From Receiver to Totalitarian

Curiously, giving somebody total power over a municipality seems likely to do nothing so much as expand the scope of “total”:

The state-appointed receiver who assumed Mayor Charles D. Moreau’s powers in July announced Tuesday that he was appointing a three-member advisory council to act in place of the five-member elected City Council.

A mayor’s role is administrative, so it’s not surprising (although it’s still objectionable) that a state-appointed receiver would assume the mayor’s responsibilities. But what’s a city council do?

Pfeiffer’s advisory council will review business licenses, zoning and other matters that normally go before the City Council.

This is character-of-the-town stuff. This is the heart of self-governance. And the single-person-receiver, accountable, ultimately, to the state Department of Administration and the governor has now handed it off to yet another layer of unelected officials, accountable to him. The explanation of this usurpation of the democratic process offers no comfort. The elected council rejected a demand from receiver Mark Pfeiffer:

[Council President William] Benson said the council voted to reject the policy plan because it believed that October’s court ruling had already put it in an advisory role and approving a policy could have exceeded that role and possibly put the council in contempt of court.
The policies included requirements that Pfeiffer be informed of agenda items three days ahead of a council meeting, that he had the right to strike or add agenda items and that he be provided with copies of materials the council received during its meetings.

One needn’t know anything about the day-to-day issues that face the Central Falls City Council to see danger in this development and to believe that Governor Don Carcieri should rein in his appointed dictator. Unfortunately, insinuation into town operations isn’t the only direction in which the receivership idea is expanding:

Pawtucket’s finances have drawn the attention of state officials. Rosemary Booth Gallogly, the state Department of Revenue director, sent a letter to Doyle focused on the city’s deficits, saying that “savings haven’t materialized” despite a deficit-reduction meeting held with Pawtucket officials.
“The state reserves its rights to examine the city’s finances,” Gallogly’s Sept. 29 letter said, in part. The letter also referred to a new law that lets the state intervene in a financially distressed municipality, as it did in Central Falls where a receiver is in charge. However, Amy Kempe, a state Department of Administration spokeswoman, said last month that the state does not at this point expect to intervene in Pawtucket.

In passing, note that Ms. Kempe is also cited repeatedly as spokeswoman for the Central Falls receiver. Whether the state currently has plans to take over Pawtucket, as well, the power of the threat is the matter of concern, because threats tend to grow and eventually must spill into action.
Nonetheless, right-leaning reformers in the state might be tempted to accept the bad with the good, in the case of the government’s new right of receivership. After all, the threatening letter in Pawtucket has inspired the mayor to push the School Committee to pressure the teachers’ union to begin talking, at least, about financial easing of contractual requirements. Consider, though, that in mere months, the person who will ultimately appoint any new receivers will not be Don Carcieri, but Lincoln Chafee — he with the left-wing head of the state National Education Association branch on his transition team.

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13 years ago

My question is does Central Falls pay ANY of its’ own bills?? And if they do pay some of their own bills what is the % vs what the state subsidizes? If the state subsidizes 75% or more of Central Falls budget then the city is merely another department in state government and the state can run it any way they want.
The irony here of course is that CF is a haven for latino illegal aliens so the state is simply giving them the form of government they’re used to. How funny is that.

13 years ago

I understand your concerns for the forced receivership, but one thing that I might have missed is what is the alternative? If a city falls into what would be the equivalance of bankruptcy, what should happen then? Should the state be on the hook to pay the city’s bills? Should a city be allowed to continue to go further down the drain?
If a city fails to pay its bills and continues to bleed money, then what? It would eventually get to the point where no payroll is getting met, so you then have police, fire, teachers simply walk off the job, and then you have chaos.
What is the intermediate step in between a city running out of money and total chaos? How should this be handled?

13 years ago

“What is the intermediate step in between a city running out of money and total chaos?”
I call it ‘Pawtucket’, but that’s an old Indian name. 🙂
On a more serious note, I have to second Patrick’s questions. When Representative Democracy fails to deliver solvent government, what is the appropriate next step? Direct Democracy would likely be much worse.
The scariest thing is that even if municipalities were granted all the ‘tools’ fiscal conservatives desire (terminating contracts, eliminating mandates,etc.), the cast of characters in may City and Town Halls is often just as misguided and unwilling to compromise as the General Assembly.
Just as an example: I picked up a newspaper and read an editorial by Mayor Doyle about how he had already ‘cut into the bone’ on spending. On the next page, pictures of him swearing in seven new police officers. Call me crazy, but by all measures, we are already heavy on police per-capita, and low on crime. Now isn’t the time to add $1M to the payroll.
Pawtucket is run by Machine Democrats. Even in this election, there was -no- Republican candidate for School Committee, Mayor, my Council ward, or the at-large seats on City Council. The ballot said ‘vote for X number of candidates’ and there were X Democrats listed below, with almost no exceptions.
If you gave the Pawtucket City Council and Mayor the tools fiscal conservatives need to get their job done, they likely wouldn’t know how to use them. When they run out of money they don’t ask for freedom from mandates and powers to abrogate contracts, they pull their pockets inside-out and ask for more money.

Mike Cappelli
Mike Cappelli
13 years ago

Just wait a few months and see what happens in Providence.

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
13 years ago

The solution is for the state to increasingly disentangle itself from Central Falls in proportion to the degree that the city refuses to get itself under control.

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