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Q&A: Warwick City Council President Stephen McAllister

Warwick City Councilman Stephen McAllister
Warwick City Councilman Stephen McAllister

WARWICK, RI — In November, Warwick voters chose new Warwick City councilors in Ward 1 and in Ward 9, where former council president Steve Merolla’s resignation ended a streak of presidents with decades of board experience.

Stephen McAllister, representing Ward 7 since 2017, was named the new Warwick City Council President, the first in recent years to hold the position without decades of prior experience on the board. Since then, changes to how the City Council conducts business, some of them issues during the election, have been made.

Warwick Post asked McAllister about his first few months leading the Council and the changes. Here are his answers:

WARWICK POST: Were you looking to be Council President?

MCALLISTER: After the election, Councilman Howe contacted me and asked if I was interested in running for President. He said he would support me if I ran. I was interested, so after that conversation I spoke with different Council members, sharing my ideas around ways we could improve our meetings. I was honored that the Council decided to support me for the position.

WARWICK POST: What’s changed in your service on the Council since you were named president?

 MCALLISTER: My main job continues to be addressing the priorities of Ward 7 residents and all the citizens of our City. Serving as Council President simply means I lead the Council meetings and handle a few additional administrative tasks.

WARWICK POST: What takeaways do you have from watching former presidents Solomon and Merolla during their time?

 MCALLISTER: Council Presidents Solomon and Merolla employed different strategies when running Council meetings. I am trying to incorporate what I learned from them, taking their best ideas and adding some of my own to make our meetings as effective as we can in service of our community.

WARWICK POST: How are you doing things differently as Council President?

MCALLISTER: I want to make Council meetings more public friendly. We now start our meetings on time at 7 p.m., pausing any committee work at that time to open the meeting.

The public agendas state that Council meetings start at 7, and I think it is important we honor people’s time. In the past, when committee meetings ran over and the start of the Council meeting was pushed back to as late as 9 p.m., it wasn’t fair to the public. Now, we start right at 7, recite the pledge of allegiance and play the national anthem. We have general communications, followed by public remarks, and then we address one item of public interest that has been moved to the top of the agenda.

For example, we had a presentation from the City finance director on the state of Warwick’s finances at a recent meeting. To ensure people tuning in at 7 could hear that report without waiting hours until committees completed their work, we started on time and moved this item to the top of the agenda. Another change in our meetings is that each week a different council person has the opportunity to invite a member of our community to lead us in the pledge of allegiance. 

WARWICK POST: You mention pausing the Committees at 7 p.m. to start the meetings on time – do they resume after the meeting?

MCALLISTER: Yes, once we start the meeting and address a few issues, we go back into committees and finish those agenda items.

WARWICK POST: Were the other council members part of the decision to go that route with this council?

MCALLISTER: Yes, we are making these decisions as a Council. We take a formal vote to adjust the order of items on the agenda. All major council decisions are made by majority rule. We are a thoughtful, committed team, and all of us get to have our voices heard on Council business.

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