Editorial: Barrington likes to make up its own rules

Posted 5/19/23

The Barrington town government has shown a surprising willingness to ignore its own rules. The latest example was articulated by Town Manager Phil Hervey, when he told the Barrington Town Council and …

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Editorial: Barrington likes to make up its own rules

Posted

The Barrington town government has shown a surprising willingness to ignore its own rules. The latest example was articulated by Town Manager Phil Hervey, when he told the Barrington Town Council and public audience that the town is exempt from its own zoning codes.

At the time, he was explaining how the town was able to install two controversial signs at opposite ends of County Road that have been widely criticized and the butt of countless jokes. The tall, tower-like signs were installed without the typical review and permitting process that any other homeowner, business or developer would face.

Legally, the town has the right to operate independently of its own ordinances. That does not mean it should. Public review of those signs certainly would have triggered sharp scrutiny, valuable perspectives and a different outcome.

The culture of doing what it wants, because it can, goes back several years. It occurred when the volunteer group organizing a film festival sought permission to sell alcohol on public property. Normally that is not permitted — one cannot sell or consume booze at the beach or at a youth soccer game — but the town council and a previous town manager used an obscure and unrelated precedent to grant permission. It did the same when a for-profit business was organizing a series of summer festivals at Police Cove Park.

The government followed the same pattern when it twice redirected monies from restricted funds to other uses. Revenue from a cellular tower lease was supposed to be restricted to recreation and sports fields; the town eventually moved the money elsewhere. Another account that was initially restricted to athletic fields was also redirected to a wider array of recreation projects, like walking trails and fitness facilities.

The town government acted independently of rules and procedures when, lacking any written policies, its top leaders chose which symbols should or should not fly on its flagpoles. The backlash then distracted and entangled the government in more than a year of squabbling until the council finally approved a policy for the management of flags.

The previous town manager had a habit of issuing pandemic mandates and Covid protocols that stretched beyond the reach of his authority or the recommended guidance of state and federal authorities. The current manager had not followed the same pattern until recently, when he announced that the town has the purview to do whatever it wants when erecting signs on town property.

The most egregious example of this “we don’t answer to you” mentality would be development of the former Carmelite Monastery property on Watson Avenue into a dense housing complex. In their well-intentioned pursuit of affordable housing in this very expensive community, some town leaders are willing to trample Barrington’s own zoning codes to cram housing units into a wonderful neighborhood of single-family homes. The will of the public and the zoning codes of the town need not apply.

On paper, Barrington has a fantastic system of government, built on decades of smart leadership, sensible charters and thoughtful precedents. Perhaps a little less hubris and a lot more process would lead to better outcomes for the full community of Barrington.

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.