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.