April 27, 2010

Shady Maneuvers in Local Government

Justin Katz

One periodically hears the complaint that Republican candidates, in Rhode Island, too often shoot for the bigger state and federal elected offices, rather than starting local. Each person has to determine his or her interests and preferences for participation, but I've been finding local politics, here in Tiverton, to be extremely instructive in helping to form my understanding of governance in general.

As I mentioned on Anchor Rising, recently, Town Administrator Jim Goncalo has modified official documents with false information for the purposes of an "inquiry" to the Department of Revenue Division of Municipal Affairs. What he and some members of the Town Council are attempting to do is to get the state to promise to certify a tax increase above the 4.5% cap (over 9%). In that way, they avoid going on record voting to request a waiver of the tax cap before the financial town meeting but effectively achieve the same thing.

At last night's Town Council meeting, which I liveblogged on the Web site of Tiverton Citizens for Change (TCC), some of us concerned citizens raised the matter under the agenda item "financial town meeting," to which it is clearly relevant. What we confirmed immediately was that the Town Council had not seen the document (officially, anyway) and did not approve it for sending to the state as part of an "inquiry." The notable exception was that Council Member Louise Durfee was clearly very familiar with the package, suggesting that she might be working independently without council participation in the background.

That's when the education really began.

The strategy of the key players — Durfee, Goncalo, and Council President Don Bolin — was to insist that, in the context of the package, it really wasn't a big deal that the town administrator had misrepresented formal documents submitted to the state, apparently without authorization to do so. They then engaged in misdirection and personal attacks against those of us who took the public podium to speak.

Town Administrator Goncalo stressed that nobody was supposed to see the documents except for him, the town treasurer, the Budget Committee chairman, and the state. In fact, he promised "to find out who put that form on the Internet" (I did), as if posting public documents is now a matter for witch hunts and suppression of transparency. As if it would be preferable for town officials to make a practice of sending secret, falsified documents to departments of the state government in order to receive promises of certification based on information that does not accurately reflect the current status of the town's budget process.

The fact is that the budget, as it stands, is currently below the tax cap, an inconvenient fact for those who hope to confiscate more tax dollars.

Council Member Hannibal Costa then objected that the item wasn't on the agenda. President Bollin slammed down his gavel and ended the meeting.

For the final lesson of the evening: Even though the subject of falsified documents from a town official that had ostensibly been inappropriately released to the public was clearly the most newsworthy development of the evening, neither Tom Killin Dalglish, of the Sakonnet Times, nor Marcia Pobzeznik, of the Newport Daily News, both in attendance, approached any of the principal speakers for further information.

Now extrapolate this drama to the state and federal levels. The one hope, it seems to me, is that truth and principle will shine through, no matter the breadth of the issue or the complexity of the obfuscation.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.


You appear to be quickly moving from having elected officials in Tiverton saying "It's nice to see this young man so interested in his hometown" to "This kid is getting to be a real pain in the ass."

You're only a stone's throw away from "That's a real nice van you got there. It'd be a shame if something happened to it..."

Keep the heat on these hacks, if for nothing else than the fun of seeing them squirm when the sunlight hits them.

Posted by: oz at April 27, 2010 6:38 AM

"Now extrapolate this drama to the state and federal levels."

Actually, Tiverton may be carving out new and illegal ground here.

"Lambert made the excellent point that it is absolutely clear that the town council is asking for a waiver without asking for a waiver in order to avoid a 4/5 vote before the FTM."

This is an amazingly irregular situation. I've never heard of officials 1.) falsifying documents, then 2.) submitting them purportedly without the knowledge of the authorizing body and 3.) without the signature of the head of that body. (There is a reason such documents require a signature.)

As the document is neither signed nor voted upon, Jill Barrette, the person to whom the falsified document has been or may have been sent, should stay way clear of this matter. If she is tempted to respond to this questionable document, for her own legal safety, she needs to obtain from Attorney Andy Teitz a signed legal opinion written on his firm's letterhead. She has no obligation to stick her neck out, especially not for a couple of political cowards.

Posted by: Monique at April 27, 2010 7:25 AM

Justin, what were the personal attacks made last night. I was at most of the meeting and did not here them. Not to say they did not happen as I had toleave before the conclusion. Could you please clear that up for us.

Posted by: trip at April 27, 2010 8:12 AM

Given that Tiverton (indirectly via the state if not also directly) is the recipient of federal "stimulus" dollars, one wonders if the U.S. Attorney might have some interest in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to fraudulently represent the town's financial data on official documents.

Posted by: Ragin' Rhode Islander at April 27, 2010 8:55 AM

Justin: It appears that even the local press is in on this!! In fact, after the meeting, did you see them all jump into the black helicopters? You have totally misrepresented what has occured and for you to promote transparencey, the only thing transparent here is that you simply do not understand the process. Those docs are not falsified and to continue to promote such a line of distortion clearly indicates that you have no objectivity, only TCC spin. Stop being sloppy and ask the state if the docs are "falsified".

Posted by: TheTruth at April 27, 2010 9:31 AM

Gotta love when someone signs a comment with the name "TheTruth" and starts yapping about transparency and objectivity.

I actually thought the irony was pretty funny.

Clearly, Justin is on to something when they have to come and anonymously disagree with him. Heck, it's probably one of the town council members doing it themselves!

Posted by: Patrick at April 27, 2010 9:56 AM

Rhode Island has passed some of the most progressive and advanced Access to Public Records Laws and Open Meetings Laws in the US. I presented a paper at Oxford on that topic in 2005:

Open Meetings

Unfortunately, there are many powerful interests who do not want the public to have access. Massive potential liabilities to government and individuals exist because of missing public records and records that demonstrate impropriety.

Although the laws supporting Open Meetings and Access to Public Records are well-written, it is often not within entrenched political interests to support or enforce them. The Secretary of State's office mandates access providers follow State law and provide access. However, there is nothing protecting access providers from the consequences.

I did not know why the Town Clerk refused to be the Electronic Filing Coordinator and I was asked to do it instead.

Justin, you have just scratched the surface.

Posted by: Robert Balliot at April 27, 2010 10:52 AM

Who will watch the watchmen? Perhaps now we will find out.

Posted by: Dan at April 27, 2010 11:44 AM

Is this what the TCC is going to hand us as the transparency that they so desire. "To the editor:

As a Budget Committee member, I thought the taxpayers should know how the budget was put together. The Budget Committee was a budget committee in name only. In the past, the Budget Committee went over each line of the budget presented by the town and by the school and understood what the expenses were. Not this year. We had no discussion with the administrator, superintendent, department heads or any committee chairs.

The final cuts were presented by Ms. Nebergal with no prior notification to the full committee as far as I could tell. It was voted on quickly with no discussion. The vote was 6-5 with the TCC members on the prevailing side.

Those six members of the TCC had a predetermined agenda from day on. In many ways, the process was a joke. And for me, who had served on the Budget Committee for years under very careful chairmen, this budget was in sharp contrast to what had been done in prior years when the budget as presented to the taxpayers was a product you could be proud of — whether you agreed with it or not.


The budget being presented to you by the chairman of the Budget Committee is not one that you should back.

Alex Cote


Mr. Cote is a member of the Tiverton Budget Committee.

Posted by: trip at April 27, 2010 5:43 PM

Justin and the TCC, your silence speaks volumes on this issue. Is the TCC about transparency or about getting done what they think needs to be done by any means.

Posted by: trip at April 27, 2010 8:53 PM

My silence speaks volumes about:

* The nature of my employment. Carpentry doesn't offer much Internet time, during the day.
* My status as a parent who must care for and interact with his children.
* My habit of attending regularly scheduled school committee meetings.

Any Budget Committee member could have done the work to compile a similar list. Whether it would have had the success that Mrs. Nebergall's did would have depended on the opinions of the people whom the electors of Tiverton placed on the Budget Committee. Last year, the TCC side lost every vote. This year, things have changed. That's government.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 27, 2010 9:00 PM

JUstin any one can see that the TCC clearly meets in private and discuuses the goals and means that they want to reach. A budget that was not discussed at all, a budget presented by someone who refuse to answer questions and never talked to dept head and admin. How about the reasons for some of the cuts, " not the function of government. If this is the TCC version of transparency and honesty I will have to say no thanks.

Posted by: trip at April 27, 2010 9:43 PM

Still wondering about those personal attacks and why that would be a problem for a group with Joe Sousa posting all types of filth on a daily basis in the paper and blogs.

Posted by: trip at April 27, 2010 9:46 PM

I'm extremely busy, as you can tell by the fact that I didn't give you your usual "AR Codenamed: Assigned Pest" label.

Be honest, now: There are just about no circumstances under which you would ever say "yes, please" to TCC.

Be honest, also: Other factions meet and plan. I can only testify that I learned of Cynthia's budget efforts only after they'd been proposed and passed.

Be honest, once more: Joe Souza is slandered on a daily basis in the Sakonnet Times comment sections. Indeed, the conduct of the people who slander him is the reason that I no longer pay attention to what's said there.

As for last night's meeting, I'll have video up on TCC's Web site before the week is out. Time constraints prevent me from promising more, just now.

And that's all I've got time for. See you on May 8th.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 27, 2010 9:58 PM

I find the conduct of Mr. Souza to be one of the main reasons that i would not ever consider the TCC. He gives the group a very bad image by his words and by his actions at meetings. Also the fact that the groups seems to have one focus and that is teacher contracts. MAny things need changing in Tiverton. That and I have been told by members that a union member such as myself may not feel comfortable or wanted at the meetings.

Posted by: trip at April 27, 2010 10:06 PM

"Also the fact that the groups seems to have one focus and that is teacher contracts"

The same could be said of too many elected officials in Tiverton and around the state.

Tell me, why is it that in the private sector, pay and positions are cut across the board yet in the public sector, somehow, they are to be held sacrosanct? Tell me, also, why it is that you and others would have Tiverton perpetuate the highly dubious Rhode Island model of teacher pay in the top 20% and student achievement in the bottom 20%?

Finally, please explain why it is that taxes in Tiverton have gone up, up, up every year by far more than inflation as the population has leveled off and student enrollment (the school system being the largest chunk of the budget) has been dropping?

Posted by: Monique at April 27, 2010 10:22 PM

Justin, Keep up the good work. This town has been controlled by a select few for too long. Progress is being made to change that thanks to you and TCC.

Posted by: Joan at April 28, 2010 9:13 AM
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