Christopher Duhamel, the new Town Council president, brings 25 years of experience serving the town to his new position.
Duhamel, a Republican, was elected unanimously Monday to serve as council president for the next two years by his fellow council members.
The motion to nominate Duhamel was made by Councilor Jack Carson.
“I have every confidence, moving forward, that (Duhamel) will continue the fine work that you’ve done for the past six years,” Carson said, speaking to Councilor Diana Serra, the council’s outgoing president.
By electing Duhamel, the council broke from its tradition of electing the councilor who received the most votes in the November election as president. Duhamel’s 4,035 vote total was second to the 4,097 votes received by Councilor James Silvestri, who seconded Carson’s motion.
Now beginning his seventh term, Duhamel previously served on the Planning Board for 13 years before first being elected to the Town Council in 2002.
“I want to thank the voters of Westerly for instilling trust in all seven of the councilors, and I want to thank the council for your trust in allowing me to be your leader,” Duhamel said.
Duhamel, who also thanked Silvestri for supporting his candidacy as council president, said he hoped to follow the model set by Serra, who served as president for the council’s last three terms. He said Serra had established an atmosphere of respect for all involved in town government, including residents, town staff, council members, and the School Committee.
The new council is composed of Republicans Duhamel, Jean Gagnier and Philip Overton; Democrats Carson, Serra, and Silvestri; and Mario Celico, who ran as an independent. Duhamel called the council the most “diverse” one he has served on and said residents can expect to hear from all councilors as they direct the town’s course.
Duhamel, who works as a civil and environmental engineer for Diprete Engineering of Cranston, also reviewed the parameters of the council’s role.
“We want to work with the town manager. It’s important in our form of government that the town manager is supported and that the town manager’s staff is supported, that we’re not going around her to achieve our goals,” Duhamel said.
Duhamel lamented the delay in the council getting started as a result of an election recount to determine Celico’s position. The recount did not occur until Nov. 20, a full 16 days after the election. The recount confirmed Celico’s victory over Kenneth Parrilla for the seventh seat on the council.
The council must soon prioritize road and infrastructure projects to be carried out with funds made available by voters’ approval of a $6 million borrowing package, Duhamel said. He also pointed to efforts to protect the town’s water supply, supporting the School Department, and a commitment to open and accountable government as priorities.
In the weeks since the election, Duhamel said he has been approached by many residents and fellow councilors.
“There is an excitement about this new council,” he said.
In the hours after the votes were counted on Election Day, Silvestri said he did not assume he would become council president and spoke of Duhamel as a suitable candidate. He repeated that sentiment on Monday night at the conclusion of the council’s meeting.
“Chris has put his 12 years in. I think he’ll lead the council effectively,” Silvestri said.
Had he sought the presidency himself, Silvestri said he believed he would have received the support of the council.
He acknowledged the council’s recent past practice of tapping the top vote-getter as president but said voters were after something other than simply a new council president.
“I think the voters had an expectation of change. They just wanted some new people on the council. They re-elected the people they thought were doing a good job and added some new ones,” Silvestri said.
Source: The Westerly Sun