CommentaryOur View

Explaining Issues Versus Falsehoods and Rhetoric

One of the challenges of serving your community by getting involved in civic debate is that it’s so much easier for people to say things about you that are wrong and misleading than it is to actually explain issues.  Honest people are at a disadvantage, and often they give up when the special interests make things nasty, as Tiverton 1st and Mike Silvia have made them nasty in Tiverton.

I apologize for the length of what follows, but just about everything in Mike Silvia’s recent letter to the editor is wrong or misleading.  That requires a lot of explanation in order to lay out facts and let people decide for themselves.

It’s important to remember that Mike Silvia is spreading this misinformation as part of the political activity of the Tiverton 1st political action committee, which helped elect the people who’ve dominated all of the major elected bodies in town over the last, disastrous few years.  Of course, that’s only because the group is new; many have been complicit in bad governance for a long, long time.

Outright Errors

Mike Silvia simply asserts that TCC and Tiverton Taxpayers Association are the same organization.  That is false. 

Key people involved with TCC are not involved with Tiverton Taxpayers Association and vice versa.  The organizational structure is different, and the priorities are different.

Don’t get me wrong. TCC did some excellent work:

  • Providing an alternative voice to the one-sided government of Tiverton that existed beforehand and that brought us years of large tax increases
  • Helping to end the financial town meeting (which had become a public forum for Mike Silvia’s friends to abuse anybody who made statements that they didn’t like)
  • Starting the process of cleaning up the town

The fact that active TCC members were able to hold a minority of the town council and a smaller minority of the school committee for a few years shouldn’t allow newcomers like Silvia to tar the work of good people who volunteered their time to help the town.  That said, the Taxpayers Association is not TCC.

Mike Silvia tells readers that “the TCC/TTA-led council illegally pulled funds from the schools.”  That is false.

No town council ever “pulled funds from the schools.”  Then-treasurer Philip DiMattia (who was not endorsed by TCC) did that.  The council at the time voted, as an administrative action, to defend the treasurer’s decision, but voting to ensure that a contentious issue was fairly adjudicated is not the same as voting to start the fight.  Now that the lawsuit is over, both the town council and the school committee should vote to unseal all minutes of their meetings pertaining to the case.

Mike Silvia calls me the “TCC/TTA treasurer.”  That is false.

I was never the treasurer of TCC, and I am not the treasurer of Tiverton Taxpayers Association.  I am, however, the treasurer of Tiverton Cares, which is a tax-exempt charitable organization that does things like give scholarships to students, collect clothes for the poor, raise money and supplies for a Tiverton doctor fighting Ebola in Liberia, Africa, and raise money for the new library.  If Mike Silvia really believes that “words do have meaning,” he should know what he’s talking about before he attacks people for trying to help their community.

Misleading Rhetoric

Mike Silvia says Nancy Driggs’s complaint about the budget committee’s most recent budget docket was simple disagreement “with the wording in one sentence in a 28-page budget proposal.” That is misleading.

The statement at issue wasn’t just another line in the docket; it was critical to the entire rationale for the Tiverton 1st/Tiverton Democratic Town Committee-dominated town council, school committee, and budget committee for raising taxes unnecessarily.  In the section explaining to voters why so much money had to be put into the town’s reserve account, the budget committee referred to the “Gen’l Fund Balance Above Required Reserve,” but it calculated that number pretending that the town charter requires reserves of 3.5%.  That’s not true; the charter requires reserves of 3.0%.  That’s almost a quarter-million-dollar difference. (See the last page of this PDF, which is the documentation for my 0.0% budget proposal, which voters chose at the last financial town referendum.)

Mike Silvia acts as if Nancy Driggs complained about the town council’s purchase of a waterfront gas station.  That is misleading.

Nancy may or may not support the purchase, but what her letter notes is that the town council “negotiated the purchase of the gas station in executive session, at a price that just happened to be shy of the $500,000 amount that would have required them to come to the public to make their argument.”  If the gas station purchase was the “amazing opportunity” that Mike Silvia says it was, it shouldn’t have gummed up the works at all to allow the people of Tiverton to express their opinions… and to know how each town council member voted and why.

Mike Silvia excuses the town council’s decision to let Maintenance Foreman Robert Martin and Town Administrator James Goncalo walk into comfy retirement, despite egregious offenses against the people of Tiverton, by saying that the council “had the difficult task of cleaning up after past town councils.”  This is misleading.

Which “past town councils” is he talking about?  The current council includes Edward Roderick, Denise deMedeiros, James Arruda, Bill Gerlach, Brett Pelletier, Jay Lambert, and Joan Chabot.  The first five of them were endorsed by Tiverton 1st and the Tiverton Democratic Town Committee.

The prior town council included, Edward Roderick, Brett Pelletier, Jay Lambert, Joan Chabot, Cecil Leonard, Robert Coulter, and David Nelson.  The first four — a majority — are still on the council that Mike Silvia applauds.  And far from being “TCC/TTA-led,” as Mike Silvia insists, the prior council was evenly split between Tiverton 1st/Tiverton Democratic Town Committee types (Roderick, Pelletier, and Leonard) and TCC types (Coulter, Nelson, and Chabot), with Lambert playing both sides.  (He’s since proven to be decisively on the Tiverton 1st side of issues.)

Let’s keep going back.

The council before that included no real taxpayer-group candidates, but a whole lot of Tiverton Democratic Town Committee types: Edward Roderick, Cecil Leonard, Jay Lambert, Louise Durfee, Joanne Arruda, and Donald Bollin.

And the council before that one included Louise Durfee, Joanne Arruda, Donald Bollin, Paul Carroll, Hannibal Costa, Jay Edwards, and Brian Mederios.  (This is the council that hired Goncalo.)

Readers should note that Brian Medeiros is a founding co-coordinator of Tiverton 1st, and Jay Edwards, an active town Democrat, is Tiverton 1st’s endorsed candidate for General Assembly.

So which town council is responsible for the Martin-Goncalo scandal?  The current Tiverton 1st/Tiverton Democratic Town Committee town council that was actually in charge while Robert Martin was being filmed working on his own rental properties while on the town’s time and James Goncalo was firing an employee who blew the whistle?  Or maybe it was the Tiverton 1st/Tiverton Democratic Town Committee one that hired James Goncalo in the first place?

Mike Silvia goes on to claim that, “with no progressive discipline [from prior councils], the chances of prevailing against a wrongful dismissal suit are quite slim.”  This is misleading.

Robert Martin was filmed by a television news crew working on his own rental projects while on the clock and using town personnel and equipment in the process.  The administrator who wrote his performance reviews, James Goncalo, admitted to the reporter that he had fired a whistle blower, which is against the law.

That borders on a conspiracy against the people of Tiverton, and Mike Silvia and the current town council want people to believe that they had to let the two men walk away because they weren’t reprimanded for illegal activity before anybody knew about their illegal activity?  Do you buy that?  Sounds like an excuse to me.

Mike Silvia calls a four-year-old lawsuit led by Jim O’Dell and including me “frivolous” and expensive, because it “has cost the town over $25,000 to date.”  This is misleading.

We brought this case because a prior town council led the financial town meeting to raise taxes above the state’s legal cap and didn’t take a vote required by law.  Because the council did not follow the appropriate steps, voters before and during the financial town meeting weren’t fully informed about the budget.

The fact of the matter is that any town council up to this point could have settled the case with an affirmative statement that the vote should have been taken and maybe a couple hundred dollars to each of the plaintiffs (which some had pledged to donate to charity).  The price tag of the lawsuit is entirely because town councils (the majority of them endorsed by Tiverton 1st and/or the Tiverton Democratic Town Committee) have dragged the case out.

Note that they would not have done that if the case were “frivolous.”  They would have simply had it dismissed.

The important point, here, is that the current town council — the Tiverton 1st/Tiverton Demcoratic Town Committee one — thought it wasn’t worth taxpayer money to fight against an employee who appears to have been paid double time by the town while he worked on his personal rental properties or the administrator who protected him.  But the same town council members do think it’s worth taxpayer money to fight against residents who just want the town government to follow state law.

Mike Silvia blames the school committee’s “costly lawsuit” against the town a few years ago on the prior town council. This is misleading.

I’ve already explained why it is false to say that the town council “pulled funds from the schools,” and why it’s false to say that the town council at the time was “TTA-led,” and why it’s misleading to say that it was “TCC-led.”  But even Mike Silvia’s characterization of the lawsuit is misleading.

For fiscal year 2010, the financial town meeting appropriated an amount of local funds that would go to the school department and estimated the state aid that would be received.  That year, the Obama administration poured a massive amount of the so-called “stimulus” money into the accounts of state and local governments.

Some of the federal money went to the state, which used it instead of state money to provide education aid.  Some of the federal money went directly to the school department, and the state reduced its aid by about the same amount.

The Tiverton School Department ultimately received over $800,000 more in state and federal aid, that year, than the year before.  It ended fiscal year 2010 with a $229,546 surplus.  The school committee then sued the town to force local taxpayers to pay again for the money that had come directly from the federal government, because it didn’t go through the state government first!

It isn’t surprising that the state Department of Education, ruled in favor of the schools.  After all, the department is the umbrella organization running all government schools in Rhode Island.  It also makes the regulations, enforces them, and stands in judgment over their application.

At the time, the school committee was dominated by Tiverton 1st/Tiverton Democratic Town Committee stalwarts Sally Black, Deborah Pallasch, and Carol Herrmann.

Mike Silvia advertises his Web site, tivertonfactcheck.com, without mentioning that he stole the name from tivertonfactcheck.org. That’s misleading, and possibly illegal.

After the Tiverton Taxpayers Association launched TivertonFactCheck.org as an educational effort to inform the people of Tiverton, Mike Silvia launched his own Web site, with the same address, but with the “.com” instead of our “.org.”  He also roughly copied the design.

This is not the way people behave when they want the public to have a clear and fair understanding of the issues that their community faces.  It is, rather, how they behave when they want to obscure the debate and get away with saying things that are wrong or misleading.  It’s how they behave when they are afraid that they can’t win a public debate in which people are able to consider both sides.

Unfortunately, it may also be grounds for another lawsuit.  Tiverton Taxpayers Association is engaging legal counsel to consider legal action for copyright infringement, defamation, and other causes of action.

In the meantime, residents of Tiverton should answer for themselves whom it is that’s dividing the town.  Watch how people act and whether they try to explain their side or make accusations about the other side.

Tags

Justin Katz

Justin Katz, Vice President of the Tiverton Town Council, 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.

Related Articles