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Town Hall Is Becoming a Locked Office Building. How About House Calls?

Are we reaching the point that Tiverton doesn’t really need a Town Hall?  One would think that development would come with some budget savings.

The entire local economy has been functioning to some extent and is now getting back to normal.  Restaurants are opening.  Some stores never closed.  Offices were among the first to get people back to work.

Yet, as Sean Flynn reports in Newport Daily News, Tiverton is among the local communities refusing to provide full services to the taxpayers of the town.  Here’s Town Administrator Chris Cotta:

“It will stay that way for a while,” said Tiverton Town Administrator Chris Cotta. “We are providing everything people need, but we are just doing by appointment only. We don’t want people wandering around Town Hall aimlessly.”

This is local government’s dream.  Everybody needs an appointment.  As Cotta explains, if people need an appointment, government officials can “control where they are going or who they are seeing.”

A pesky journalist won’t capture some wandering clerk or surprise a town official and get a comment on some story that might inform the public.  Research-prone residents won’t be able to come in and just wander into the town vault to review historical documents.  Everything is nice and controlled, just like public-yet-heavily-restricted Town Council meetings.

In this view, Town Hall isn’t the people’s home, but simply a place to provide services, and that can be done by appointment.

OK, then.  If that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is, but taxpayers should raise other questions.  For instance:  Aren’t we intrinsically being deprived of services for which we’re paying?  Pre-COVID, you could walk into Town Hall for a notary public; now you have to seek one out, sometimes for a fee.  That service is gone.

And will we see the town running with a lighter staff, now that things can operate more efficiently?

Before the pandemic, it was already ridiculous that the Town Hall was never open during hours that working residents could actually accommodate.  Now we’re in the realm of parody.

While we’re in that realm, maybe it’s time to think about closing it down.  If we don’t need a centralized seat of town government that people can access, shut down that old maintenance-hungry building.

In the absence of savings, if appointments are required, anyway, maybe town employees should start making house calls or something.

Justin Katz

Justin Katz is a writer and researcher focusing on Rhode Island policy and politics. For more about Justin, see our About page. (401) 835-7156.

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