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Town manager debacle continues

February 11, 2013

Narragansett Town Council members Douglas McLaughlin and James Callaghan listen to public comment during Monday’s council meeting where Richard Kerbel was appointed interim town manager. (Photo By Tracey C. O’Neill)

Richard Kerbel named interim Narragansett Town Manager
NARRAGANSETT - Monday evening’s meeting of the Narragansett Town Council was reminiscent of a political filibuster as residents lined up at the podium to voice opinion and concerns regarding the town’s inability to find a permanent candidate for the position of town manager. On the agenda and centermost to contention in the standing room only council chambers was a motion to appoint Richard Kerbel as interim manager. In a hotly debated three to two decision, the town council voted to approve Kerbel for the position.

Kerbel will replace Narragansett Police Chief Dean Hoxsie, who received praise and commendation for his role in supporting the town during a time of considerable disarray. The chief received a standing ovation from the gallery for his service as interim town manager after the town parted ways with former manager Grady Miller last spring.
Chronicling the town’s history and turnover rate with town managers, Narragansett Town Council President James Callaghan explained the efforts recently put forth by both the council and appointed search committee in locating a qualified candidate for the post.
“We are at a crossroads,” said Callaghan.
Noting the diligent work of members of the search committee who reviewed more than 100 resumes and narrowed the field to four candidates, council members took turns commending both the committee and chief for their work during a difficult time. The result, said Callaghan, “The search has hit a plateau.”
Unable to obtain unanimity by council members in agreement on a candidate, Callaghan conducted his own search. Seeking a candidate rich in the skills of decision making, budgeting and negotiations, Callaghan settled on Kerbel, former manager in North Kingstown.
“I alone sought him out,” said Callaghan.
Kerbel, whose resume boasts four decades of municipal and government management experience, most recently worked as interim manager for the town of Bridgewater, Mass. Also, known locally for his work as Director of Finance for the City of Providence under former Mayor and now Congressman David Cicilline, Kerbel’s appearance as a candidate for the Narragansett opening was questioned.
Sullied by questions of impropriety on the part of the council, Callaghan and Council Member Susan Cicilline-Buananno, sister to Congressman Cicilline, were forced to defend their positions. Noting that he had no information as to the nature of the relationship between the former mayor and Kerbel, Callaghan stated that he had no idea as to how fellow members would receive the candidate.
Cicilline-Buananno made it clear for the record that she had no prior dealings with Kerbel, or information as to his dealings with her brother. Defending her integrity as to the pending vote, predicated on the candidate’s education and experience, she said, “I’ve never met him. I’ve never spoken with him and never followed his work.” Assuring the gallery that she had no prior dealings or knowledge of Kerbel, the councilwoman continued. “As much as I love my brother, I’m busy with my own life and the town work here.”
Council Member Glenna Hagopian was not supportive of the move to an alternate interim town manager. Speaking highly of Chief Hoxsie, Hagopian agreed with many residents in affirming the need to maintain the status quo while seeking a permanent candidate.
“I can’t conjure one legitimate reason to remove him from the position or [not] to appoint him to the fulltime position,” she said.
Examining Kerbel’s record in Coventry and the City of Providence, Hagopian expressed concerns with the candidate’s ability to manage a budget. Further questioning Kerbel’s recent consideration, outside the scope of the search committee, Hagopian was firm in her disdain for the proceedings.
“I find it absolutely unfathomable to believe that Mr. Kerbel just appeared on our doorstep,” she said. “I just think this is more dirty politics.”
After two hours of testimony from all in attendance, a vote was taken among council members McLaughlin, Callaghan and Cicilline-Buananno voting in the affirmative. Newly elected member Matthew Mannix, who read from a prepared statement prior to voting joined Hagopian in opposition.
Kerbel, who was present at the meeting but did not approach the podium spoke with The Narragansett Times during a phone interview Tuesday morning. When asked his thoughts on the outcome of Monday’s meeting he was positive.
“It’s wonderful that people expressed their opinions,” he said. “Chief Hoxsie is a good man and I look forward to working with him.”
Working as interim manager while the council continues its search for a permanent manager is also not an issue for Kerbel.
“It’s not my job to find the permanent replacement,” he said. “It’s my job to manage the town while the search is being conducted. It takes a certain commitment to want to be an interim manager and I expressed my interest in doing so.”

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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