Just my Opinion: A Tale of Two Communities

This is a tale of two communities – two wealthy Rhode Island Communities. Communities that are sprinkled with million dollar homes, that are the two richest communities in Rhode Island by all measures.

This is a tale of one community – Barrington, where voters faced with proposed significant reductions in school spending, threatening various programs, said no – voted a tax increase to preserve the culture of their community.

It’s a town where there was considerable transparency, where townspeople came out at hearings and a financial town meeting, and were able to voice very loudly and with clarity that they wanted to preserve the culture and environment that brought them to Barrington in the first place.

This is a tale of the other community – East Greenwich, where the Town Council voted to flat line school spending at a time of student growth; that was determined to vote a tax decrease; that apparently voted approval of the budget, and then quickly adjourned the meeting; that chose to consolidate many of the operations of schools and municipal services; that fired its town manager of three years in favor of a consultant that proposed the one town fiscal approach. The vote was along party lines – the four Republicans favoring consolidation, firing the town manager, and lowering taxes. The lone Democrat standing in opposition.

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It’s also a tale of political overtones – at least when it comes to East Greenwich, where the origins of this approach go back to the receivership in Central Falls, where former Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders, who has indicated he would run for U.S. Senate as a Republican, worked closely with financial consultant Gayle Corrigan.

Flanders, an East Greenwich resident, and Council President Sue Cienki talked about Corrigan before she was hired as a consultant in East Greenwich, who was then installed as interim manager after Tom Coyle, the town manager for three years, was abruptly dismissed in what has been called a Monday morning coup by National Education Association of Rhode Island Executive Director, Bob Walsh.

Cienki was on a host committee for a Flanders fundraiser.

“There was a coup in East Greenwich this morning,” tweeted Walsh, “with those wishing to destroy the schools now in firm control.”

And from East Greenwich School Committee chair, Carolyn Mark, as reported in local media: “There is a tremendous amount of upheaval going on in EG right now…I was deeply disappointed in the Town Council’s decision to cut taxes when just keeping the tax rate level would have provided the schools with the resources necessary to avoid significant cuts in staff and programs.”

Corrigan had proposed – and it’s now likely to be implemented – what she calls a “One Town” approach, consolidating town and school finance, human resources, IT and purchasing departments. Proponents believe the approach makes for a leaner financial system, opponents see it as an attack on employees and unions, and ignores the differing missions of town and school governance.

Meanwhile, it’s difficult to find anyone who has anything but glowing comments about Coyle, who before becoming town manager was chief of police for a little more than three years, and had a distinguished career in the town’s police department for more than 25 years.

This is a bizarre tale of two communities headed in different directions in a political environment that is turning this nation on its head, from Washington to East Greenwich Town Hall.