Governor Carcieri Should
Veto Have Vetoed the Suspension of Rhode Island Municipal Democracy Act of 2010
Looks like I was too late; the bill has been signed into law. Governor Carcieri, I fear that you’ve been had. Details tomorrow.
Governor Donald Carcieri should veto the hastily assembled set of rules for “municipal receivership” introduced to and passed by the General Assembly under the guise of an act “providing financial stability” last week. The bill, both an attempt to retroactively address the financial situation in Central Falls motivated by the growing realization that there is nothing in Rhode Island law that authorizes the actions that have been taken in CF so far, and a measure that could be applied to any Rhode Island community in the future, is nothing less than a set of procedures for suspending democracy at the municipal level, violating both the spirit of democratic, constitutional governance and the specific letter of Rhode Island’s Constitution.
The most egregious provision of the financial stability act is the powers granted to a municipal receiver, the culmination of a three-step process by which democratic governance in a city or town can be suspended for financial reasons…
Upon the appointment of a receiver, the receiver shall have the right to exercise the powers of the elected officials under the general laws, special laws and the city or town charter and ordinances relating to or impacting the fiscal stability of the city or town including, without limitation, school and zoning matters; provided, further, that the powers of the receiver shall be superior to and supersede the powers of the elected officials of the city or town shall continue to be elected in accordance with the city or town charter, and shall serve in an advisory capacity to the receiver.This provision is clearly incompatible with the home rule provision of the Rhode Island Constitution (Article XIII) prohibiting the state legislature from taking any action that changes the form of government in a city or town, without the approval of the voters in that city or town…
Section 4 — The general assembly shall have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of any city or town by general laws which shall apply alike to all cities and towns, but which shall not affect the form of government of any city or town. The general assembly shall also have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs and government of a particular city or town provided that such legislative action shall become effective only upon approval by a majority of the qualified electors of the said city or town voting at a general or special election…Decreeing that elected mayor and a city or town council can be reduced to the role of offering non-binding advice to an appointed official is inarguably a change in form-of-government.
Several of the events that can help trigger the suspension of municipal democracy under the potential new law relate to the actions of private financial institutions…
(3) The city or town has been downgraded by one of the nationally recognized statistical rating organizations;…which means that, while Rhode Island law contains no statewide provision allowing voters to have a say in removing local officials in cases of outright criminal behavior, private financial institutions lacking any local presence will be given a voice in scrapping all of a municipal government.
(4) The city or town is otherwise unable to obtain access to credit markets on reasonable terms in the sole judgment of the director of revenue,
These and other provisions of the bill reduce democratic self-governance to something citizens are allowed to play at, but something that is definitively less than the process by which a community comes together to make the most important civic decisions affecting its members. The proposed law runs counter to centuries of democratic practice where decisions relating to revenue must be approved by a body of local representatives freely elected by the people. And it embodies the odious principle that the best way for solving difficult problems of governance is to subordinate democracy to the will of a benevolent strongman. That may be the ideal way to do things within the limited imaginations of our state legislature, but it is not a philosophy that should be imposed on the cities and towns of Rhode Island.