Voters are being asked: Should Bristol elect a ‘Mayor’?

The current town administrator believes his title is just fine, but the ballot asks voters to rename the office 'Mayor'

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 10/16/20

Not for the first time, Bristol residents are being asked if they want the elected chief executive of their town to be known as the “Mayor” or the “Town …

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Voters are being asked: Should Bristol elect a ‘Mayor’?

The current town administrator believes his title is just fine, but the ballot asks voters to rename the office 'Mayor'

Posted

Not for the first time, Bristol residents are being asked if they want the elected chief executive of their town to be known as the “Mayor” or the “Town Administrator.”

During the recent Bristol Charter Review process, the charter review commission made the suggestion that the community consider making the change, feeling that the title Mayor is more clearly that of an elected office, while a Town Administrator suggests a person appointed by a council.

They made their recommendation to the Bristol Town Council, which voted to put the question on the ballot. It reads: “CHANGING TITLE OF TOWN ADMINISTRATOR TO MAYOR (Art. XII, Sec. 8 of R.I. Constitution) Shall Article III and additional references throughout the Town Charter be amended to change the title of the chief executive officer of the town from ‘Town Administrator’ to ‘Mayor’?”

While the title of Town Administrator may seem a bit pedestrian compared to Mayor, the present occupant of that office seems to prefer it. “Mayor seems more ceremonial,” said Steven Contente, who admits that he was, in fact, gifted a very mayoral top hat which hangs in his office. He’s donned it for the annual Christmas Festival and Grand Illumination, but otherwise resists the urge to wear it around town.

“This is really a managerial role,” he said. “I’m here day to day, doing that work, and personally, I like ‘Town Administrator.’ ”

He admits, however, there is some confusion among people outside town. “”There is some merit to the argument for ‘Mayor,’ ” Mr. Contente said. Sometimes people are confused to find out I’m not appointed by the Town Council. Sometimes other mayors in the League of Cities and Towns don’t realize that I’m accountable to the voters, not the council.

“But ‘Town Administrator’ is more in line with what I actually do.”

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