This week on NBC 10 Wingmen Bob Plain and I talked about the controversy over the Central Coventry Fire District. It went in a different direction than I’d anticipated, so I hadn’t reviewed the long history of the controversy in as much detail as I should have, but there are two important points to make.
The first is that it’s important to remember, given context, that the start of the issue wasn’t an audit requested by the firefighters. It was actually a consolidation of multiple smaller fire districts, which was supposed to save money. It didn’t, which is what caused taxpayers to mobilize.
The second is that Bob was simply incorrect to attribute the budget problems to an audit and to credit the firefighters with requesting it. As my April 2012 liveblog of an abysmally run meeting of the fire district shows, the initial discovery of the budget problems came from taxpayer Leo Blais (whom, it’s worth emphasizing) Board President Girard Bouchard continually shut down, even grabbing the microphone from him:
Blais is explaining that the budget is a fiction. “Any way you add it up, it’s $1.2 million in the hole today.”
He says they’re “pretending” several budget related items. The chief began arguing with him, but the crowd shouted at him that he didn’t have the floor.
Bouchard called Blais out of order and grabbed the microphone from his hand. Much audience consternation. “If he can’t speak, you can’t!” …
Bouchard called the vote, but then he allowed another question: “What’s going to happen” if Blais is right and the taxes don’t come in as projected?
Bouchard: We’ll address that when it happens.
So, in summary, consolidation made the district more expensive, increased the likelihood of clerical errors (with a big one resulting), and made the process more opaque and difficult for the people to investigate. Even so, it was interested local taxpayers who unearthed the problem and demanded that it be solved. Now we have the state changing the rules of the game in order to protect a smaller unit of government from accountability to the people.