Central Falls Charter Panel Selected (Not Elected)

By way of an update (while tackling the stack of clippings on my desk), Zachary Malinowski reported on April 6 that the seats for the Charter Review Commission have been filled in Central Falls.  Given the apparent process, the passive voice is entirely appropriate:

State-appointed receiver Robert G. Flanders Jr. and Rosemary Booth Gallogly, state director of revenue, have approved the selections that were made last week by Leadership Rhode Island, a Providence-based think tank. The order, signed by Flanders, is on file in Central Falls City Hall.

So, an outside group (which calls itself a “community leadership development organization”) made the selections, and the governor’s appointed receiver for the city and an appointed department director signed off on the list. Diversity was a stated goal of the selection process (meaning that the commission would reflect the ethnic makeup of the town), but viewed by different criteria, it’s hard to believe that the group captures the character of the city:

  • A former city councilman and state weight and measures official covering Central Falls
  • A Central Falls police sergeant
  • A member of the Central Falls public library board of directors
  • A charter school “outreach coordinator” with an master’s degree
  • A long-time Central Falls school volunteer
  • A hospital research data coordinator
  • An engineering firm president
  • A computer specialist
  • A nondescript member of the public

Six of the nine members either work within government or for organizations that are deeply tied to government policies.  Two of the remaining three have white-collar jobs (and the occupation of the exception is not mentioned).  Whether a carpenter and a baker would have brought anything different to the table would be an interesting question, but of greater concern, to me, is the contrast with the process followed in Chelsea, MA.

There, the emphasis appears to have been on finding people in the community who were leaders in different ways.  Such an approach might bring in the president of a PTA, a business alliance chairman, a church pastor, the leader of a youth sports league, chairs of men’s and women’s guilds — basically, representatives of the various facets that make up a community.  In Central Falls, it looks like technocratic organizers and bureaucrats selected people mostly within the narrow band of “community” defined by government-related activity.

That doesn’t speak well for two of the critical goals that were present in Chelsea:  1) Drawing residents into participation with government, and 2) teaching them how civics works.  There may or may not be broad consensus among the people of Central Falls that these commissioners are good people, perhaps even to some extent public figures.  But they do little to illustrate and reinforce the relationship that government ought to have with the community it governs.

170 Responses to “Central Falls Charter Panel Selected (Not Elected)”

  1. Al Romanowicz
    April 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    If I were to look at this from a different perspective, I would say that the commission did meet the diversity goals that they set. There are members from every ward in the city. There are respected men and women on the commission. They range in age from 22 to 61. There are five members of hispanic decent and and four non-hispanic.
    Speaking to the leadership issue, it was the lack of effective leadership in the city that eventually brought the receiver here. It is time for new leadership. The process, if the commission conducts it as it is outlined, will be the framework for finally involving the entire community in their civic responsibilities and identifying new leaders for the city.
    I would say that Leadership Rhode Island was very successful in getting the first part of the process done.

  2. justinkatz
    April 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    That's a legitimate perspective, but my contention is that street address, gender, age, and even ethnicity aren't markers of the real diversity of a community. If the goal is (as it should be) to reinvigorate the city's civic culture, then the differences of identity that ought to have shaped the commission are those dealing with what people do and how they interact with their community… profession, social activity, and so on.

  3. RBarron
    April 25, 2012 at 7:00 pm #

    Working as I do with business owners and residents in Central Falls, I've been given the impression that the appointments aren't nearly as controversial as seem to imply. The president of the merchants association seemed satisfied with the selection. Local business owners, who have heavily engaged – despite the challenges inherent in running a business while being civically engaged – have generally expressed their support of the venture. My sense is that the one thing they don't want is Moreau and the council back in June with no strings attached. To get there, many of them seem willing to make some compromises,

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