Mike Dellefratte stood at the microphone and glared at members of the town council.
The lifelong Barrington resident had just asked the five councilors for final approval for a memorial to be constructed at the corner of Foote Street and Prince’s Hill Avenue recognizing the decades of service his family has given to the town.
The owner of a local service station, Mike wore work pants, boots and a dark shirt, and told the council members that he had gone before the park and recreation commission and received its endorsement. He said he already purchased the stone marker for the memorial. He said he just needed them to sign off on the work … and agree to pay up to $4,500 for the project.
That’s where the council went cold to the idea.
Members of the board questioned the size of the project. They talked about establishing clear-cut standards for building monuments and memorials in Barrington. They asked whether it was appropriate for the town to pay for the work.
“Asking for $4,500 … that is not past practice,” said council president June Speakman.
Mike Dellefratte did not like what he heard.
“I’m going to push it (the memorial) if I have to sue the council,” Mr. Dellefratte warned. Later that night members of the council stopped just short of killing the project, and instead agreed to send the plan to the town manager for further review.
Two days after the meeting, Mr. Dellefratte was still resolved to take whatever action necessary to bring the project to life. He stood on the property that could host the memorial and shook his head while reliving the council’s response to his request.
“My family has earned this,” he said, referring to the planned memorial. “But we’ve had to play this game for seven years, waiting for it. … I’m going to make everybody’s life miserable until I get this.”
If building a memorial was simply a measure of service, the Dellefrattes would have a solid argument.
The Dellefratte family can document at least 175 combined years of service to the town, most of it at the department of public works. Mike’s father, who’s known as Razzy, logged 40 years at the DPW on Upland Way. His brother Billy worked for the town for 37 years. Billy Dellefratte actually owned the property at the corner of Foote Street and Prince’s Hill Avenue (the same land picked for the proposed memorial) which the family later sold to the town and is now part of Chianese Park. Gus Dellefratte and Tony Dellefratte also worked for the town, as did Mike’s grandfather and Razzy’s father, Erasmo Dellefratte.
“Fifty-two years for the town, that’s how long he worked here,” Razzy said. “He was DPW superintendent.”
Erasmo was a teenager when he started working for Barrington during the first world war, and, according to a 1972 copy of New England Construction magazine, was known as “Mr. Public Works” around these parts. He also earned the nickname “Rass.”
Mike and Razzy said there are plenty of examples all over Barrington where town officials dedicated small parcels of land to private residents — Currier Park just east of Primrose Hill School, a memorial named for longtime police chief John Medici, and even Chianese Park. A small memorial is situated on the northern border of the park named for FJ Chianese.
“I made almost all of these memorials in town,” Razzy said. “This is nothing new.”
All five members of the Barrington Town Council were hesitant when it came time to approving the new Dellefratte Memorial. Cynthia Coyne said she believed the town needed to develop some standards or guidelines which officials could use when weighing which plans to approve.
“Maybe we should develop a subcommittee,” she said, later adding that she was surprised by the size of the memorial. “I thought it was a bench or a stone … I’m learning now that it’s more.”
The Dellefrattes enlisted the help of a local firefighter who drafted a site plan for the memorial. There are two crushed bluestone paths leading to the already built walkway, a circular space 30 feet in diameter includes two park benches, some bushes and a stone sitting in the middle of it all.
Mike Seward, chairman for the Barrington Park and Recreation Commission, said his board found that the memorial would not impact the use of Chianese Park.
“Our opinion is that this particular memorial doesn’t hurt anybody… We did recommend that the benches (need to) fit the standard for benches in town.”
Mr. Seward also addressed the question about standards — he said there are established guidelines on who should be awarded a memorial. He added that the commission plans to further review those standards in the future.
As for the financing, the commission did not touch that part of the proposal. “That’s not our position to take a position on that.”
Mike Dellefratte and Razzy said they believe the town owes their family for uncharged work and unpaid sick days, and should pick up the tab.
Razzy said that when he retired he had piled up more than 130 unused sick days. He said the town paid him for 30 of those and owes him about $11,000 for the other days.
“Put a $5,000 cap on it and we’ll pay the difference,” added Mike Dellefratte, almost as a compromise.
That approach may not fly with councilor Kate Weymouth. During the April 9 meeting, Ms. Weymouth said the town had not paid for other memorials: “I know we did not pay for the veterans’ memorial (at the town hall).”
The Dellefrattes have countered, offering to enlist friends and other volunteers to do the work — “Give me the weekend and I’ll have everybody who owes me money over to help with it,” Mike said — but Ms. Coyne said she was concerned with the potential liabilities that the town could face with that approach.
Councilor Bill DeWitt offered a slightly different perspective on the issue. He called for a clearer set of standards for establishing a memorial, and appeared to challenge the reasoning offered by the Dellefrattes: “I’m sure my kids would love to do something for me, too.”
Three motions, none pass
One motion was not enough to deal with the Dellefratte’s proposed memorial at the April 9 meeting. Toward the end of the discussion, Barrington Town Council President June Speakman asked if any councilor wished to make a motion to approve the plan for the memorial. Silence. Then she asked if any councilor would make a motion to deny the plan. More silence. Razzy Dellefratte offered his own motion to allot up to $5,000 for the project, but none of the councilors moved on that option. Finally, Barrington Town Manager Peter DeAngelis asked the council to forward the plan to his office for further review. “We don’t want this family to go away angry.” It was unclear when the plan would resurface in front of the council.
Mike Dellefratte (left) and his father Razzy discuss their plans for a memorial at Chianese Park.