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Outrageous Mailers Show Recall a Political Attack Based on Lies

Three separate mailers that hit Tiverton mailboxes in the past week truly show the recall for what it is:  a political attack.  Powerful special interests at the state level have aligned with a power-hungry group of residents to prove that they get to decide who is acceptable for the people of Tiverton to elect.  This is proven by the sources of the mailers.  It is proven by their presentation.  And it is proven by the lies on which they are based.  Tiverton voters should reject this interference in our government and refuse to put their names on the list of people who made their schemes a reality.

The first comes directly from NEARI PACE.  That’s the political action committee (PAC) of the teachers union that represents Tiverton teachers.  The PAC is almost exclusively funded through a portion of dues that the Tiverton School Department withdraws directly from teachers’ pay.  Why would the teachers union be using money collected from Tiverton taxpayers to change the municipal side of town government, with which its members have no professional interaction?  That the union is willing to lie to its members about the election is obvious.

The second mailer comes from a new PAC called Tiverton Independent PAC, which has been operating in town under the slogan of “Turn the Tide.”  The officers of this group listed on organizational filings are David Paull and Stuart Gilfillen, both of whom were losing candidates in last year’s election.  Documents also show that Council Member Patricia Hilton is involved in the group, and Council Member Denise deMedeiros almost certainly is, as well.  Around the same time that the group officially formed, Gilfillen and Paull were filing an ethics complaint against the council majority, which the Ethics Commission quickly dismissed, and Hilton and deMedeiros were filing an Open Meetings Act complaint, also against the council majority, which the Attorney General likewise dismissed.  Note that Paull — who often stands at the back of the room during council meetings and shouts insults — was the star signature collector for the recall petition, with which deMedeiros helped as well.

The third mailer also appears to be from the teachers union, although it hides behind the vague name, “Progress RI.”  The return address on the mailer belongs to a middle school teacher.  Shockingly — from a group representing teachers — this mailer is the most extreme, telling Tiverton voters, about Rob Coulter and me: “Now it’s time to silence them.”

In light of their sheer viciousness and inappropriate outside pressure, the dishonesty of the cards from the union is almost less offensive because it’s really out there and somewhat generic.  The card includes a letter signed by NEARI president Larry Purtill, who lives in Wakefield, and Tiverton NEA president Amy Mullen, who lives in Portsmouth.  The only specific reasons they give for the recall are the lies that we haven’t allowed “public comment at meetings” and that we’ve “placed cronies in cushy town positions.”  They add a brand new lie that we’ve “reopened old lawsuits,” which just isn’t true.  However, this might just be a mistake, because they are both from out of town and deal exclusively with the school committee, not the town council, so they might not be following town government very closely.

The Progress RI card also lies that the council “dropped the ‘open forum’ public comment period from Council meetings,” which is where they get the stuff about “silencing.”  The card claims that we’ve “created nastiness and divisiveness that our Town has never seen before,” which is a pretty bold statement from an organization whose representative made the news when he gave the school superintendent the middle finger.  Progress RI throws in that we “delayed” purchase of a new rescue, which is true to the extent that it took a couple weeks to get everybody on board, including the council members who are promoting the recall.  Our administrator and public safety officers assured us that public safety was not at risk during that time.  Ironically, Louise Durfee, who also collected signatures for the recall, filed yet another complaint with the Attorney General because we made provisions to fund the rescue in the event it happened too quickly.

The more-substantial lies come from the card from the local group, probably because they are more familiar with the issues than special interests from out of town.  Making the Turn the Tide mailer all the worse is the fact that it attacks the council for not doing things that its authors almost certainly know we did, because they’re on the council themselves:

  • They claim we need a trash disposal plan for 2020.  Well, the council voted on just that over the summer.
  • They claim we need a Community Comprehensive Plan.  Well, we have one, and we’ve advanced the ball to address recent changes.  To the extent the process has been too slow, nobody has done more to hold it up than Council Member Tricia Hilton.
  • They claim we need a new solar ordinance.  The Planning Board — which we’ve managed to bring from short-handed to fully staffed over the past year — is working on this matter, and the irony here is that Hilton, deMedeiros, and their allies have never missed an opportunity to attack us for “micromanaging” volunteer boards.
  • They claim we need an infrastructure plan as well as a plan in case the casino revenue dries up, both of which will be a part of the long-term financial plan that Rob and I are trying to move forward right now with the help of the town administrator and other stakeholders.

The truly bizarre thing for anybody who actually reads the card is that Turn the Tide then turns around and complains about our “interference with volunteer boards, commissions, and staff”!  For good measure, they also pick a few of our other initiatives that they don’t think should be priorities, but that isn’t a reason to recall people halfway through a short two-year term.

Reading through these cards, it’s difficult not to shake your head and wonder how things could be so backwards.  Out-of-town special interests send a nasty attack ad telling Tiverton voters to “silence” us and then complain on the other side of their card about “nastiness.”  The PAC associated with council members who’ve done everything they could to throw roadblocks in front of the council complain about things not getting done… even when those things are getting done!

This isn’t representative democracy.  It’s an attempt to undo the last election, and we say again that residents should not participate in it.  If these lies get enough people to vote to hit the minimum that will make the recall count, then so be it.  We’ll still represent our constituents from the other side of the table, and we’ll use the extra time we’ll have to make sure the people who stole the town council only get a year in control, themselves.

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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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