American democracy is based on the premise that individual citizens should have a say in government. Historically, debates between citizens had frequently played out in newspapers as people debated policies at the local and regional level. Today, the Richmond government still views feedback from its citizens highly and as an important part of town decision-making. (And we still argue in the newspaper, namely the Letters to the Editor in the Westerly Sun.)
There are several different ways to get engaged. The Town Council addresses general policy – permits and licenses, infrastructure (like roads and traffic signage), and the general management of the town including appointments to the other boards. Annually in the late spring, they review and propose the next year’s town budget, which all Richmond voters can approve or reject in a town-wide referendum. The town council tends to meet on the first and third Tuesday of each month, but the agenda is posted on their website (along with agendas and minutes).
At every meeting, the council hosts a public forum, where members of the public can voice a concern that they have about their town for the council. These are key opportunities to present the councilmembers with new policy ideas, and they tend to welcome input. At public hearings (which are also announced over Notify Me), the public can voice concerns about specific issues, like new stop signs, new business licenses, or the proposed town budget. You can also email the town clerk to include a letter publicly in the agenda, by requesting the letter be added to the packet for the next meeting. This can be a good way to present your position or opinion on a topic without having to attend and speak publicly. You can also always email your elected town councilors directly.
The School Committee covers the Chariho Regional School District, including the representatives from Richmond. The critical meeting we need support for every year is around April, at the public hearing for the school budget proposal. A quorum from the towns are required so the committee can propose their budget for the referendum, so it’s a good one to put on your calendar! Of note, unlike the town council, where anyone can stand up and speak during the public forum or when the council asks for public comment, speaking at the school committee meeting requires attendees to sign-in beforehand.
The third major board of interest tends to be the Planning Board. While this is a much more detailed discussion, it is the town’s opportunity to review applications for builders and developers, and your opportunity to keep up with who and where is building in town. While the public is always welcome at Planning Board meetings, they tend to keep public comments to Public Hearings, which are also posted on Notify Me.
Attending these meetings doesn’t require you to attend in person. Each meeting can be watched on Youtube, live or after the event. The links are provided on the agendas for the meeting on the board’s respective website.
There are a number of other boards and committees that meet in the town, covering a breadth of topics that address recreation, relations with business, and the general well-being of the folks who live in Richmond. The full list can be found here. They’re always looking for input from people in Richmond, and often for people in Richmond who are interested in serving on the board. It can be a great way to help serve the town, and contribute to productive change!
-- Chris Kona