October 10, 2009

What Governs a Town?

Justin Katz

That layoffs of police in East Providence are "the first in years" in Rhode Island is surprising, but not particularly noteworthy. In fact, we should hope that organizations — whether companies or municipalities — will operate in such a way as to ensure consistent, long-term employment. It's difficult, however, not to see some sort of relationship with a story out North Providence:

[Mayor Charles] Lombardi said he held off on filling vacancies in the Police Department in recent months for financial reasons, which triggered several union grievances and set off a legal debate about the extent of his control over police staffing. Lombardi argues that the Town Charter gives the mayor discretion to determine whether a replacement will be appointed when a police officer leaves the department.

The police union argues that the department's organizational chart is governed by the contract, which prohibits "changes resulting in reduction in ranks" or "department strength."

Employment contracts should not be allowed to modify the rules by which a constitution or charter is operated. Elected officials lack the right — and should lack the authority — to negotiate such documents away.

Add this scheme to the list of practices that reformers must end if Rhode Island is ever to recover.