Residents hoping to discuss a proposed cell tower at Sowams School left Monday night’s council meeting feeling frustrated as they were told to save their comments for another day.
Barrington Town Council President June Speakman told the residents that since the issue was added to the council agenda as a “correspondence” it would not be open for discussion. She said the emails sent to council members regarding the proposed cell tower would be entered into the record, but that councilors could not take an action at that meeting.
That did not sit well with the moms and dads who turned out for the meeting.
Maria Wah Fitta, a mother of two Sowams School students, waited until the public comment period to read a prepared statement that questioned the council’s motives for endorsing a cell tower at Sowams School. She said she represented many Sowams School families that could not attend the council meeting and who were not happy with the five elected officials. She also asked the council to draft a town ordinance that would prohibit the construction of any radiation emitting tower within 1,500 feet of a Barrington public school.
Ms. Speakman said she had read the residents’ letters and understood their concerns. She said she too lived in Hampden Meadows and both her sons had attended Sowams School.
Another Sowams mom said she did not want to wait to discuss the topic at a future meeting when the council would vote on the issue. She wanted the council to have time to absorb the comments and understand the concern.
Despite the woman’s plea, council members stuck to their guns and told the residents to save their comments for a future meeting or workshop and did their best to assure the taxpayers that they would have a chance to talk.
The concerned residents filed out of the council chambers and gathered in small groups on the first floor of the town hall and just outside the main doors. They said they were frustrated with the experience and bothered by a diatribe offered by council member Kate Weymouth. The councilor took advantage of the captive audience to spend a few minutes chastising a letter-writer who allegedly threatened her, stating that if she did not vote down the cell tower than the resident would work against her in the future.
Ms. Weymouth’s comments were longer in duration than any of the comments offered by residents.
Some parents thought the council’s delay was a simple stall tactic, that pushing the discussion off to a future date will mean that fewer parents will attend and the project will receive less resistance. Some folks also questioned why the topic had been listed as a correspondence and not an action item. The Sowams School PTO had shifted its normal meeting time to allow parents an opportunity to attend the council meeting.
Who makes the final call?
Resident Heather Johnson asked the council which board had the power to make the final decision about the cell tower. Town solicitor Mike Ursillo said that since the project would be built on town property the decision belonged to the council. That information ran counter to a statement made by Barrington School Committee member Patrick Guida, who said at a meeting last week that the school committee would make the final call.
The cell tower debate will return to the Barrington School Committee at its April 17 meeting, where committee members said they would take an official vote. No date was shared for a future council workshop on the issue.
Barrington Town Manager Peter DeAngelis said he was not thrilled with the plan as it had been presented and would not recommend the project “at this time.”