NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. – The North Kingstown Town Council met virtually Monday night with a look towards the future through approving abandonments, liquor license transfers and a reopening of the Beechwood Senior Center while also recognizing the accomplishments of local athletes and officials.
The evening also had its points of contention, largely surrounding a request by the group Towards An Anti-Racist North Kingstown (T.A.N.K.), which was co-founded by School Committee member Jen Lima and other individuals, to hold a community art event and vigil at McGuinn Park on May 23, which was approved in a 3-2 vote on party lines.
Councilor Mary Brimer took exception to the request, pointing to Lima’s status as an elected official in town and derided the proposal as an attempt to hold a political event utilizing a public space.
Brimer said allowing such an event would open the floodgates to other elected officials utilizing public property for political events and claimed it would lead to further divisiveness in the community, calling on Lima and T.A.N.K. to withdraw their request and move the event to a private venue.
Town Council President Greg Mancini said that while he saw her concerns regarding elected officials, he did not believe the event was political in nature and said he would be willing to check with the Board of Elections to make sure no violations were taking place and said Lima and the members of T.A.N.K. retain their First Amendment rights.
Councilor Kim Page said she was supportive of the request and added that as president of the North Kingstown Food Pantry, she has been able to host events for the organization using public property, which Brimer said was because the group is a registered 501(c)(3) organization, something which Lima said the group has applied for at the federal level and is waiting on its approval.
Brimer argued that T.A.N.K. as an organization had a clear bias against Republicans, pointing to their support and involvement of the development of the new Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity Subcommittee to the School Committee, and said she had emailed School Committee Chairman Greg Blasbalg about her concerns with the vetting process for the 13 members, saying she knew several Republicans who applied for the subcommittee and never heard back, and that while that didn’t have to do with the matter at hand, displayed why the council shouldn’t approve their request.
Councilor Katie Anderson said that while, like Mancini, she saw Brimer’s concerns regarding elected officials, she questioned whether Brimer’s motives were based more on political differences than policy, and that the council could not deny the group an exhibition license based on such. Brimer said she had been declined the opportunity to host a wine and paint night by the Town Beach by the Arts Council due to her affiliation with the Republican Party, something which Arts Council Chairwoman Nancy Sherman denied, saying the denial was on the grounds of the group believing it served her professional clients from her job rather than residents of the town.
Councilor Kerry McKay backed Brimer, saying he felt he would be treated a lot differently if he came to the town proposing to host a rally on public grounds in support of former President Donald Trump.
Mancini said he would again support checking with the Board of Elections to make sure everything was done right and within the confines, but that he also believed based on the evidence at hand that denying T.A.N.K. the license would be denying them their First Amendment rights and that he felt they could take action against the town if that was the case.
In closing, Brimer again echoed her point from earlier, appealing directly to Lima.
“I respectfully ask you Jen to withdraw your proposal Jen and to take your event somewhere else,” Brimer said.
Lima said she respectfully disagreed with Brimer’s notion and would not withdraw the request on behalf of T.A.N.K., which she said is much more than just her organization and that she considered having another member speak on behalf of the group that evening, but that she also wasn’t hiding her involvement in T.A.N.K. and is proud to represent them.
A roll call vote was called by Mancini, and the motion passed 3-2 with Democrats Mancini, Anderson and Page in favor and Republicans Brimer and McKay in opposition.
Elsewhere in the evening, the Town Council recognized several individuals and organizations, including the North Kingstown High School Girls Volleyball Team, which was given an official citation by the Town Council in honor of their four straight RIIL Division I championships and four straight undefeated seasons.
Mancini said that while the Town Council usually didn’t officially honor the success of the high school’s teams, pointing to the athletic program’s long history of success, this particular team and record deserved recognition, pointing to that Coach Brian Garrrepy has a .931 winning percentage in his time as coach with the team that has not lost since the current seniors were in the eighth grade.
“I’m just proud as an NK guy at this moment,” Garrepy, a member of the NKHS Class of ‘96, said. “I’ve loved having the girls that have come through the past four years and the culture that they’ve created.”
In his Town Manager’s report, Ralph Mollis congratulated the North Kingstown Recreation Department for being named the 2021 Distinguished Department of the Year by the Rhode Island Recreation and Parks Association for their “concern for and dedication to the field through their outstanding efforts throughout the year which enhanced the lives of the people of North Kingstown,” and that Recreation Director Chelsey Dumas-Gibbs had also been given the 2021 Walter Henry Award by the group for her “outstanding work, leadership skills, qualities and abilities within the field of Parks and Recreation.”
All members congratulated both the department and Dumas-Gibbs, with McKay noting he had just texted her to say that longtime Recreation Director Al Southwick would be so proud of her and her work.
“He would think this was the greatest thing to happen,” McKay said on the awards.
In his report, Mollis also announced that the Beechwood Senior Center is slated to reopen for activities on June 1, with everything but meal service already approved, while adding he anticipated that situation would be resolved and approved before that date.
The meeting also saw the approval of a fireworks display for July 3, the first such display by the town since 2019, as well as the abandonment of a portion of land abutting Roger Williams Drive and a portion of the Enfield Avenue right-of-way and a portion of the Ocean Avenue right-of-way.
The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for May 24.