Shady Maneuvers in Local Government
One periodically hears the complaint that Republican candidates, in Rhode Island, too often shoot for the bigger state and federal elected offices, rather than starting local. Each person has to determine his or her interests and preferences for participation, but I’ve been finding local politics, here in Tiverton, to be extremely instructive in helping to form my understanding of governance in general.
As I mentioned on Anchor Rising, recently, Town Administrator Jim Goncalo has modified official documents with false information for the purposes of an “inquiry” to the Department of Revenue Division of Municipal Affairs. What he and some members of the Town Council are attempting to do is to get the state to promise to certify a tax increase above the 4.5% cap (over 9%). In that way, they avoid going on record voting to request a waiver of the tax cap before the financial town meeting but effectively achieve the same thing.
At last night’s Town Council meeting, which I liveblogged on the Web site of Tiverton Citizens for Change (TCC), some of us concerned citizens raised the matter under the agenda item “financial town meeting,” to which it is clearly relevant. What we confirmed immediately was that the Town Council had not seen the document (officially, anyway) and did not approve it for sending to the state as part of an “inquiry.” The notable exception was that Council Member Louise Durfee was clearly very familiar with the package, suggesting that she might be working independently without council participation in the background.
That’s when the education really began.
The strategy of the key players — Durfee, Goncalo, and Council President Don Bolin — was to insist that, in the context of the package, it really wasn’t a big deal that the town administrator had misrepresented formal documents submitted to the state, apparently without authorization to do so. They then engaged in misdirection and personal attacks against those of us who took the public podium to speak.
Town Administrator Goncalo stressed that nobody was supposed to see the documents except for him, the town treasurer, the Budget Committee chairman, and the state. In fact, he promised “to find out who put that form on the Internet” (I did), as if posting public documents is now a matter for witch hunts and suppression of transparency. As if it would be preferable for town officials to make a practice of sending secret, falsified documents to departments of the state government in order to receive promises of certification based on information that does not accurately reflect the current status of the town’s budget process.
The fact is that the budget, as it stands, is currently below the tax cap, an inconvenient fact for those who hope to confiscate more tax dollars.
Council Member Hannibal Costa then objected that the item wasn’t on the agenda. President Bollin slammed down his gavel and ended the meeting.
For the final lesson of the evening: Even though the subject of falsified documents from a town official that had ostensibly been inappropriately released to the public was clearly the most newsworthy development of the evening, neither Tom Killin Dalglish, of the Sakonnet Times, nor Marcia Pobzeznik, of the Newport Daily News, both in attendance, approached any of the principal speakers for further information.
Now extrapolate this drama to the state and federal levels. The one hope, it seems to me, is that truth and principle will shine through, no matter the breadth of the issue or the complexity of the obfuscation.