Editorial: Calling for equality in local government

Posted 9/4/20

Government works best when it is open and consistent, almost machine-like in its approach to people and situations. A small-town government like Barrington’s absolutely must have personality …

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Editorial: Calling for equality in local government

Posted

Government works best when it is open and consistent, almost machine-like in its approach to people and situations. A small-town government like Barrington’s absolutely must have personality — those quirks can sometimes embody the charm of living in a small community — but for the most part, local government should apply judgements and processes equally to all citizens.

Too often, Barrington does not.

Consider what it takes to place an item on the agenda for a Barrington Town Council meeting. Not long ago, a large group of residents tried multiple times to get a spot on a council agenda to talk about how and why the town was ramping up tax bills on hundreds of properties without fair explanation or legal basis.

The town literally extracted hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal wealth from approximately 4,000 Barrington property owners in a failed, one-year experiment in creative tax assessment policy — and the town council refused to even talk to them. The best they could do was speak during a public comment forum, and then sit back down as the council ignored them and moved on to other business.

But that’s not the case for all residents. Earlier this summer, a single resident wrote a single email to the town manager. She had seen something on social media about a monument to slaves in Barrington. She had never seen the monument and did not know where it was.

Yet within four hours of hitting “Send,” Council President Michael Carroll was offering his opinions on the topic, and it was scheduled on the next council agenda. Then followed a lengthy council dialogue about the monument and what to do about it, ultimately leading to multiple volunteer boards being engaged for their perspective and input. The resident was never even asked to speak directly to the council; a three-paragraph email was enough to engage half the government.

Similarly, a new group of very engaged citizens have formed under the banner of Barrington Collective for Equity and Inclusion to lobby for changes here in town. Among other things, they want town and school leaders to actively work to find qualified minority candidates for municipal and school positions.

The group’s mission is laudable, and bravo for community volunteers who put words into action, but the process is striking. This group not only made it onto the agenda, they have an entire special meeting devoted to their platform and cause.

Then there’s the matter of flying flags above Barrington’s majestic Town Hall. A few months ago, a councilor and others requested town permission to fly a Pride flag in the month of June. There was dialogue, an open discussion and a unanimous vote from the council, followed by both a ceremony and some public opposition. Barrington veterans made it clear they resent any “political” flag being flown on that pole, other than the red, white and blue of the United State of America.

Last week, Town Manager Jim Cunha alone decided the Black Lives Matter flag should be flown above Town Hall. So up it went. No meeting, no notice, no discussion, no councilors.

Many will applaud the decision and celebrate its place above Town Hall. In this climate of heightened awareness regarding racial injustices and inequality, they should.

Yet they should also question a government that applies its authority without consistency or equality. Some get favor. Some do not. Some follow a process. Some do not.

It seems Barrington leaders could do more to treat all citizens equally.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.