Displacing the Tiverton Elite
I’ve got a letter in the current Sakonnet Times, responding to some discouraging observations at recent town meetings:
To the editor:
The self-presumed ruling class of Tiverton — in and out of office — has no governing ideas but to raise taxes in good times and bad while comfortably accepting that most of the town’s budget is locked in by law or by contract. So, they’ve turned their ire toward the members of Tiverton Citizens for Change who have stepped forward to change the trajectory of municipal government.
First the accusation against TCC was, “They’re not from here, and they haven’t done anything!” Then it was, “They’re not from here, and they make mistakes when filing campaign finance forms!” The new one is, “They’re not from here, and they need practice conducting public meetings with a hostile audience!”
Well, golly. The meetings that the familiar voices reference are those of the current Budget Committee, on which local reformers have a controlling hand, and the heat radiated most strongly (thus far) when the group interviewed the School Committee. It’s almost as if the town aristocracy is trying to distract from school officials’ admission of difficulty facing down the obscenely aggressive National Education Association labor union.
An anonymous commenter on my web site, AnchorRising.com, mocked Budget Committee (and TCC) member Thomas Parker, a successful naval officer, and suggested that we should “take a good look at who we have running some of our meetings and think about providing effective leadership to the town in this time of crisis.” Yes, let’s.
At its most recent, notably quiet, meeting, the School Committee did not have members of the Town Council gabbing disruptively in the back of a small meeting room or former School Committee Vice Chairman Mike Burk bellowing attacks as he paced the room, both of which set the tone of the prior Budget Committee meeting. However cordial their gatherings, school committee members and representatives bemoan the strength of the teachers’ union and (unbelievably) their own sense that they have weak hands for negotiation. (How about having employment on offer during the worst downturn since the Great Depression?) And when the town administrator and council president recently asked for financial help to maintain services in the current budget, committee members were awfully quiet, considering that the request came mere weeks after they had given away hundreds of thousands of dollars to the intimidating unionists.
On the Town Council side, meeting attendees walk away with the sense that even contracts that are up for negotiation are “locked in.” Council President Don Bollin recently declared an inability to “trim a budget based on what [he] would like to see happen in negotiations,” and that “it’s easier to have the money put back should the results we want happen.” As the School Committee recently acknowledged, however, the unions typically demand more than is budgeted, rather than allow any earmarked dollars to flow back to the town. Indeed, a central rationalization of the school department for awarding not only raises but retroactive pay was that the “money was in the budget.”
So, if your overarching preference is for peaceful government meetings in which all of the meat is chewed during executive sessions and in which officials practice comity most enthusiastically while conspiring, along with the unions, to manipulate procedural rules to ram double-digit tax increases through financial town meetings, then side with the familiar faces. Me, I’ll take fresh leadership that conducts entertaining meetings but checks unions to lower taxes and maintain services at the same time.