Smithfield, RI Weather
The Town Manager’s Office
By Ron Scopelliti
This is the first in a series of articles describing the inner workings of the Town of Smithfield’s various offices and departments.
The top floor of Smithfield Town Hall is well-known for its Council Chamber, where the Town Council and other boards and commissions hold their public meetings. But during the day, the chamber is quiet, and the center of attention becomes the room across the hall, where the focus is not on setting town policy, but dealing with the day-to-day running of the town – the Town Manager’s Office.
Since 1994, Smithfield has employed a full-time Town Manager, appointed by the Town Council. Current Town Manager Randy Rossi has held the position since August 2017, having previously served as Finance Manager for ten years.
The Town Manager, he explains, is the highest appointed official in town, and oversees all of the town’s departments including all of the hiring, and the budget submission to the Town Council.
“The Council is the policymaker,” he says. “But the day-to-day operations and overall management of the town is handled by the Town Manager.”
The Town Manager also serves as a liaison between the Town Council and the public. While the public has direct access to the Council during their twice-a-month meetings, the Town Manager’s office is open to the public five days a week.
“We’re the front line for them,” Rossi says. “The residents come in off the street; they’re coming into my office they’re calling; they’re e-mailing…”
In turn, Rossi keeps in close contact with the Town Council, offering them feedback from the residents.
When the residents and the Council do decide on a course of action, it’s Rossi’s responsibility to work with the town’s department managers and find a way to make it happen.
“Our biggest annual challenge,” he says, “is always trying to figure out our available resources for revenue, and to plan for the future year’s budget and the needs of the town.”
Rossi says the first step in this is asking, “What things do we want to continue to provide to the residents, and to what level do we want to provide them?” He says the standard is always to at least maintain the current level of services, and to look at new, innovative ways to enhance them.
The job requires a careful balance of long-term planning, and immediate action.
“You have to be ready on the short term and then you also want to make sure that you don’t downgrade the level of services that people are providing,” Rossi says.
The balance of long-term planning and seizing on immediate opportunities is illustrated in the planned renovation of the East Smithfield Neighborhood Center on Esmond Street.
The town is currently waiting for architects to complete a plan outlining what’s needed to bring the historic building up to current code. When the report comes in, the subcommittee planning the renovation will get back together to weigh their options.
In the meantime, however, Rossi and interim Department of Public Works Director Gary Tikoian saw an opportunity to get a head start on the project using internal resources instead of outsourcing.
“As a precursor to that [renovation], we had the DPW guys out there to remove the fence that added nothing to the front of the building but making it an eyesore. Just that little bit of work has aesthetically improved that site,” Rossi says. DPW also got a jump on the planned renovation of the Anna McCabe School basketball courts, doing similar cleanup work there.
“Those projects really didn’t cost us anything,” he notes. “There was no overtime involved. It’s our normal guys doing operations, so that’s cutting back on project costs right there.”
The Town Manager is also the town’s liaison with state agencies that can be of service, whether it’s reaching out to the state’s Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission for grant money to help with the Neighborhood Center, or to the Lieutenant Governor’s office to explore retraining opportunities for workers displaced by the Benny’s closing.
In the midst of this day-to-day juggling of resources, there are constant budgeting concerns, as well as plans for the town’s long-term economic growth. These include an infrastructure program to prepare for development along the Rte. 7 and Rte. 116 corridor, and looking to alleviate traffic issues both there and on Putnam Pike. There are also the ongoing goals of adding a new fire station, and improving the town’s elementary school system. And, having recently completed two bridge renovation projects, the town will be turning its attention to the bridge on Esmond Mill Drive, which provides a vital link to the wastewater treatment plant.
Looking even further down the road, Rossi is working to develop the town’s Strategic Plan.
“We’re hoping to really lay out the blueprint to move forward, and continue to make the town better,” he says. “It’s a great town now – with the group of directors we have, we can definitely make it even better.”
Despite the activity, the Town Manager’s Office remains a front door to Town Government that is available to the public every work day.
“We try to give everybody their time,” Rossi says. “The door’s always open, and we try to accommodate as much as we can.”
Located on the third floor of Smithfield Town Hall, the Town Manager’s Office is open Monday through Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. Phone: 233-1010. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org