There was no big storm in 2014 (whew!) and we did not merge two separate town municipalities either (that was so 2013!), but there was news aplenty over the past 12 months, including an election that brought many new faces into town government, an arrest for prostitution on Main Street, the closing of Middle Road for most of the summer, and the granting of a 36th liquor license – harkening the continued surge in restaurant openings downtown.
Here’s a list of the biggest stories of the year (if you have different choices, let us know!):
When four of the five sitting Town Council members declined to run for re-election, we knew we were in for change. Indeed, on Nov. 4, voters gave the nod to three Republicans and two Democrats – four men, one woman. The last two previous councils had been all-GOP, all-male. The new council is Michael Isaacs (R-back for his sixth term and again president), Sue Cienki (R- vice president), Mark Schwager (D), Bill Stone (D), and Sean Todd (R).
Three incumbents sought re-election to the School Committee in November, but in the end only one – Mary Ellen Winter – survived the balloting, which brought three newcomers to the committee – top-vote-getter Yan Sun, Michael Fain and David Osborne. David Green (who had been chairman) and Jack Sommer both lost. All three newcomers are aligned with a parent group that began organizing last spring around such issues as later school start times and all-day kindergarten. Under the new configuration, Committeewoman Carolyn Mark was able to gather the votes needed to assume the chairmanship, with Deidre Gifford remaining as vice-chair.
After the Town Council refused to renew the victualing and liquor licenses for Norman’s Tapin February because of more than $30,000 in back sewer fees, the 42-year-old establishment closed its doors. While members of the Harris family, which owns the restaurant/bar, spoke optimistically of reopening, the establishment was dark for nearly 10 months. But in November, a refurbished Norman’s reopened.
It caught everyone in the state by surprise – that prostitution was happening out of a massage parlor called The Blissful Oak in toney East Greenwich. Police started investigating the so-called “relaxation studio” located on the second floor of 58 Main St. after hearing that the masseuses there were offering to provide extra services for additional money. The arrest – in April – was made after an undercover police officer from Warwick was allegedly asked if he wanted something to “finish him off” after the massage.
In recent years, East Greenwich has become a restaurant mecca and the trend continued in 2014, with the opening of Red Stripe and new victualing and liquor licenses for not one but two cigar bars, as well as the granting of licenses for a new Asian restaurant next door to Cobblestones on Post Road. But one story behind the story may be ever-increasing number of liquor licenses allowed in town. The Town Council must approve all liquor licenses and, as Council President Michael Isaacs has taken pains to say, they are renewed yearly so if there are problems with a particular establishment, the council can take action. One proposed establishment, however, had a tough time of it before the council – Havana, planned for 11 Main St. The hitch there was a liquor license but a music license, since the former occupant, Rok Bar, rocked the neighborhood a little too hard. Despite guarantees that they would soundproof the building, in June the council voted to grant them a license for acoustic music only. There has been no word since.
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