By Elizabeth F. McNamara
[Editor’s Note: Bob Houghtaling is a member of the board of East Greenwich News – information we should have included when this story originally posted. Our apologies for the omission.]
Town Council President Sue Cienki wanted to set the record straight.
“Ok, so let me correct any misinformation that may have gotten to you,” she said to resident Anthony Soscia (EGHS Class of 2017) after he spoke during public comment at the Town Council meeting Monday about how important Bob Houghtaling was to the community. “The reason that Bob is here tonight is to talk about the work he has done.”
Houghtaling, the town’s long-time drug counselor, had presented his year-end program statistics earlier during the meeting. But Soscia and other people who spoke in public comment praised Houghtaling and his work as if his job was in jeopardy.
Cienki said she asked Houghtaling to present his report to the council during a public meeting because she viewed it as a “commercial” for the work he was doing, a well-deserved “pat on the back.”
Resident David Caldwell said he was relieved by Cienki’s praise of Houghtaling but questioned whether or not Cienki would be willing to say Houghtaling’s job would remain as it’s been – as a town employee who provides services to school children and town residents through programs, clubs and counseling.
“We all love Bob,” said Cienki. She said any change would be to get more money from the state (by way of a grant) to add to what Bob can do in East Greenwich.
“What can we do to work with Bob? What does he need? Let’s get him more money from the state,” Cienki said in response to Caldwell.
Councilman Andrew Deutsch said he wanted Houghtaling – whom he has credited with helping him during high school – to be on the job until his young daughter gets through high school.
Resident Tracie Truesdell said she thought she knew why people had decided to speak Monday in support of Houghtaling.
“I just want to say, I’m really sorry we have people coming up and cheering for Bob because what this is illustrating right now is a complete distrust of the council,” she said.
After the meeting, Olin Thompson, chair of the Juvenile Hearing Board and one of those who commented Monday, agreed.
During the Council Comments portion of the meeting, Cienki spoke praised Houghtaling for a third time.
“I wanted to thank Bob again,” she said. “I’m not quite sure how one person does everything that he does.”
After the meeting, Houghtaling said he thought the praise for his work was really about something larger.
“In a lot of ways, they were encouraging the council not to forget the importance of community,” he said. “I’m a department of 1 but with 1,000 ‘employees’ who willfully volunteer tons of their time to create this thing we call East Greenwich.”
You can watch the meeting on the EG Town Democratic Committee’s Facebook live video here. Houghtaling’s presentation begins at 53:30. Public comment follows.