Stalling Change in Rhode Island

If nothing changes, nothing changes. But it could start with the East Greenwich Fire District.

Monday night’s (Oct. 17) public forum on the future of the EG Fire District was a mini-course in what stalls change in Rhode Island.

The EG Fire District was formed back in 1797, and by all accounts has done an excellent job of fulfilling its responsibilities ever since. But things have changed in 215 years.

Today, many of its back office functions – billings, collections, etc. – by mutual agreement are being done by the Town, leaving the Fire District to concentrate on fire and safety functions. Taxpayers are already reaping the benefits of savings due to financial consolidation. So the question now is, who’s in charge here?  And to whom is the Fire District responsible?

The Fire District absorbs about 10 percent of the town’s taxes, elects Commissioners by vote with as few as 30 voters required, and because of its state charter, is responsible primarily to, well, itself.    

No, it really doesn’t make sense, but the Fire District – all but one of the five Commissioners (including one member of the Town Council and another running for higher office), the Fire Chief and his deputy, and the District’s legal counsel –lined up shoulder to shoulder to defend the continuance of what is clearly an archaic organizational structure, what Town Councilor Jeff Cianciolo called "operating in a democracy vacuum.”

Voters will have a say in what happens with the Fire District in November, through a non-binding referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot. Passage will almost certainly trigger a move to a binding referendum on a subsequent ballot, or it may be enough to trigger faster action by the Town and Fire District.

But while it is East Greenwich and its Fire District under the microscope, the overarching issue is the knee-jerk reaction of government in Rhode Island to protect itself from what is clearly a changed public interest.

Rhode Island is a small place, but we have Big Place government. A large state government. Five counties. 39 city and town governments. A similar number of local school committees. A large and largely independently-operating judiciary. 40 fire districts. And countless other entities employing thousands of people on missions we cannot even begin to understand at the cost of millions of dollars.

And when the word "consolidation" is uttered, the tendency is for each of these entities via their managements and their boards to cry, “You need us!”

Well, maybe we do, and maybe we don’t. But let us at least ask the question. And let the taxpayers decide what is needed and what isn’t.

This is the era of consumer choice. And we need to have more choice when it comes to how we are governed here in Rhode Island.


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nick October 19, 2012 at 08:15 AM
that was almost 100 years ago. times have changed, but have they really? in the grand scheme of things, this country has turned into the exact opposite of why it was started in the first place. its a disgrace. common sense is a thing of the past buried behind more rules and regulations and licenses and insurances and legislations and politicians and BULLSHIT.
nick October 19, 2012 at 08:17 AM
and lets not forget TAXES. i got a new tax cut for you. all taxes cut and the government is fired. each town gets to vote on a sheriff and thats it.
nick October 19, 2012 at 08:30 AM
the sheriiff is only good for four years and can only repeat once. every new sheriff has to be male for one term (or two) and then female alternating. also you cant have first and second cousins or brothers or brothersnin law in consecutive terms or wives or husbands, basically its got to be a different family every time. so if i marry the sheriffs daughter, im disqualified. Simple, easy. you got a problem you cant settle yourself, go see the sheriff. If you dont like what the sheriff has to say, too bad. wait 4 years and vote him out. and thats it. of course the sheriff gets a staff of people called deputies. 1 deputy per 100 people and thats it. Deputies are same as sheriff 4 years hired by sheriff same rules. simple easy. how can we expect to evolve and have a positive result if we keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results. its called insanity and im too lazy to capitalize the first word in the sentence, sorry mrs. witham ;) things aint gettin better as a whole. if you disagree, if things are getting better for you and yours then your not part of the solution, your part of the problem. Everyone has to proper, everyone has to share those apples on that apple tree. leviticus 19:18.
nick October 19, 2012 at 08:33 AM
bwg October 19, 2012 at 01:26 PM
I agree completely - we need to bring the fire department under the town's management. It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to have a fire district. Reduction in redundancies, greater transparency, sharing of services...it just makes sense. This is no disrespect to the very brave men and women of the fire district - this is about common sense in management of limited resources.


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