Retroactive Blessing for Local Dictatorship

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Often, Rhode Island legislation is the product of input from multiple special interests discussing their needs behind closed doors, and reading the final bill leaves one wondering what prompted one section or another (and what deals were made).  If you’re from elsewhere in the state than Tiverton, you might have wondered why legislation that allows cities and towns to keep collecting the same amount in taxes if they fail to pass a budget in time this year would retroactively bless anything local chief executives have done to change their budget processes.

Part of the answer, at least, can be found in the East Bay:

To review:

  • On March 31, just in time to prevent a Budget Committee vote she might not have liked, Council President Patricia Hilton granted herself authority to amend Tiverton’s Home Rule Charter and change the town’s budget process.
  • During a Town Council meeting on April 6, Councilor Nancy Driggs asked how the council president had that power under the law, and Town Solicitor Michael Marcello explained his legal theory that, during an emergency, every “chief executive” of a city or town gets the same power as the governor, including the ability to suspend state laws within his or her town, which is what the charter essentially is.

The theory was certainly a jaw-dropper, and apparently the state General Assembly believes so, as well. Working with Hilton and town leadership, Tiverton State Representative John “Jay” Edwards, The Fourth (father of Hilton’s ally on the Town Council, John Edwards, The Fifth), rushed legislation through the General Assembly…

Hilton worked with select members of the Budget Committee and issued an emergency order even though there was no real emergency because she thought her preferred option would be more likely that way.  Her hired solicitor then concocted a legal theory to fit what she wanted because (one can infer) he perceives that she is his client, not the people of Tiverton.

Now a powerful State House insider has covered Hilton’s tail in rushed-through legislation while, incidentally, his son announced his campaign to join Dad in the legislature in the district where Hilton would run, were she so inclined.