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Edwards V Puts Democracy in the Cross Hairs

Tiverton’s red-hot taxes didn’t stop increasing much faster than inflation because of climate change. Empowering residents to vote for their tax increases at the annual financial town referendum (FTR) did that. Reading Tom Killin Dalglish’s Sakonnet Times report from a special Town Council meeting on November 6 (video here) makes clear that some Town Council Members have had enough with democracy:

Councilor [John Edwards, the Fifth], raising the issue of costs for elections, questioned whether the Financial Town Referendum (FTR) and the election of charter review members, made sense. Tiverton is an “outlier,” he said, in terms of the way it governs itself. “The way the FTR has been structured allows a minority to control the process,” he said.

He spoke in favor of more authority for the elected town council to set policy and the budget.

“We do need the budget committee to do the work, but they shouldn’t have the final say,” said Councilor Randy Lebeau.

Councilors Denise deMedeiros, LeBeau, and Edwards volunteered to serve on a committee to “look at this.”

Beware this trio’s “looking.” Take away the political spin, and the objective of Edwards and his posse is clearly to limit the ability of voters to have control over town government more often than every two years at a heated election with state and national races on the ballot. Because their political friends have an advantage during regular November elections, that’s when they want the key decisions made.

Every budget for the past six years of the FTR has received a majority vote, and usually, it isn’t even close. Members of the Budget Committee who put forward last year’s low, 0.5%-increase budget were all elected. Members of the Charter Review Commission were also all elected. Edwards just doesn’t like that his friends didn’t win.

Take special note that this same Town Council just ignored the results of the last Budget Committee election in order to appoint not one, but three unelected members to fill vacancies, skipping over a candidate who had actually run for the office.

Given its recent behavior, the Tiverton Town Council looks likely to manipulate the charter review process in an attempt to push forward changes to the charter and to the process for handling new revenue from the casino that give their small group of friends and allies more power to take taxpayer dollars and spend it on their priorities — such as the non-profit on whose board Edwards sits and the schools in which his wife teaches.

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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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