Laws Corrupting the Rule of Law in Woonsocket

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It looks like the repercussions of allowing state-appointed municipal dictators — even if in the conciliar form of a Budget Commission — continue to be felt in Woonsocket.  From Sandy Seoane in The Valley Breeze:

With City Council members still angered over what they say is a total disregard for their authority, Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt has made tax bills showing rates higher than those approved by councilors available online. …

Councilors have voted three times to approve a lesser levy increase of 1.949 percent, and with unresolved issues still pending between the administration and the city’s governing board, City Council President Albert Brien advocated for a disregard of the bills.

A brief review of the online debate suggests that the point of contention resides in Rhode Island General Law 45-9-10.1, which puts a fiscal overseer in place for five years in a city or town that has exited the state-oversight process.  In Woonsocket, the Budget Commission wrapped up in March, leaving overseer Paul Luba in place.  Specifically, the state law gives Luba authority to “review and approve the development and preparation of the annual municipal or fire district budget, all department operating and capital budgets, and spending plans.”

The mayor’s argument may be that she consulted with Luba, and he doesn’t “approve” of the budget, so she can therefore go forward with her original budget.  With the caveat that Rhode Island judges don’t always enforce the rule of law, preferring to give insiders space to do things they deem preferable to the written rules, it would appear that steps in the process are missing, here.

The phrase “review and approve” indicates that the process is performed in the usual way, for the city or town, with the overseer’s stamp of approval needed.  The next step, in other words, would not be the mayor’s sending out tax bills in contravention of the city council’s votes, but rather, the fiscal overseer’s denying the budget and appearing before the council to argue the point and negotiate.

Unfortunately, in keeping with President Obama’s “stop me if you can” approach to governance, elected officials seem disinclined to follow through with all necessary steps to get to the results that they’d prefer.  That is, our famous system of “checks and balances” is out of favor with powerful people.  In failing to be explicit about what the authority to “review and approve” entails, the state’s horrible fiscal oversight law ensures that important decisions will be made when officials play chicken and then judges prove chicken about making the right call.

(One fears this is a harbinger of our civic collapse across the country.)

With echoes of the Supreme Court’s recent ObamaCare ruling, if a court finds the mayor and overseer’s preferred budget is necessary, the judge may take the expedient route to that outcome and validate the mayor’s action.  If that happens, an overseer isn’t really an objective auditor of a struggling city or town’s finances, but the wielder of a magic undo who gives one or the other side in local disputes the power to act as if rules do not apply.



  • GaryM

    Woonsocket is the canary in the coal mine of what is in store for all RI. For two decades, Woonsocket officials believed that HUD candy-man Sen Jack Reed showing up with a bucket of HUD money every year to rehab those old buildings into affordable housing was a sound business plan.

    Then around 2011 City officials began to realize they had deconstructed their property tax base and that paying the municipal bills was impossible with all that affordable housing paying annual property taxes of around $600 per household. Educating a single student is a minimum 20 times that $600.

    Now the GA is about to take the Woonsocket business plan statewide with House Bill H6107A making it the law that virtually any new or rehabbed affordable housing development anywhere in RI gets to pay their property taxes at the same rate as that which drove Woonsocket into the fiscal toilet.

    I’ll bet you didn’t even know about H 6107A. You should! It’s about to be voted on in the next session.

    • ShannonEntropy

      Yet another reason why every community has a ‘NIMBY’ attitude about “affordable housing” and why wealthier places like Barrington or Exeter can pay to keep it out

      … the MAIN reason tho, being that it brings CRIME =►

      http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/american-murder-mystery/306872/

      • GaryM

        Shannon – Thanks for the great link. A couple of points:

        1) the article mentions the so-called fantastic results of the 1970’s Gautreaux program which was a program later replicated on a larger scale under President Clinton’s 1995 “Moving to Opportunity” demonstration experiment. But the results of the Clinton initiative were just the opposite of the Gautreaux program. The final results of Moving to Opportunity are well documented on the internet and paint a bleaker picture of the “moving to opportunity” theory.

        2) the problem that nobody actually wants to talk about is that when governments give young girls a financial incentive to create a single-parent family, and at the same time, anoint their status as single-mom hero’s. In one of the greatest “duh” moments of the 20th century, we are now shocked to find that kids brought up under such circumstances lacking the skills needed to be productive members of any community.

        A more reasonable argument to the failure of the Clinton initiative is that the 1970’s Gautreaux program came at a time when the black family still had roots in two parents. By the time we got to the Clinton years, two parents was a rare site. We should not be surprised how we got here.

        • Tommy Cranston

          I don’t know that no one is talking about it-everyone is talking about it.
          Little gets done though. The common sense thing to do of course is to cap benefits at the number of kids a female has when she first goes on any benefits. We need to go from more kids=more welfare to more kids=no higher welfare. Plus stop the insanity of giving “crazy checks” to kids.

      • Warrington Faust

        Shannon (does anyone not “in computers” get the name? Perhaps I will begin signing as “Schwartzschild”) thank you for the link. In my experience I have seen much anecdotal evidence of what the article reports, but I have never seen it subjected to analysis. More locally, I have known people involved with the ownership of large Section 8 projects in Boston. Since the police are overtaxed they have their own, known as “Security Companies”. I invite correction, but I understand that Section 8 will pay up to 20% more than “market rates” as an inducement to landlords. Owners come to regard the Section 8 rent as “market rate”, raising the rents on similar units. This drives “working people” out.

        • Warrington Faust

          While reading the article, I thought many people involved in planning housing were “removed” and had little actual knowledge of “poverty” or the people involved. That “planning” was done by distant “elites”. Fred Reed’s column just arrived (Fred is an interesting guy, formerly part of a “killer elite”, he has taught college level mathematics and worked as a “police reporter”) He speaks of some of these people (I don’t agree with everything from Fred, but he is frequently amusing).

          http://www.fredoneverything.net/Ballmer2.shtml

        • ShannonEntropy

          Shannon (does anyone not “in computers” get the name? Perhaps I will begin signing as “Schwartzschild”) …

          Just for you, Warrington =►

          http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/discussion/comment/13123317#Comment_13123317

  • Warrington Faust

    When smaller governments begin being eaten b larger governments, do they develop any sympathy for the taxpayers plight.

    • ShannonEntropy

      Justin has pointed out here several times that if the folks who keep calling for “regionalization” of gum·mint ‘services’ get their wish, all they will have accomplished is putting another layer of un·accountable bureaucracy between the citizens and the administrators

      So the answer to your question is …. NO

  • tomp93

    I live in Woonsocket. This mayor is running a “totalitarian” office and needs to be removed forcibly if necessary. I’ve never seen the ignorance she displays towards the citizens who’ve entrusted her with this position like she does. God forbid you voice thought outside of her acceptance of it, you’ll pay for it. How, I repeat, HOW are we to have her impeached ?

    Please advise.

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