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Where’s the Legal Clash Over Tiverton Casino?

There was something odd about a news report that Tiverton’s Interim Town Administrator Christopher Cotta and Town Council President Patricia Hilton were “livid” and “doubly frustrated” upon learning that Governor Gina Raimondo had permitted the reopening of the Twin River casino in town without consulting them.

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A Town Run by a Triumvirate and a Union

On the latest episode of Tiverton on Track, I Zoomed with Tiverton Town Council Members Donna Cook and Nancy Driggs.

As may or may not be happening in other Rhode Island towns, the governor’s emergency declaration (not to mention the example that she’s setting) has dramatically reduced the number of town officials who actually matter.  With three Town Council members — Joseph Perry, John Edwards (the Fifth), and Stephen Clarke — as well as the leadership of the Budget Committee completely abdicating their authority and shirking their responsibility, the town is being entirely run by the triumvirate of Town Council President Patricia Hilton, Interim Town Administrator Christopher Cotta, and Town Solicitor Michael Marcello, with a supporting role for Vice President Denise DeMedeiros.  No other elected officials in town matter.  Even the town’s Home Rule Charter bends to what the Triumvirate decrees.

Meanwhile, on the school side, the suspended teachers’ union president and the National Education Association of Rhode Island are taking advantage of the fact that the school department is forbidden by law from disclosing details of the incident.  NEARI is also pledging to stick it’s well-funded, mobster-like nose in the town’s elections to ensure that the town has management that the union prefers starting in November.

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Politics This Week with John DePetro: Pockets of Rebellion

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for May 18, included talk about:

  • Providence College kids rebel
  • The Catholic bishop sends the governor a message
  • Narragansett Town Council considers resistance
  • Justice Flanders signals a challenge
  • Rally-goers take up the call
  • A delay of Phase 2 reopening
  • The teachers’ union flexes in Tiverton

I’ll be on again Monday, May 25, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

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Clay Johnson: Officials Forgetting Foundational Importance of Hum of Running Economy

I applaud the decision makers, at all levels of government, that quickly responded to the medical crisis. But health issues only represent one component of the challenges in front of us. We all hunkered down for weeks to ‘flatten the curve.’ Our common goal was to ensure that, as a community, we had enough hospital beds for those most vulnerable. Well, we’ve flattened the curve. (And we know now that the survival rate of COVID-19 in the United States is almost 95%.) Why then are governments having a hard time moving to the next stage during this time of testing? I can only believe that most people were more familiar with the fears and responses to the medical side of the crisis.

Let’s explore the impact on small businesses. Almost half of all employees in the United States work for a small business. In fact, 96% of Rhode Island businesses are small businesses. They are the engine of our economy. Business owners can feel in their bones, the impact of this shutdown on Rhode Island. We owe it to the rest of the citizens of Rhode Island to communicate this feeling.

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Larry Fitzmorris: Portsmouth Looks to Raise Taxes Over 4% With Unemployment Over 15%

The budget for next year is one of the worst produced in the last twenty years. This budget is characterized by the Council’s complete lack of interest in reducing costs to prepare for the economic downturn and its continuing emphasis on the growth of Town government. In fact, the only changes over a routine year are using the Fund Balance to provide revenue for routine spending and to cover any shortfalls in State funding. Currently the budget is at the Provisional stage and there are further votes, but significant changes after this point are rare.

The budget that begins next July 1 has a residential property tax increase of 4.43% at a time when the unemployment rates for Portsmouth taxpayers are probably at least 16%.

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Politics This Week with John DePetro: Decision Time!

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for April 13, included talk about:

  • The governor’s handling of the virus crisis
  • The silence from everybody else
  • The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s suggestions
  • The decisions facing the governor and the people of RI

I’ll be on again Monday, April 20, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

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Politics This Week with John DePetro: The Executive Takes All

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for April 6, included talk about:

  • The governor’s tough tone
  • Unemployment skyrockets
  • The General Assembly shirks its duties
  • Bad optics from Cranston mayoral candidate
  • Tyranny in Tiverton

I’ll be on again Monday, April 13, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

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Taking Government of the People Seriously in Tiverton

Tiverton resident and Budget Committee member Joe Sousa caused been causing a bit of a stir in town, lately.  First, he made some noise about maintenance issues at the town’s still-new library.  Then, this week, he spent a day noting the work schedule of a crew.

Rhode Islanders are used to splashy stories of government employees engaged in outright theft and bad behavior, so Joe’s findings, posted on Tiverton Fact Check, almost seem mild compared with that.  Still, almost three hours’ worth of breaks and just a little bit more than four hours doing the assigned task during an eight-hour day — all while the town pays $600 per day to rent a specialty vehicle for the work — seems like it justifies some investigation.

Joe was this week’s guest on Tiverton on Track, for an informative, don’t-miss-this episode.

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Center’s School Choice Message Sprouts Roots

Recently, two prominent Rhode Island politicians have publicly supported our Center’s long-time policy idea – even echoing our own language – to advance educational freedom for Providence families and all parents across our state.

For years, behind the scenes, I have been advising politicians and candidates – Democrats, Republicans, and independents – on the benefits of educational scholarship accounts (ESAs).

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The Trick of “Move Forward”

A theme that emerged during Tiverton on Track Episode 13 was the tendency of government insiders to urge the public to “move forward” from the problems and mistakes of the past.  Depending on your perspective, it’s either a bug or a feature that this has the effect of making it more difficult to fix underlying problems.  (Probably because a major underlying problem is often the government insiders!)

In this episode, Donna Cook, Nancy Driggs, and I discuss ways in which local government can get a handle on things, including meetings in which not everybody has to agree.

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The Independent Man Needs YOU: Consider This Call To Civic Action

Is it time for you to get involved… to save our state? If we are ever going to change the policies that are driving away families and crippling businesses, the sad truth, my friend, is that we are going to have to change the players.

Rhode Island’s political class is so beholden to so many special interest groups and agendas, that they are paralyzed when it comes to considering common-sense, pro-growth policy reforms.

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Behind the Deterioration and the Hostility

Members of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) are finding a single cause behind many of the problems and controversies going on in town.  The guest for episode 12 of the Tiverton on Track podcast is Richard Rom, who is on the board of the Tiverton Library and who is the chairman of the Tiverton Republican Town Committee (TRTC).

Richard’s appointment to the library board generated a lot of heat last year, because he came from a different perspective than the other members.  That was exactly the reason the majority of the Town Council supported him, and now he’s offering suggestions as the board figures out how to address maintenance issues and the contents of the library.

Meanwhile, a group of men who have been supporters of a faction heretofore hostile to the TRTC have suddenly registered as Republicans and have begun to attend its meetings.  A big tent and conversations are great, but somehow they bring the air of a hostile takeover, rather than of an intent to build on shared values.

The single cause between these and other controversies is the sense among some in town that people who disagree with them should be locked out not only of decisions, but of institutions where they might feel comfortable.

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Complaints and Interference

The pervasive theme throughout Tiverton on Track Episode 11 (stream below) is that a lack of transparency and a lack of respect for confidentiality when it is justified mix to create tension in a community.  That’s the case whether somebody elsewhere in the state tweets a detail out of supposedly confidential contract negotiations or the leadership of the Town Council attempts to resolve a community disagreement the way they want it resolved by keeping the details out of public view.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: The Corrupt RI Filter

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for February 3, included talk about:

  • Raimondo’s anti-Trump special-interest PAC.
  • Will the new Providence superintendent earn his pay?
  • Everybody could be right, but is wrong, on the Convention Center.
  • RI gambling giants’ form a super-crony organization.

I’ll be on again Monday, February 10, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

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When Every Conversation Is a Labor Fight in Warwick

A familiar subject floated through Rhode Island’s news cycle again last week when Warwick schools Superintendent Philip Thornton reported to his city’s school committee that the district should do something about teacher absenteeism:

Two schools — Wyman Elementary and E.G. Robertson Elementary — have chronic absenteeism rates of 24.4 percent and 22.7 percent, respectively. Chronic teacher absenteeism is defined as missing 18 days or more of school out of a typical 180-day school year.

Two more schools — Oakland Beach Elementary and Sherman Elementary — have rates above 20 percent.

In the 2018-2019 school year, more than 11 percent of all Warwick teachers — 100 teachers — were chronically absent, Thornton said, using data from the Rhode Island Department of Education. That said, more than a third of all teachers — 312 — missed less than five percent of school.

This isn’t just some hobby horse on which the superintendent wanted to beat for some reason.  He raised the issue because teacher attendance is part of the formula that the RI Department of Education (RIDE) uses to grade the Ocean State’s schools.  Looking for some means of holding our education system accountable (without actually changing anything), the state has developed metrics, and the chief executive of an organization has strong incentive to have his metrics look good.

We’re used to these spats, around here, but it’s worth stepping back a moment and plainly noting what is going on.  The superintendent has identified a metric on which he believes the district can make improvements, and the relevant labor union, the Warwick Teachers’ Union, led by Darlene Netcoh, called out the troops and ramped up the objections, staking out ground for the fight.  Some teachers have to work until 67, she says, which drives up the sick time, as if Rhode Islanders in the private sector have anywhere near the days off that government-school teachers get.  Netcoh also attacked the numbers themselves.

Big picture, our elected and appointed officials have to be able to discuss ideas big and small, and they won’t feel as free to do that if every comment or proposal might begin the gears of the labor-unrest machine.  In the private sector, management can discuss things and make plans before a possible dispute is placed in the open.  In the public sector, only the unions have that privilege.

If we want open, transparent government, then we need some social (or legal) pressure on the labor unions to back off.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Why Can’t Everybody Be Right?

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for January 27, included talk about:

  • The Convention Center, the Speaker, the Republicans, and the Projo
  • Sickness in the Warwick teacher contract
  • Making the yellow shirts count
  • (Slim) hope as a new face enters the Providence school scene

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I’ll be on again Monday, February 3, at 12:00 p.m. on WNRI 1380 AM and I-95.1 FM.

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Trying to Keep Perspective on Local Politics

In President Trump’s economic speech in Davos, he attributes the recent economic strength of the United States to policies that put “the American worker” at their center.  Agree or disagree with the president (from any of the angles at which it would be possible to do so), he raises an important point.  We tend to get caught up in our preferred solutions or our own interests, to the detriment of our causes and our communities.

Listening to episode 10 of the Tiverton on Track podcast from the Tiverton Taxpayers Association, titled “Living in (And Budgeting for) a Community,” one hears that theme sneak in repeatedly.

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Rolling Effects of Housing Wealth Redistribution

As hints had suggested Rhode Islanders should expect, Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 (beginning July 1, 2020) includes a new program with new dedicated funding to build affordable housing.  (Naturally, Democrat Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, of Providence and North Providence, a Laborers Union careerist, loves the idea.)

WPRI’s Eli Sherman summarizes the plan:

The budget, which will now be vetted by lawmakers during the coming months, suggests creating a two-tiered tax system that doubles the so-called “conveyance tax” to 0.92% on all property sales – both residential and commercial – totaling more than $500,000. The current rate — 0.46% — would apply to the first $500,000 of any transaction. …

State officials estimate the new tax would generate about $3.6 million in state revenue next fiscal year, and $8 million in each budget year afterward. The money would create a dedicated funding stream that would go into a restricted receipt fund at Rhode Island Housing, a quasi-public agency, and be controlled by the Housing Resources Commission.

This scheme brings to mind some analysis I did of tax rates in Tiverton back in 2018.  My conclusion was that the exorbitant tax rate was suppressing home values at the high end of the market.  At the same time, broader market forces were increasing house values at the low end.  Because the tax rate is uniform across the town, and because the tax rate is set in order to match the town’s budget (not the other way around), this had the effect of moving the tax burden toward the working class neighborhoods.  Their houses were worth more, while the expensive houses were worth less, so the taxes followed the value.

Of course, adding a couple thousand dollars at the point of sale will have much less effect than a tax rate that charges that amount every year, but the principle is the same.  Taxing high-end houses more will make them less valuable, shifting the real estate tax burden down the scale.

At the same time, the state projects that it will be building an additional 250 “affordable houses” every year.  Increasing supply at the low end of the market will tend to reduce prices there, too.  So, while the increased stock will expand the low-end’s share of total value, taxpayers’ bills will decrease with the value.  Whether this helps spread municipal tax bills to more homeowners will depend on whether the affordable houses are distributed evenly across the state.

This leaves the middle of the market, which will see upward pressure on its annual tax bill, while also being nudged toward the $500,000 line, where it will be more-expensive to sell.

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Municipal Government Moves to the Back Room

With the old establishment players back in power in Tiverton, we’ve seen a quick return to the practices that have done so much damage to local government over the decades.  Decisions are being made by a few, unidentified people in back rooms and private communications.  New hoops are being erected for community groups to jump through.  The law is being rewritten by the minute depending on what the Town Council leadership needs it to be.  The council’s votes are becoming mere recommendations unless approved by the president.

Members of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) talk about that and more on Episode 9 of the Tiverton on Track podcast.

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Political Monday with John DePetro: Doubting the People in Charge

My weekly call-in on John DePetro’s WNRI 1380 AM/95.1 FM show, for January 13, included talk about:

  • A union president accuses race heretics
  • OPEB swamping Providence and Warwick
  • Fear about “red flag” laws
  • The legislative session starts
  • RI losing claim to a Congressional seat,
  • The rolling fundraising party of the State House

Open post for full audio.

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Local Podcast Kicks Off Budget Season

For those in and out of Tiverton who have some interest in the politics and budget process of the town, the latest episode of the Tiverton on Track podcast of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association (TTA) covers that ground:

Track 1: The Gander Hires a Solicitor
Track 2: Passing the Joint… Meeting
Track 3: What’s the Plan?
Track 4: How the Budget Thing Works