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Strange Bedfellows Object to Telling the Truth

You’ve heard the saying, “politics makes strange bedfellows”? That sure is proving true in Tiverton.

During the 2000s, James McInnis tried again and again to sell his land between Souza Rd. and Rt. 24 for a variety of developments. Again and again, the town government did not let it happen. The back-and-forth came to a head on March 24, 2008. Shortly before a scheduled Town Council meeting, Mr. McInnis submitted another plan to develop the area.

That night, led by then-President Louise Durfee, the council changed the zoning to residential, in keeping with a 2006 change of the town’s comprehensive plan. Along with McInnis’s lawyer, his real estate advisor, Bernard Giroux, argued that the town should hold off on the change and first consider the new proposal.

Here we are in September 2019, and the town is still trying to resolve the lawsuit that was sparked that night. And within the past week, both Ms. Durfee and Mr. Giroux have taken to the local newspapers to go after… me.

Ms. Durfee’s reason is obvious. She doesn’t like the results of the last election and doesn’t want to wait until next year to try to change them. So, she helped collect signatures for a recall petition to get rid of President Rob Coulter and me and shift power back to people she likes better. A few weeks ago, the Don’t Mall Tiverton group, with which Durfee has been deeply involved, began lying to the public, trying to sell the recall as a way to stop “the mall” on Souza Rd. I wrote a letter to the editor informing Tiverton residents that Rob and I have no intention of voting to change the zoning as the development would require.

Because the recall campaign depends so heavily on lies, Durfee pivoted to a complaint that my letter would bring another lawsuit, like the one that her Town Council caused. She’s just plain wrong. When it comes to zoning changes, the town’s ordinances do not require the Town Council to keep its mouth shut until the Planning Board studies a proposal and then to vote based only on the Planning Board’s findings.

The only restriction on how the council makes its decision is that it must “be in the best interest of the town.” If a council member looks at the initial plan and believes that it is definitely not in the best interest of the town, he or she can say so before the developer spends time and money convincing the Planning Board. In this case, the developer hasn’t even officially submitted the plan.

Mr. Giroux’s reason for objecting to my letter is more obvious, and his arguments about the law are even more obviously wrong. My writing a letter to the editor has no relevance to the Open Meetings Act, and expressing an opinion about a public policy question in which I have no financial interest is not even in the universe of the state’s Code of Ethics.

To be sure, angry people are free to pretend elected officials might have violated the law in order to try to make other people angry, too. Actually, I should clarify that’s only my opinion. In 2010, when she was Council President, Ms. Durfee attempted to sue a Tiverton resident for saying the council had violated the law. The ACLU jumped in to defend him because her lawsuit was an abuse of the legal system.

So, here we are. The same people who were just two weeks ago lying about my position on a development on Souza Rd. are now angry that I told the public the truth. A former council member who tried to sue a resident for suggesting that her actions violated the law is suggesting that my actions violated the law. And the anonymous people behind Don’t Mall are now aligned with the developer in objecting to my statement that I wouldn’t vote to make the mall happen.

Yup. Strange bedfellows. Tiverton residents should stay out of that bed and choose not to participate in the sham recall election that would put Durfee’s allies back in control.

Featured image: Modification of cartoon from September 24, 1864, issue of Harper’s Weekly.

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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.

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