opinion Newport Rhode Island

At its meeting on July 27, the Newport City Council spent a significant portion of their time discussing and voting on the Charter revision proposals of the Charter Review Commission.  They ended up approving for the November ballot only five of the thirty-seven proposals, and the approved proposals were largely word-smithing current provisions and having them conform better to actual practices.

The all-volunteer Commission spent countless hours in public hearings and workshops performing a meticulous review of the City Charter to identify changes for consideration by the City’s voters.  Their recommendations covered changes to make the Charter easier to understand, to conform better to actual practices, to align better with Rhode Island regulations and to question how the City is governed.

The Council chose to set aside all but the most mundane proposals and gave as its reason that presenting most of the proposals to Newport voters would be too confusing for the voters.  That statement is condescending and insults the intelligence of Newport voters, implying that they are not smart enough to understand the issues and cannot be trusted to best determine how they should be governed.  A couple of examples:

  1. The Commission wanted to give voters the opportunity of deciding whether the selection of mayor should continue to be made in backroom negotiations among Council members or be made by the voters giving the position to the at-large Councilor who received the most votes in the election.
  2. The Commission wanted voters to determine whether the Council seats allocated to Wards should remain or all Council seats should be at-large.  In the past, justification of Ward seats had been made by arguing that the Ward Councilors could better represent their smaller constituencies.  However, a look at a map of the gerrymandered Wards reveals that each contains multiple constituencies including businesses and the full range of high-income residents to low-income residents, with the ranges mirroring that of the city as a whole.  The Ward Councilors have to make the same trade-off decisions on issues that affect their multiple constituencies differently as do the at-large Councilors.

Newport voters should email/text/call/write the members of the Newport City Council.  Urge them to reconsider their votes on the substantive proposals of the Charter Review Commission and restore the right of voters to have a say in how they are governed.

Ron Becker