Editorial: Two towns, two different messages during pandemic

Posted 6/11/20

The one constant throughout this pandemic is that no one agrees on anything. Scientists, governors and private citizens have demonstrated every reaction and position possible, and it’s …

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Editorial: Two towns, two different messages during pandemic

Posted

The one constant throughout this pandemic is that no one agrees on anything. Scientists, governors and private citizens have demonstrated every reaction and position possible, and it’s difficult to predict who will feel what on issues of safety, risk or public policy. Friends and neighbors can have all the same information, the same views on life, and be diametrically opposed in their opinions about COVID-19 crisis management.

No one in the public sector should be too harshly judged for their actions during this unprecedented era. Generally speaking, they are in unchartered waters, making decisions based on developing and shifting information, in the greatest interests of public safety.

Having said that, it is still worth reflecting on some of the differences between public policy in Barrington and one of its comparable neighbors. Overall, Barrington has focused its attention on the things people CAN’T do, laying out one of the more aggressive and restrictive platforms in the region. Bristol, on the other hand, has let Gov. Gina Raimondo establish the restrictions and focused more of its attention on how to help people and businesses through the crisis.

Consider the policies implemented via Executive Order in the two towns over the past three months.

Barrington Town Manager Jim Cunha …

• Implemented and revised numerous mandatory, two-week quarantine orders, for all travelers, New York residents or anyone coming to Barrington from anyplace else in the world.

• Clarified that quarantine applies to everything; those under quarantine cannot venture out for food or other necessities (they must make delivery arrangements).

• Closed every recreational facility, field and park.

• Ordered all residents to “work from home,” if possible; told Barrington residents to visit their work or office only on a “limited basis.”

• Was the first to require face masks in public; initially, it applied to all activities outside the house, but it was later amended to clarify that it did not apply when exercising or driving.

• Issued this warning to residents: “Please do not see how far the rules can be stretched, and do not look for loopholes or workarounds to evade the purposes of this order.”

Meanwhile, Bristol Town Administrator Steven Contente and town leaders …

• Implemented no restrictions that were not already included in the governor’s orders; did not repeat any of the state orders.

• Created a COVID-19 Business Task Force; a COVID-19 Task Force for social services; a Volunteer For Bristol registry; and a Daily Dinner program for seniors or homebound residents.

• Offered a 90-day grace period for property taxes.

• Offered a deferral of dock or mooring fees for commercial fishermen.

• Waived renewal fees for businesses licenses.

• Temporarily suspended its plastic bag ordinance to help lower business costs and reduce handling of reusable bags.

• Deferred rent payments for tenants in town-owned business incubator spaces.

• Launched a grant program for the smallest of businesses, offering grants of up to $5,000 for businesses that did not receive federal stimulus funding.

Both towns offered zoning and permitting relief to help restaurants expand their outdoor dining spaces. It’s noteworthy that Bristol first vigorously encouraged creative  ideas and within days restaurants were serving customers in the downtown streets, all over sidewalks and in adjoining parking lots.

Bristol also used the closure of its Town Hall to make long-overdue renovations, and reopened it to the public on May 11 with new COVID-19 safety measures.

As stated at the beginning, personal opinions about the “right” or “wrong” public policies will vary widely.

But here’s something else to consider. Barrington Town Councilor Jacob Brier wants to consider ways the Town of Barrington can help its residents during this economic crisis. He has mentioned tax deferrals, tax rebates or any other financial programs that might help residents who are unemployed or facing financial hardship.

In April, he asked for a discussion during the May meeting; it was not placed on the agenda. In May, he asked for a discussion during the June meeting; it was not placed on the agenda. On Monday night, he asked that it be placed on the July agenda. Monthly agendas are created at the purview of the town council president.

So while one town has spent most of the crisis finding ways to help both residents and businesses, the other seems reluctant to even have a conversation.

2020 by East Bay Newspapers

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.