2018-05-10 / Around Town

Police Memorial Secures Private Funding

By Christopher Allen

In a surprise update, unreferenced on the agenda, Middletown Town Council President Robert Sylvia announced midway through the May 7 meeting that the Board of Directors of the Clambake Club of Newport, a private club located on Tuckerman Avenue, has pledged an unsolicited $40,000 to replace the Middletown police memorial in front of the station.

The memorial sidewalk’s fate had become the source of a bit of public blowback after the council’s decision on April 2 not to fund a new memorial meant to honor officers killed in the line of duty.

“I welcome this,” said Sylvia, regarding the donation. “It was a generous gesture on their part.”

According to town officials, the current memorial at the Valley Road police station had turned out to be a liability, as it becomes dangerously slippery when wet. One claim for $11,500 against the town for a slip-and-fall was paid in 2013. The council approved a contract at the March 19 meeting to replace the memorial; however, they reversed course at the following meeting on April 2, voting to simply remove it.

The reversal touched off a considerable backlash, with current and retired Middletown police officers, plus many others in support of a new memorial, showing up to Town Hall for the April 16 meeting to register their disappointment.

The organized action seemed to work, though, as Sylvia, himself a former captain on the Middletown force, began to make public statements clarifying his support for Middletown law enforcement. In a letter to the editor published April 12 in Newport This Week, Sylvia addressed the controversy, writing that he believed some of his former comments about the current memorial design had been “taken out of context.”

“I admire and respect everyone who has chosen law enforcement as their profession,” wrote Sylvia.

At the May 7 meeting, Sylvia asked Town Administrator Shawn Brown about any possible restrictions tied to the allocation of the money, and whether the town, police department and the Clambake Club were in agreement on the design and scope of the project as of the time of the announcement.

“[They] are aware of the concerns that the council has [on the location of the memorial],” said Brown.”

In an email to Newport This Week, Sylvia reiterated both his appreciation that the $40,000 would not be coming from Middletown taxpayers and his position that the new memorial should not be part of a walkway.

“I want to personally thank them [Clambake Club of Newport] on behalf of every taxpayer,” wrote Sylvia. “I believe that it’s understood by all that the memorial will not be placed in the walkway like it was for the last ten plus years… that it will be redesigned or placed in a location more appropriate for a memorial.”

A May 7 letter addressed to Middletown Police Chief Anthony Pesare on behalf of the Clambake Club made no specific requests regarding the blueprint. “Our contribution is conditioned only upon your approval of the plans for a replacement memorial. We feel strongly that you and your department should be proud of the memorial and therefore involved in the design and approval process,” the letter stated.

On the docket for May 7 was a communication by Sylvia to approve and establish a Police Memorial Committee. This item was withdrawn after the donation announcement.

The next town council meeting is scheduled for May 21. In other matters:

. The council approved a resolution proclaiming May as mental health month.

. The council approved an application for a special use permit for the Water Brothers Pro Surf Event to be held at second beach for one day between May 12 and May 25, dependent on surf conditions.

. The council approved a contract for $29,610 with C.B. Utility Co. Inc. to install a water service line at second beach needed for outdoor beach showers.

. The council approved a resolution to approve a “Clean Seas Pledge.” The resolution involves the town council pledging to refrain from using single use plastic containers during their meetings. The initiative is spearheaded by the local non-profit environmental advocate Clean Ocean Access.

. The council approved a resolution to submit applications for $306,695 in Rhode Island Community Development Block Grants.

. The council approved a resolution to request that RI Attorney General Peter Kilmartin distribute the remaining $23 million of a settlement with Google Inc. to Rhode Island schools to improve safety and security. The action follows an identical resolution recently passed by the Portsmouth Town Council.

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