Towns Serving at the State’s Pleasure
Ted Nesi reports that Superior Court Justice Michael Silverstein has found the Central Falls receivership to be constitutional:
As I mentioned back in July, the big constitutional question here was whether or not putting a city or town into receivership represented a permanent change in a municipality’s form of government. Administration lawyers and Pfeiffer argued it does not, and therefore the new law would withstand judicial review under a 1994 R.I. Supreme Court precedent. Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau and four out of five City Council members argued the opposite, and lost.
Permanence, by Silverstein’s lights, appears to mean that municipal voters will be able to return to a representative form of government… someday. Moreover, the justification for the law remains broad:
The judge also noted that cities and towns’ right to self-government “is not unfettered,” because matters of statewide concern remain in the General Assembly’s hands even if they affect municipalities. With that in mind, he agreed with the administration that an individual community’s financial collapse would be a matter of statewide concern because of the cascade effect it would have on other places’ finances.
In a state the size of Rhode Island, there’s very little that a city or town can do that doesn’t affect the others. Consider even the union strategy of leapfrogging benefits from town to town — with each district’s local pointing to increases elsewhere in the state as a reason for increases. Or, to pick a topic of current interest, consider whether a wind farm controlled by a handful of municipalities that dumps energy into the grid will long be free of the state’s groping fingers.
Basically, municipalities are subdivisions of the state, permitted autonomy and democracy only insofar as it’s convenient to the powers in the statehouse. Of course, local leaders have been at the head of the herd in promoting that notion — especially around budget time — so it’s hardly a one-way affront.