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'Tent meeting' veteran preps for outdoor FTM

Julia Califano will step down as moderator following FTM

By Josh Bickford
Posted 7/4/20

The upcoming financial town meeting will mark the end of Julia Califano's long-time political career.

Mrs. Califano will not be running for re-election as town moderator, a post she has held since …

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'Tent meeting' veteran preps for outdoor FTM

Julia Califano will step down as moderator following FTM

Posted

The upcoming financial town meeting will mark the end of Julia Califano's long-time political career.

Mrs. Califano will not be running for re-election as town moderator, a post she has held since 2008.

"I think I've done enough," Mrs. Califano said last week. "I think I'm old enough. It's time to turn it over to someone else."

Mrs. Califano's political career started shortly after she moved to Barrington in 1976. After becoming active on PTAs and with the League of Women Voters, she ran for Barrington Town Council and won. She continued running and winning seats on the council, and served as president of the council from 1990 to 1992.

In 1994, Mrs. Califano ran for Rhode Island Secretary of State and squared off against three other candidates in a primary. She lost that race and stepped away from politics for more than 10 years.

But the longtime Barrington resident returned to civic service in 2008 when she was elected as town moderator.

The job was a good fit for her lifestyle, she said, as the requirements were limited to preparations for and conducting of the annual financial town meeting. Mrs. Califano's role is to manage the meeting, keep everyone on task, and ensure that the appropriate rules are followed.

Her job is likely to get a bit more involved this year, as the FTM will be held outside, in-person at the high school's football field. The meeting will also need to follow social distancing and other requirements.

"Yes, there is a lot of uncertainty, and not as much control," she said. "And it's the middle of the summer. It could be very hot."

Mrs. Califano said the logistics for the meeting could present some challenges. She mentioned the obstacles posed by taking a standing vote with people spread out across Victory Field, some sitting in the bleachers, and others parked under two tents. She also said a paper ballot vote will be more difficult under the current circumstances.

Mrs. Califano said Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha is helping with some of the preparations, as is town clerk Merrie DeSisto. Mrs. Califano said she is most concerned with the heat.

"I think Merrie DeSisto and I just want to get through it," she said.

The financial town meeting will be held on Saturday, July 18, at 9 a.m. Check-in will start at 8 a.m.

Following the conclusion of this year's FTM, Mrs. Califano will step down as moderator, making room for Richard Staples to take over. The longtime Barrington resident and current member of the town's committee on appropriations is running unopposed for moderator this fall.

"I was thrilled he wanted to do it," Mrs. Califano said.

Difficult meetings

Some people in town are expecting this year's FTM to draw a big crowd, but Mrs. Califano has some experience with large outdoor meetings.

Mrs. Califano was president of the town council in 1991 when the town held the notorious "tent meeting." Held inside a large tent erected on the high school soccer field, the meeting took place over the course of three nights, with more than 2,000 people in attendance on the first night alone.

Mrs. Califano said then-town moderator Allan Klepper did a nice job managing the meeting. She said that FTM took place during a recession and many residents were visibly "angry." She said taxpayers voted to cut $600,000 from the school budget that year.

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