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Town Administrator Matthew Wojcik and Public Debate

After a bruising decade of massive tax increases and heated arguments, many Tiverton residents were hopeful that a new town administrator would help to start things fresh. The fact that Matthew Wojcik is a Cumberland Republican even opened the possibility that he could help bridge the gap between the largely Democrat town council and an opposition group with more conservative beliefs about taxation and government operations.

Unfortunately, this budget season has proven those hopes to be too optimistic. Rather than toning down the divisions, he’s been making them worse.

Even before the elector petition was introduced, reducing the tax increase that he had requested, Mr. Wojcik had displayed an inappropriate attitude toward elected officials with whom he disagreed. Here’s one example of his responding to a statement from elected budget committee member Madeline O’Dell, who disagreed with his characterization of a technical matter related to the town’s bond rating:

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At the financial town hearing for the two proposed budgets, the administrator increased the heat of his rhetoric.  Resident Jeff Belli asked why the town’s budget cut the account for roads and paving (unlike the 0.9% budget, which increases them.) Because Mr. Wojcik was standing in the audience instead of sitting at his seat on the stage, he took the microphone that Mr. Belli was using. Then, when he went off in another direction and Mr. Belli objected, here’s how the town administrator responded:

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Just prior to that outburst, Mr. Wojcik had been working himself up in a rant against me, saying that I didn’t articulate a “progressive” vision for the town. On a personal level, the administrator’s core objection was to my use of the word “mismanagement” in the rationale for the 0.9% budget.  Reading the actual text, it’s clear that I was referring to a long history, most of it before he had taken the administrator job, and that I was emphasizing the Town Council as to blame, with Mr. Wojcik actually taking dramatic steps to fix at least one of the problems.

Still, he took the word as an excuse to launch a snarling, sneering tirade.

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Whatever one thinks of his points, this attitude from the administrator — directed toward a resident of the town and in front of many of the department heads whom he oversees — was completely inappropriate. (If the points had been made in an appropriate way, perhaps we could have had a constructive discussion that would have benefited voters trying to understand both sides.)

In fairness to Mr. Wojcik, he did enter into a local environment in which residents don’t feel as if they can trust elected and appointed officials, and some of the elected officials have set the tone that he took to an extreme at the hearing.

Hopefully, when the financial town referendum vote this Saturday is completed, the town administrator will reevaluate his interactions with the people who live in the town that he’s hired to help manage, even when they disagree with him.

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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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