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Transparency Comes to Tiverton

As a new part of its open government initiative, the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity launched today a new municipal transparency portal in partnership with the Tiverton Taxpayer Association. The local group’s Web site, TivertonFactCheck.org, hosts the Center’s latest interactive module that allows users to filter payroll data — base, overtime, and other pay — for all municipal and school department employees and to view the results in colorful charts and detailed tables.

“Open local government is good local government,” said Mike Stenhouse, CEO for the Center.

“It can be a real challenge for people already busy with daily lives to find enough time to keep up with local government and all that goes with it,” said Robert Coulter, a driving force behind the taxpayer organization and Tiverton Fact Check.  “People need information and tools to help look at how things are working, and how to make them better.”

Tiverton Taxpayers Association expects to add new transparency modules, such as for payments to vendors working for town government, as well as other features, to the site.

The Center expects to soon be able to accommodate citizens of any municipality that would like to see a similar service for their cities or towns. Interested individuals or groups can contact the Center at info@RIFreedom.org.

Justin Katz, editor of TivertonFactCheck.org, as well as research director for the Center and managing editor of its news and commentary site, OceanStateCurrent.com, said, “The Center’s research suggests that Rhode Island municipal government is even more out of whack than state government in comparison with other states.  The greatest value will come when we’re able to compare all of our own cities and towns with each other and perhaps with the country.”

The RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity also operates RIOpenGov.org that similarly publishes payroll data for state employees, state vendors and payment data, and pension payment data for all state and certain municipal retirees. The Center’s government transparency homepage can be found at RIFreedom.org/Transparency.

The payroll app can help residents of Tiverton keep an eye on trends, such as the top 3 highest paid employees in fiscal year 2014, showing those making over $100,000:

  • William J. Rearick, School Superintendent: $128,869
  • Timothy R. Panell, Police Lieutenant: $119,072
  • Steven M. Fezette, High School Principal: $104,437

Users can search by department or title to find information like the fact that the town employs 29 people with the title of Clerk, who collectively earned over a million dollars in 2014.  Additionally, from 2013 to 2014, the number of people working for the school department increased by 49, from 333 to 382.

They can also investigate controversial employees, like Maintenance Foreman Robert Martin, who “retired” after a Channel 10 report tracked him working on his own projects while on the clock. Martin took home $39,332 in “other pay” in fiscal year 2014.  Of that, $28,809 was reimbursement for “unused” sick and vacation time.

The transparency data can also shed light on town politics and help voters understand what the interests might be of the people who advocate for political campaigns or budgets.  For instance, two of the three “co-coordinator/chairs” of the Tiverton 1st political action committee (PAC) receive payments from the school department.  In 2014, Gloria Crist received $1,845 as a drama instructor, and Linda Larsen received $18,988 as a “school to career coordinator.”

Larsen received her position the first fiscal year after Tiverton 1st helped elect a majority of the school committee members.

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Justin Katz

Justin Katz is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. justin@justinkatz.com (401) 835-7156.

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