Looking Forward From the Exeter Recall

What Lessons Will the Town Council Take from the Recall Experience?

How Attorney General Kilmartin Can Improve the Chances of Moving All Firearms Permitting to His Office

The Referendum Option That the Town Council May Not Know it Already Sort of Supported

Since Constitutional Rights are Involved, So Too May be the Courts…

UPDATED: Take My Garbage Collection… Please

Tiverton has single-payer curbside garbage collection. Some of my tax-hawk friends like it because it’s a service they actually use, and (they argue) they couldn’t get as good a price as the town is able to negotiate. Me, I hate it and would gladly make other arrangements.

The smaller part of my reason is that the town has for decades failed to prepare for the filling of its dump, so it’s instituted a “pay as you throw” program that charges us $1 or $2 per garbage bag that’s collected… in addition to the taxes that were previously considered to be the whole cost of trash pickup. (That represents at least a doubling of the price, to my household.) There’s no escaping the per-bag fee, because we have to use the same bags if we bring the trash to the dump ourselves, and there’s no escaping the tax, which we would pay even if we found some way to live without generating any trash at all.

But my bigger objection is that we’ve got next to no recourse if we’re unhappy with the service. Since I’ve lived in town, I’ve had two garbage barrels destroyed, and the current one limps along with a monthly repair. Today, a barrel that I bought for our recycling is gone, and it appears very likely that it was thrown in the truck, rather than emptied into it.

What’s the recourse? Call the town? Call the contractor? Why should any of them care? The fact that people in town are effectively required to hire this particular garbage company means that the protests of a single resident amount to very little. Even if many were dissatisfied, we’d have to be so upset as to deliberately organize in order to force a change of town policy.

Can’t wait for single-payer government healthcare!

UPDATE 12/17/13 12:54 p.m.

By way of a follow-up: The head of the town department of public works responded to an email that I’d sent him last night, and he offered to replace the missing one, although the rubbish contractor said no barrels were taken. Immediately after reading his email, I was on my way to run an errand and spotted the recycle barrel a good distance down the street. How it got there I don’t know.

That reduces the immediate reason for my post, but my frustrations have been long building, and I’d still prefer not to have curbside pickup through the town.

An Exeter Chuckle

The open meetings complaint made by Exeter resident Rodney Santos, reported in Wednesday’s Projo, shouldn’t go anywhere if the meeting that is the subject of the complaint was a Democratic Party event.

But it was this part of Tom Mooney’s report that made me chuckle a bit…

Robert Johnson, one of the four targeted Town Council members and the head of the Town Democratic Committee, says he asked that the state police be present as a precaution because Santos had “made a bit of a scene” the day before at the library asking about the meeting room’s occupancy limit and “planning to call the Fire Department to disrupt the meeting”.

If members of the Exeter Town Council can reach an arrangement where the Rhode Island State Police perform basic police functions for Democratic Party events, with a little honest effort, couldn’t they also reach an arrangement where the State Police help Exeter residents with the basic police function of firearms permit background checks?

The role of the Ethics Commission to enable maximum corruption?

A state doesn’t get to Rhode Island’s current condition unless every institution that’s supposed to be a corrective to the corrupting power of government is perverted. And so:

[According to the state Ethics Commission, it] is OK for School Committee Chairwoman Andrea M. Iannazzi to participate in decisions that affect school bus drivers and mechanics, even though her father administers a benefits fund for the labor union that represents those employees. …

The ethics advisory opinion was based on a letter to the commission written for Andrea Iannazzi by Ronald F. Cascione, School Committee lawyer. Cascione said Donald Iannazzi’s fund works on behalf of a North Providence unit of Local 1322 — not the unit that represents Cranston school bus drivers and mechanics.

Rhode Islanders have to consider the Ethics Commission to be a detrimental force to the extent that it effectively becomes a board to determine the outermost limits of conflict that are allowed, thereby defusing any political controls against corruption short of that. Put differently, voters can and should insist on a higher ethical threshold than the commission possibly can, because voters are not bound by legal language and regulatory restrictions, but they are less likely to be able to do so in the face of official rulings.

The realities of electoral politics, especially at the town level, make the commission’s advisory opinions a sort of clean bill of health for fundamental corruption, thwarting the power of the public’s common sense.

Worse, this clean bill is acquired at taxpayer expense, because they are paying the lawyers who massage the legalisms for incumbents. Meanwhile, as with campaign finance reporting, newcomers who just want to serve their communities in elective office become targets for smears because they lack those taxpayer-funded resources.

Nice Work, Tiverton: “Tiverton served with whistle-blower lawsuit”

You may remember the latest candidate for Public Employee of the Month, Tiverton’s Maintenance Foreman, busted on camera by Turn To Ten’s I-Team allegedly managing his own properties on town time. The Town of Tiverton, in an inexplicable and notably dumb maneuver, reacted by firing his subordinate, Larry Faulkner. Late this afternoon, Turn to Ten broke the latest development.

A lawsuit filed in Newport County Superior Court by Larry Faulkner spells out a complaint under Rhode Island’s Whistle-blower Protection Act.

A not unreasonable reaction and one that was, in fact, foreshadowed by Current-Anchor’s Justin Katz. The problem, of course, is that the price for this mishandling will be paid by taxpayers – almost certainly taxpayers from several towns because the suit has been forwarded to the Rhode Island Interlocal Risk Management Trust – and not by the Tiverton official(s) involved, as would be rightful.

The Exeter Recall

In voting for the March 11 resolution to remove firearms permitting authority from the town of Exeter, the Town Council majority chose the path that comes all too easily to Rhode Island officials: passing serious decisions to someone else. But just because many Rhode Island politicians accept this as normal doesn’t mean the citizens of Exeter have to — and it is healthy that they haven’t.

Analyzing Revenue Analyst’s Objection to Zero.Zero Municipal Windfall

State Director of Revenue Analysis Paul Dion’s objections to the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s municipal revenue projections need adjustment for both policy realities and existing law.

The Highly Injury Prone, Unbelievably Piggy North Providence “Firefighter”; or, Giving Thanks for a Nosy Press

… “firefighter” in quotes because, not only would most firefighters almost certainly disown Stephen Campbell but, more to the point, it appears that he spent almost as much time on paid injury leave on the North Providence fire department as he did actually fighting fires. As it’s not usually helpful to either describe or improve […]

10 News Conference Wingmen, Episode 12 (Taxes and Wealth)

Justin and Bob discuss taxes and wealth on NBC 10 Wingmen, with some afterthoughts from Justin.

The Key Fact About Municipal Pensions

For some reason, Ted Nesi and Tim White shied away from what I take to be the key point of their latest report on municipal pensions, which they come right up to, here:

The police pension fund in Tiverton posted the worst investment performance in Rhode Island during the 10-year period ended June 30, 2012, with an annual return of just 3.45% after fees. Tiverton’s return was only half as high as the state’s top performer, Providence, which posted a 6.9% return over the same period.

I’m pretty sure that means that no local pension plan in Rhode Island actually hit its investment return assumptions over those ten years. That’s the scandal of pensions (and what made the pension reform a bit of a trick, in my view). Every year they slip farther from their targets, because in order to promise better benefits — ongoing, not just at some point in a spendthrift past — they’ve estimated rates too high, to bring the present costs down.

The report also says that Tiverton’s discount rate is 7%, but based on documents produced in the headier days of pension reform (here and here), it looks like the town went up to 7.5% in 2012. (Of course, the board may have lowered it back down without my having heard of it.

Bell’s Toneless Chime on Providence Austerity

As much as I’d like to let Sam Bell beat on Angel Taveras (rhetorically, of course), I just can’t let data be misused.

Tiverton Town Administrator Resigns

After a performance on a channel 10 news report regarding an employee with suspicious work habits that raised questions about the administrator’s attention to employees… not to mention his potentially leaving the town open to a lawsuit for firing a whistle blower who’d sought to alert him to it… Tiverton Town Administrator James Goncalo has resigned his position.

One suspects this story is far from over, especially with a state police investigation ongoing.

UPDATED: This Isn’t How a Town Administrator Should Be Reacting

NBC10’s I-Team reporter Parker Gavigan has posted a follow-up to his investigative report showing (allegedly?) Tiverton employee Robert Martin spending 60% of his work time on his own rental properties. The follow-up article provides reactions from Town Administrator Jim Goncalo, and if anything, parts of it are more disturbing.

Gavigan asks whether Goncalo has ever caught wind of Martin’s activities, and by the substance, the administrator answers in the affirmative, saying “I questioned him and it seemed to be reasonable.”

When an employee went to Goncalo to report Martin, the administrator terminated the whistle blower because of “certain allegations he made toward other employees that would make it impossible for him to work in the presence of these employees.” He even denies that the employee was “fired,” but rather “was let go.” Asked what the difference is, Goncalo responds, “the term.” As Gavigan reports, the letter given to the employee makes the distinction pretty well moot, seeming to indicate that he was terminated for cause.

As an insult to injury, the Town of Tiverton has denied the reporter access to Martin’s time sheets.

The state police are investigating, and we’ll see where this goes, but unless there are some surprises, it’s difficult to see how Goncalo keeps his job. Of course, this is Tiverton, and this is Rhode Island. Odds are that too few people will actually learn of the story for its import to overcome the demagoguery and hard-ball tactics that have come to characterize local elections.

Given past history of similar investigative reports statewide, accountability will probably come in the form of a few uncomfortable months waiting for the noise to fade out.

(More analysis and video at link.)

Tiverton Town Foreman Filmed Doing His Own Work on the Clock (Allegedly)

Those who used to attend the Tiverton financial town meetings (FTMs) will remember town Maintenance Foreman Robert Martin’s annual practice of moving the entire budget without amendment. Now, Channel 10’s investigative reporters say they have filmed him in the regular practice of working on his own rental properties while on the clock. [Click “Continue Reading” below for the video.]

10’s I-Team estimated that, during their two-month investigation, the local Council 94 president spent 60% of his time on the clock doing his personal work, using the truck that he leases to the town for $55 per week, bringing waste to the dump, and even using town employees for help. One such employee tells reporter Parker Gavigan that he reported Martin and was himself fired for his trouble.

The question that Tiverton residents may want answered is how a town employee with responsibility managing others could only spend 40% of his time actually doing his job and not raise any red flags. In the video, a blank-faced Town Administrator Jim Goncalo curtly answers “yes” to the question of whether he’s surprised.

Speaking to Martin, Gavigan asks, “If I’m paying the tax bill here in town, is this what I deserve?”

“Oh, absolutely,” replied Martin.

The compliance regime is the frightening thing.

The City of Woonsocket’s closing down a home-made haunted house that raises charitable donations is a pretty good emblem of why the state’s economy is failing and where government is going wrong more generally.

The cease-and-desist order presented to the Dens-mores says their Halloween house is considered a “special amusement building” and requires a sprinkler system. David Densmore says they could not afford that. He used old fences, palettes and tarp and donations of gently used ghouls to make hellish scenes both kitschy and creepy.

The city told the Densmores they must close or have their utilities shut off.

When we accept that the role of the government is to proactively keep people safe — rather than imposing penalties when things go wrong and allowing both producers and consumers to assess their own risks — we’ve entered into a society in which freedom is on the wane and innovation is chained by the inelastic limits of government functionaries. People lose the ability to try and to fail because, even if they accept the risks associated with what they’re doing, they can’t afford the requirements that government has imposed as it’s tried to imagine every possible outcome of every situation.

Free Advertising for the Incumbent

Graffiti vans advertising the name of the Providence mayor, who is currently running for governor, ought to raise questions about campaign finance and the appropriate uses of public office.

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