Joel Hellmann never saw it coming.
The longtime Barrington resident was sitting in front of the town council on Monday night, Feb. 3, preparing to answer questions regarding his application to fill a position on the Bristol County Water Authority board of directors.
That’s when council member Bill DeWitt surprised him.
“Stockholm Syndrome. Are you familiar with that?” Mr. DeWitt asked Mr. Hellmann. “What are your thoughts on that?”
Mr. DeWitt’s question was directed specifically at the water authority board and the feeling that once a member of the public is appointed to that board they tend to view the authority less cynically and with more empathy.
Without a pause, Mr. Hellmann replied: “I do what I think is right. Damn with the consequences…”
It is not clear whether his answer or a lack of other applicants led to his appointment on the board, but in a follow-up interview, Mr. Hellmann said he was stunned by the line of questioning.
“It caught me off-guard,” he said. “I was surprised by the question. I’ve talked to people who thought it was a viable question and I’ve talked to people who thought it was” inappropriate.
Mr. Hellmann said he plans on learning as much as possible about the water authority in the very near future. He said he also plans to look at the finances of the authority and see if there are areas where money could be saved.
A current member of the town’s committee on appropriations and ad hoc taxation committee, Mr. Hellmann said he was surprised to read in a recent newspaper article that the authority was leaning toward 4 percent rate increases for customers every year for the next 20 years. “If that statement is true … that’s a red flag.”
In a Jan. 22 article in the Barrington Times and Warren Times-Gazette, water authority executive director Pamela Marchand is quoted as saying: “We’re looking at a four-percent increase every year for the next 20 years.”
BCWA board member Brad Louison challenged that remark during a later portion of the Feb. 3 council meeting. Mr. Louison told Mr. DeWitt that he was not aware of 4 percent rate increases for infinity, and said the board had only approved a rate increase for the upcoming year; the increase will take effect March 1.
Mr. Louison also told Mr. DeWitt that he would be happy to comment about the Stockholm Syndrome and the water authority board of directors.
Mr. Hellmann said his appointment to the water authority board would mean he would likely step down from one of the other boards he serves on.