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How To Run Rhode Island

Why we should be a city-state.


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

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Frederick Remington June 05, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Here we go, again! All About Alan strikes again, with self-indulgence drowning out potentially interesting ideas. And, no, Irene - I can't find his degree info anywhere on his website either, except after his name. Could this all be just an elaborate ruse? Does Alan actually exist?
gladys_kravitz June 06, 2012 at 12:11 AM
It's funny, he has stated that he has helped many people in business, and maybe he has, but my experience in business is that people like him are loathed - nobody wants to work with a self indulgent know it all. I have worked with very wealthy and powerful people and the best and most loved are those that treat everyone with mutual respect and consideration. Alan, I know it's hard to hear, but perhaps you should just try to take some of the criticism in stride and figure out what you are doing to turn so many people off. It's not always what you say, but how it's said.
Irene Walls June 06, 2012 at 12:12 AM
I read that Alan Weiss, PhD., also is a CSP (Certified Speaking Professional), CMC (Certified Management Consultant), and a CPAE (Council of Peers Award for Excellence). OMG!!!
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) June 06, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Hey everyone! How about you comment on what Alan's writing about, instead of picking at him. Please.
Lauren Costa (Editor) June 06, 2012 at 03:26 AM
Well said, Liz.
JeffW June 06, 2012 at 11:13 AM
Liz, for the simple reason that the messenger completely overwhelms the message. Whatever he's trying to say is drowned out by his pompous, self-aggrandizing way of expressing himself. Which is fine from your perspective--he generates lots of traffic for your site, and for me as well--I find his posts irritating and potentially fun to respond to. I love letting air out of balloons. We should be allowed to respond in kind, otherwise, I'll just ignore his posts.
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) June 06, 2012 at 11:18 AM
But JeffW, what about his ideas here? Just wondering...
Sam June 06, 2012 at 12:37 PM
According to his LinkedIn page, his PhD is from California Coast University, a "for profit university and virtual college." https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/college-university-search/california-coast-university
Irene Walls June 06, 2012 at 12:56 PM
His ideas are overwhelmed by his egotistical style of writing...such that it is very irritating to read his "treatises". His preachy style begs one to inquire about his credentials. If his name were Gary Sasse and he had Mr. Sasse's background, I'd pay him more mind. Unfortunately, Mr. Weiss, PhD., comes across as a snake oil salesman. There, now I feel better. (Btw, I notice that the author has yet to answer the question about his degrees.)
Irene Walls June 06, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Lauren: the point I am trying to make is that people will pay more attention to what you say if they know your background and expertise. And, unfortunately, Mr. Weiss PhD has a tendency to alienate the reader with his self-promotional style.
Elizabeth McNamara (Editor) June 06, 2012 at 03:24 PM
As far at Alan's idea goes, I've heard it before. In fact, everyone talks about "consolidation" all the time. I'm wondering how people would achieve that? Any ideas?
coventry voter-Jay June 06, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Me thinketh he strikes a nerve. . My question is for Ms Walls: What makes you qualified to pass judgment on Mr. Weiss? If it is your opinion that Mr. Weiss should be dolling out snake oil on the corner than just say it. I turn it back to you and say people will pay more attention to what you say if they know your background and expertise. Your judgmental writing style has an err of condescension which I find loathsome and extremely attractive simultaneously. Oh the irony . My background you dare say...I'm just a hairy gold clad heathen with too much money and no where to spend it
EG Lurker June 06, 2012 at 06:45 PM
I will - undergrad & grad degrees in poly sci, and his doctorate at California Coast University...
EG Lurker June 06, 2012 at 06:57 PM
To be fair, Alan's thoughts here are awful, and I have often felt that Rhode Island was more of a metro region than a state. And we have seen some consolidation of services across municipalities (Chariho schools comes to mind), but the simple fact is that Rhode Island's communities are far too disparate to boil this down to 2 districts - perhaps a slimming to 10 makes more sense. Better yet, take it down to the county level, with sheriffs instead of police chiefs...
Jen C. June 06, 2012 at 08:40 PM
I think the idea of consolidating school districts by county with a few of the larger cities being their own district has a lot of merit. I grew up and taught in Virginia and Maryland where it has been very succefully for many years. There is one superintendent for each district and he or she sometimes had assistant superintendents as needed. We still had neighborhood elementary schools which fed to local middle and high schools. ( there were 4 high schools for my county). We had a county sheriff department, one school board and much greater purchasing power for everything from transportation, to health care to school supplies. There was also greater flexibility for staffing and program offerings within the schools and community.
Irene Walls June 06, 2012 at 09:32 PM
"Coventry voter": I'm sorry you find my "err of condescension" loathsome...I hope you view my AIR of condescension with a kinder eye. As for myself, I graduated from Boston College with a degree in English and worked for a New York advertising agency and a Boston public relations firm. I'm not hairy, wear gold in my ears, on my wrist and my fingers, do not flaunt my riches and, thank God, do not have to file a campaign finance report.
EG Lurker June 06, 2012 at 09:46 PM
wow - looks like my autocorrect dropped some words! His thoughts are not "awful", but "accurate"!!!!
coventry voter-Jay June 07, 2012 at 12:12 PM
Irene I think i'm aroused..................At the idea of consolidation. . A few short years ago a State Rep proposed a consolidation in RI. It contained specifics and details on how and where to save millions by consolidation of services and staff. The union backed Democrat incumbents shredded the plan and the Rep who proposed it. I was more than a specific plan, it was a change in philosophy. This is a very difficult idea for the political power brokers and fiefdom kings to even discuss let alone vote on. They attacked the plan and the man. His idea was Westconaug. At the State House today you cant swing a dead cat without hitting a politician in favor of consolidation, that is until you bring it to committee or for a vote on the floor. In RI the 275 lobbyists control the purse strings and the legislature. Change that culture and you will change RI
04Avenger June 07, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Im not so sure consolidating school districts would be the right way to go. If you just target the high school level, wouldnt that mean that you would be increasing class size and there would be a need to either build new facilities or provide temporary class rooms (trailers), and potentially increase the tax burden to provide for new and update facilities. Wouldnt this hurt the education system we currently have in place in RI? Also, arent some of the schools in RI already overcrowded as is? Wouldn't consolidations of the schools leave thousands of Rhode Islanders teachers, custodians etc without jobs. I dont see that being something that A) the unions would allowh B) a benefit to the local economy to add that many to the unemployment line.
coventry voter-Jay June 07, 2012 at 03:50 PM
04Avenger I'm not sure it would be a dramatic change like that. In some cases yes but not all. In Coventry we have had a declining population over the last few years, and the CTA (union) much smarter than the School administration. If you disagree that the CTA is smarter than the admin than the admin is in cahoots with the CTA and the school committee. If you disagree with that theory then please explain why nearly 90% of the school budget is spent on salaries. Its 90-10 up from 65-35 a few short years ago. AND why did the school committee and admin agree to drop the max class size? We are told that smaller classes produce smarter students. Ok I agree with that but it did not work in Coventry. We are still lagging way behind in most subjects.Cov made some improvement last year but when you compare cost per student AND class size we should beat Hendricken in academics. We have some of the smallest class sizes in the region. Reducing class size during a decline in enrollment did accomplish a few things. It prevented the layoff of "extra" teachers and insured that when the student population increased the teacher salary would increase as well to compensate for all the extra work. Students who want to learn and have family support will succeed in any class size. Dropping class size from 28 to 24 or 22 has almost no noticeable improvement in grades. Coventry proves it.
coventry voter-Jay June 07, 2012 at 03:59 PM
I dont mean to bash our teachers because we have some very bright and dedicated educators in Coventry. Many of them will tell you one-on-one and out of earshot of the others that the system is broken. Dont even get started on the actual curriculum not matching the standardized tests. That issue is not pushed for a variety of reasons, one that comes to mind is the cost associated with the purchase of new text books that would be required. After raises step, increases, and colas there is no money left for books and leaky roofs. Funny at 65%-35% the roof didn't leak and we had current books.
NK Beautiful June 07, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Right on Alan! The current system is broke, and the General Assembly has only applied band-aids to the budget for years. Consolidate, Consolidate, Consolidate, Too many overlapping functions! Unless the voters wake up and elect State officials (who are not influenced by all the many special interest groups) who are willing the buck the current status quo system and make drastic changes that will improve the States fiscal health for the long term; eventually the State is going to implode from ever increasing property taxes and all other add on taxes. One of the highest in sales, fuel and property tax. RI has great higher level educational Colleges and Universities, of which the majority of the graduates have to leave to find employment. Once my children are completed with their education, it will be time for my wife and me to down size from our current residence to get a relief from our current property tax bill, at which time we will be looking hard at leaving this beautiful State to get away from all of the RI ridiculousness. Many States down south have their government entities divided up by counties.
John June 07, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Or a treecutter with in debt up to theyr'e eyeballs....Just a guess :O)
EGRob June 07, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Why are so many concerned about the author and his educational background? This is an opinion piece and anyone who writes or speaks can certainly give their opinion. I agree with Elizabeth McNamara, what about his ideas, make a constructive comment on that. It is extremely irritating to read critiques on his style of writing and his type of business. Even if you do not personally like his type of consulting or his educational background you could put that aside and comment on his ideas. By the way he went to Rutgers University and Montclair State University -receiving a BA and MA in Political Science. He did receive his PhD in Psychology from California Coast University-online? Again whether you agree with him or not he is an educated person. I do agree with his idea of consolidation. Our state is just under one million people and many cities across our country have counties that size with one school district, police force, fire department, tax authority, governing body etc. We have tremendous duplication and waste in this state. With towns struggling and several on the verge of bankruptcy this would be an excellent time to consolidate our resources and strengthen our financial future. Consolidation makes a lot of sense, in fact it is common sense. The next question is how can we start to achieve this?
Tricia Erin June 08, 2012 at 03:46 PM
I agree EGRob! Kudos for you to get to the real issue. There are counties inthe southern states that are the size of RI. Cost savings through consolidation and attrition could lend way to fruitful benefits for many more people and programs throughout RI with more available funds for other/additional interests. It could possibly even be revolutionary! RI'nders just need to put all their power and ego-issues in check and realize the big beneficial picture for all.
amb June 09, 2012 at 12:30 AM
Irene, didn't your parents teach you not to confuse education with intelligence? It's sad that you choose to draw the attention away from his VERY valid argument. I can only hope you take your blinders off when driving down Route 3.
amb June 09, 2012 at 12:32 AM
Thank you, Liz.
Jim June 10, 2012 at 12:35 PM
It is high time for all RIers to face the harsh reality that this state cannot and probably will never be able to sustain itself as a state. If you venture beyond the RI border to neighboring CT or MA you see newly built office complexes and high tech manufacturing. Even economically depressed Fall River will be benefiting from an innovative Bio-Tech center that is expected to employ about 8k jobs in a few years. What do we have here beyond retail strip malls, many which are empty or almost so, answer NOTHING. RI cannot sustain 30 cities/towns in an area that is far smaller than most counties. Just overlay our state map on MA, CT etc. and the reality becomes very visible. Our economy flourished during the smokestack industrial days of the early to mid-20th century, now those old milss stand empty, a few converted to condos but just think of the jobs each one used to represent. Finger pointing will not cure our ill, it is time to see the reality, at least implement consolidation of towns and services and try to turn things around. I just dont know if it is too late but the clock is ticking
A concerned parent June 10, 2012 at 01:35 PM
Seriously? Since when do we require academic credentials from people who want to suggest innovative ideas? Regardless of where he went to school, Alan puts forth some compelling suggestions in this article and yet you focus on his background instead. Should we ask your educational backgrounds before allowing you to post critiquing him? And you say his tone bothers you? Then don't read his blog posts. Head on over to one of the other op-eds on the Patch and pettily demand to know what qualifications the woman talking about bad parkers has and let the rest of us have a meaningful discussion here.
Jen C. June 11, 2012 at 12:45 PM
Moving to a regional or county based school system does not mean closing schools so there are fewer necessarily. On the contrary, it can mean keeping some schools open with lower enrollment because the schools with fewer children can absorb some of the children from over crowded schools thereby keeping all the schools at more balanced levels. It can mean adding innovative programming at some lower enrollment level schools so people choose to go there.

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