Continuing to Define Democracy Down in Central Falls

Over on the municipal side in Central Falls, lawyers for Receiver Mark Pfeiffer have made their latest arguments explaining how the suspension of municipal democracy in CF is constitutional. Here is the most thoroughly unconvincing one, from John Hill‘s report in today’s Projo

Pfeiffer’s lawyers disputed the usurpation argument, saying that in May, before Pfeiffer’s appointment, Moreau and the City Council went to court and asked for and got a court-appointed receiver with much the same powers that Pfeiffer has now. Pfeifer’s brief also said that the council in June passed a resolution that endorsed the state receivership law that called for a state-appointed receiver — eventually Pfeiffer — to replace the one chosen by the courts.
Presenting a theory of government that cannot seriously be called democratic, Receiver Pfeiffer is arguing that a city’s Mayor and council have a legitimate power to give away the people’s right to democratic government, in consultation with another organ of government, but without the consent of the governed. This is not correct. Democratic systems are not systems that have some optional democratic features that can be done away with when some (OK, in the case of Central Falls, when many) bad decisions create problems. Democratic systems are systems where the people are sovereign over the government, where government cannot sever itself from accountability to the governed without sacrificing its legitimacy.
I ask to the readership here — and especially to those who think this is just a Central Falls or an urban core issue — are you truly comfortable with creating a precedent in Rhode Island where your mayor and/or city or town council is granted the power to give away your right to democratic governance, in order to “solve” an issue in your municipality — keeping in mind that, as we head into what could be a very tumultuous period of public financing decisions in Rhode Island (and elsewhere), Central Falls is probably not the only place where the upper echelons of Rhode Island’s political culture would like, if given the chance, to move democracy out of the way of the exercise of governmental power.

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Richard Langseth
Richard Langseth
13 years ago

Having worked among the American Indian Tribes I can tell you that misguided tribal leadership attempts to “give away the government” are not all that unusual. The end result is almost always a disaster of some kind. I can’t think why an effort to abandon Central Falls will be any different.
The people will — and should — work this situation out by themselves. The obvious solution is for them to appeal to the General Assembly to protect the people’s right to govern themselves.
The big question for me is how do they do that? This is something the courts and the caretakers have no ability to handle.
It is going to be an interesting process.

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