a site and the administration would seek to address those issues before the matter proceeded.
“They are not finished with their work yet and when they are finished, we will inform you,” Ward said. Any proposal to be considered by the council would be posted in an agenda prior to a council meeting on the matter and a public hearing would be held before a deciding vote, he said. If all goes well in that process, Ward said the council could take up a potential site for the plant at its Oct. 17 meeting.
Corey said later she still wants information on the potential site and its costs. “I will be at that next meeting,” she said.