Editorial: Time to hit the re-set button in Barrington government

Posted 11/12/20

The election is over, and a new era begins. It’s time to forget the past and hope a new administration can change the culture of government.

We’re talking about the Barrington Town …

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Editorial: Time to hit the re-set button in Barrington government

Posted

The election is over, and a new era begins. It’s time to forget the past and hope a new administration can change the culture of government.

We’re talking about the Barrington Town Council, of course.

With three new members about to take office for the first time, the council has a chance to hit the re-set button and start fresh.

In our opinion, the council of the last few years has been drifting in a bad direction. Frequent discord between the two remaining councilors — President Michael Carroll and Jacob Brier — has impacted the normal functioning of the council, but it is only a minor factor. The council has been generally unfriendly to the public, cozy with the administration and unpredictable in its actions. Its meetings have been long, contentious, draining and sometimes unproductive.

Its last meeting included a theater of the absurd, when the board hosted a discussion after four residents made preposterous claims about two of its members. The four signed a letter accusing Mr. Carroll and Kate Weymouth of harassment and discrimination in prior meetings. They further accused the council president of “gaslighting” one resident because she had audio problems while trying to speak during a live Zoom meeting.

The term “gaslighting” refers to a form of psychological manipulation bordering on torture. On the basis of that alone, the residents’ complaint should have been politely received and filed and never given the spotlight of a public discussion. As amplified in our words here, we are not enamored with how Mr. Carroll and Ms. Weymouth have run this council, but they are hard-working, selfless volunteers, and these accusations are absurd.

Yet absurd public dialogues are just one of the problems with this council. Foremost on our list is a consistently green light for almost every spending decision that comes before it.

More workers in the building inspector’s office? Approved.

More employees for public works? Approved.

More firefighters? Approved.

Close public buildings but keep everyone working full-time? Approved.

Increase the cost of emergency management 700 percent? Approved.

Hire a consultant for creating a diversity committee? Approved.

Issue management raises of 4 to 9 percent during a global pandemic? Approved.

The epitome of this spend-first mentality was last spring, when some councilors (Mr. Brier and Joy Hearn) suggested miniscule cuts to the town manager’s proposed budget. However, a majority of councilors rejected the idea, with Councilor Steve Boyajian stating they should keep taxes as high as possible, in case the town needs the money. Let that sink in … tax people the max, so the government has all the money it might need during this crisis.

This philosophy reflects the awkwardly close relationship between the council and the town manager. We want town leaders to work together for the good of the town and its residents. They need a healthy relationship to do so. But do they have to agree on everything, especially when this manager has shown himself to be generally pro-government, generally anti-citizen?

He changed Town Hall hours — better for employees, worse for residents. He eliminated leaf-bag sales at DPW — better for employees, worse for residents. He authorized a radical new tax policy that literally sucked money from hundreds of Barrington property owners and roiled the real estate market — better for the government and much worse for residents.

This last debacle highlighted some of the worst characteristics of this council. It refused to hear the citizens who were aggrieved by the change in tax policy, and it refused to even hint at disagreement with town employees — even when it knew they were wrong. Then the council re-dedicated itself to raising taxes as soon as someone moves into Barrington, by asking the State of Island to change assessment laws so the town can start taking those taxes again — legally, this time.

There is more evidence of this cozy relationship between council and manager … When every fitness center in the Northeast was closed courtesy of Covid, the manager was found to be working out at the town safety complex gym — silence from the council. When the town manager took it upon himself to fly a controversial flag weeks after the council decided it should make all flag decisions — a rousing endorsement from the council. When the town manager decided to shift money from a fund devoted to this town’s woeful athletic facilities, to be used for things like docks and walking trails — unanimous backing of the council.

We know it’s not all bad. This council has been a wonderful advocate for the environment and for open space. It has been a steadfast defender of human rights and social justice. It just has a spotty record at protecting the interests of a majority of its residents.

This new council can change things. The newly elected are new leaders in Barrington. They will elect a new president. They can adopt a new philosophy.

They can make taxpayers their most important constituency.

They can recognize Barrington is a family-centric community and foster a culture in line with that identity.

They can value residents who have lived here all their lives as much as those who moved here last summer.

They can focus more on actions, and less on optics.

They can shorten meetings, sharpen dialogue and stop issuing public statements packed with words but bereft of meaning.

They can hit the re-set button and start again.

This is 2020 — a great time to welcome in the new.

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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.