Smithfield leaders butt heads on Land Trust bill

Smithfield leaders butt heads on Land Trust bill

SMITHFIELD – Rep. Thomas Winfield informed Town Council President Paul Santucci of his proposed bill to disband the Smithfield Land Trust in mid-January, prior to its filing, according to Winfield. But Santucci says the representative couldn’t make himself available to meet and discuss his concerns.

Winfield said Santucci failed to tell the truth when he said in a Valley Breeze & Observer story last week that he didn’t know about the legislation prior to its filing, and he provided text messages he says prove it.

In a text sent to Santucci on Jan. 16, at 5:17 p.m., Winfield wrote, “What corrective actions are going to be done with the Land Trust? I have a bill that will eliminate the Land Trust so I will be waiting and watching.”

On Feb. 2, Representatives Winfield and Gregory Costantino submitted legislation to the General Assembly that would disband the Land Trust, transferring property ownership and responsibility to the Town Council.

In response to Winfield’s text, Santucci said he would call the next day to discuss what “transpired over the last month,” and said he and Town Manager Randy Rossi would meet Winfield to review what corrective measure they had taken with the Land Trust.

Winfield said no such meeting took place, nor did the phone call.

Santucci said his being aware of the bill before it was filed was a “half-truth.” He said Winfield “never, ever” brought the proposed bill before the council for discussion, and he emphasized that Winfield “never, ever” told Santucci that he would be filing the bill.

“He never, ever told me he would be filing the Land Trust bill and I assumed he would necessarily bring it before the council before taking any such action,” Santucci said.

Winfield said he sent another text the day after the filing, which would have been Saturday, Feb. 3. When filing bills, “I don’t need permission,” he maintains.

“If it’s good, and it’s the right thing to do, I’m going to do it,” Winfield said.

Santucci said that over the last few months, he and Rossi had “numerous meetings” with Barbara Rich, chairwoman of the Land Trust, and with the Land Trust as a whole to address concerns and help with issues.

“They were extremely productive meetings and the Land Trust has implemented a number of changes to ensure they comply with open meetings and records laws, report to the council on an ongoing basis, and operate smoothly and productively for the town,” he said.

Santucci said the council is “extremely proactive” about ensuring the council exercises oversight of the Land Trust.

Winfield said he and Costantino received an invitation to attend the next Town Council meeting on Tuesday Feb. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Smithfield Town Hall, 64 Farnum Pike.

Winfield and Costantino introduced a bill to eliminate Smithfield business registration fees on Jan. 19, also without council approval, Santucci said.

“He did not obtain council approval for that bill (business registration) or ask the council’s approval for that one either,” Santucci said.

Similar to the Land Trust bill, the bill would repeal the requirement that businesses pay a $5 fee and register with the town, giving the tax assessor more leeway with business owners, Winfield said.