We need to run Rhode Island like a city-state. There have been classic city-states in history: Venice, Naples, Sparta, Athens, Corinth. They were powerful and vigorous, resilient and hearty. Today we have an example in Singapore, which has thrived despite potential ethnic hostility and a small size among some powerful neighbors.
Rhode Island has almost 40 cities and towns, all within 1,212 square miles (Singapore is 272 square miles, but far more densely populated with 5 million people compared to our barely 1 million, so it has over twice the number of people per square mile). We don't need scores of police chiefs, fire chiefs, school superintendents, chief librarians, mayors, and so on (and on, and on). We could have better animal shelters and emergency services and snow plowing if we combined jurisdictions and stopped reinventing the wheel everywhere.
We have poor economies of scale and consequently higher taxes than needed because of the need to create duplicate public services, taxing authorities, housing authorities, school boards, and the like. Affordable housing legislation is costing a fortune to try to implement (and will never be implemented in a town like East Greenwich, which is supposed to achieve a 10 percent ratio and has been at 4 percent without improvement for years) because it's focused on every community rather than regionally.
The problem is something straight out of the great cable TV series, Brotherhood (which I always thought was a documentary): Too many people want their piece of pie, want to provide or access patronage, want to create their own power base at the cost of effective management and efficient operations. (We could always raise a fortune, of course, by selling the license plate "1" to every Rhode Islander for $1,000, and let the police try to work around it. That would raise about a billion, and we could all be police chiefs.)
The state is simply too small to be partitioned the way it is. And there isn't enough talent resident in merely a million people to find high quality candidates who wish to serve in public positions with so many needed. That's why we find school boards acting irrationally (remember the East Greenwich member who could only be contacted through a third party!?) and why some police chiefs do strange things (such as take money out of the purse of a woman in a car accident). How many state Supreme Court justices have been indicted here?
We need to be a city-state. I'd agree to two regions instead of one big one so we could have some football rivalry or the ability to say we're better than the other guy, or to ask, "What are you doing way over here?" (15 minutes away). We have one governor, one state police force, one giant blue bug.
We need to simplify. This state is too small to be so complicated. And all those people who would lose jobs in the consolidation? Put them all in the state legislature, where they could lobby to get their jobs back and prevent the legislature from getting into any other trouble while they keep them occupied. Then we'd get no more dopey laws, such as motorcycle passengers requiring helmets, but not the drivers.
© Alan Weiss 2012