Michael Isaacs Questionnaire Responses

Each candidate was asked to answer seven questions about East Greenwich and their candidacy for Town Council.

1. Why are you running?

It has been a privilege to serve on the Town Council for four terms as President. I am seeking office again to continue fiscally responsible policies and to see through to completion several initiatives that are underway.  My objectives include continued control of operating costs and fiscal responsibility, continued structural changes in government and consolidation.  We also need to address capital improvements regarding road and sidewalk repairs, within the overall context of delivering Town services while holding down taxes.

For the past several years, as Council President, I have worked with a coalition of suburban communities to press the concerns of municipalities at the State House.  We have worked for pension reform, fair funding for education and against binding arbitration for teachers and municipal employees.  We need to continue these efforts and continue to focus on relief from unfunded mandates and on legislation that will remove restrictions that prevent municipalities from operating as efficiently as we otherwise could.

2. What are the three most important issues facing the Town of East Greenwich and how would you address each?

Property taxes will continue to be my overriding priority, which must be addressed through controlling and reducing costs, fiscal responsibility and efficient management.  Personnel costs of the Town and Schools are the largest expenditures, so these must be given particular attention.  

Another priority will be continuation of structural changes in government, consolidation and shared services.  Much has been accomplished in the last eight years, but further opportunities exist.  

Thirdly, we need to step up infrastructure improvements for roads and sidewalks.  We need to address this by shifting funding to this capital improvements area.  As we have taken on other projects, this basic function has fallen behind.  Savings achieved in other areas of operation should be used to fund road and sidewalk projects.   

3. Do you think the EG Fire District should be merged with the Town, even if it involves a “hostile takeover”?

I am in favor of merging the Fire District into the Town.  I believe that the Fire Commissioners have managed the Fire District well and that they are conscientious public officials.  I also believe that our East Greenwich firefighters are second to none.  However, there are other reasons to merge the Fire District.  I am of the opinion that we have too much government in Rhode Island.  I have continually looked for ways to make structural changes in government that will result in greater efficiencies in the future and provide for better governance.  Essentially, that is why I support this proposed change.  

I acknowledge that there would not be great savings from a merger.  That is because the Town Council and the Fire Commissioners have worked together to consolidate services over the past several years.  Services provided by the Town to the Fire District include tax billing and collection, accounts payable and payroll, information technology support, unified phone system, snow plowing, moving the Fire Marshall’s office to the building inspector’s office to create one stop for building approvals, DPW repairing Fire District vehicles and recent construction of a water line.  Except for the sharing of the costs of a mechanic for vehicle repairs, the Town does not bill the Fire District for the services provided.  The cost is on the Town’s books.  That is why greater cost savings would not result from a merger.  In providing these services, the Town Council believed that it was more important to reduce overall costs for taxpayers than to focus on cost allocations.  Nevertheless, some areas of savings would be in legal fees and audit fees.

If we were designing a governmental structure today, we would not set up two governments, one for the fire district and another for the all the other governmental functions.  Such a structure does not create efficiencies and does not provide for the best governance.  The Town Council is elected in a general election with town-wide voting.  The Fire Commissioners are elected at a Fire District meeting at which the quorum is 30 voters.  I believe that it is time to reduce the layers of government and that this is one beneficial change to make. (It should be noted that the referendum question is non-binding because only the state legislature can change the status of the Fire District.  The purpose is to give taxpayers the opportunity to express their views on this issue.)

4a. Is there any part of town government spending that should be reduced?

The Town Council and School Committee should always be looking for ways to reduce costs and operate more efficiently in all areas of government.  One area that should get particular attention is employee costs and benefits since this is the largest part of the budget.  Our Town employees and unions have worked cooperatively with the Town over the years.  The municipal government has fewer employees now than it did seven years ago.  Two years ago there was a two year salary freeze for municipal employees and there is a salary freeze in this year’s budget.  There has been departmental restructuring.  We have addressed health care costs by restructuring health care plans.  These efforts are still underway and need to be continued.

We need to continue to look for ways to restructure government, consolidate duplicative services and share services.  Much has been accomplished among the Town Council, School Committee and Fire District Commissioners, but more opportunities exist.  Generally, I believe that services within the School Department that do not involve educational policy should be considered for consolidation with the municipal side of government.  The primary functions of the municipal government are administrative.  The primary function of the School Department is education.

4b. Is there any part of government that should not be cut?

In all areas of Town government, we should always look for ways to operate more efficiently and reduce costs wherever possible.  We should seek to deliver services in the most cost-effective manner possible.  At the present time, I believe that one area that should not be cut is public safety.  The size of the East Greenwich police department is appropriate to our size and is in line with or below staffing levels in other communities.  Unfortunately, drug use among students and youth has increased and East Greenwich has not been immune.  We need to preserve funds for enforcement and counseling and maintain the school resource officer.

4c. Is there anything that should be expanded?

We need to step up infrastructure improvements for roads and sidewalks.  We need to address this by shifting funding to this capital improvements area.  As we have taken on other projects, this basic function has fallen behind.  

5. Beyond the town’s financial agreement with New England Tech, in what ways should the town seek to benefit from the school’s presence?

We successfully negotiated a legally binding agreement with New England Tech for payments of $9 million and funding of traffic improvements.  We also enacted a zoning ordinance that governs the school’s presence in our community, buffering for nearby neighborhoods, control of activities on the campus, preservation of the East Greenwich Golf Course as a golf course or open space and no lighting on any athletic fields built near residential areas.

The Town is already benefiting in other ways.  New England Tech provides meeting space for the Town, Schools and community groups.  New England Tech provides technical support and professional development for teachers and administrators.  This has saved the East Greenwich schools significant money.  The schools are working with New England Tech to have students visit various classes to learn of areas in which they may be interested, particularly in the medical profession.  When athletic fields are built, they will be made available for school and youth teams.  New England Tech has demonstrated a desire to become part of the community and to offer their resources.  I am sure that other ideas for involvement are welcome.

6a. Should the Financial Town Meeting be abolished? 

The Financial Town Meeting is not the democratic institution that it once was.  It derives from a time when the Town had a smaller population that was less mobile.  Now, our population is larger, our residents travel for business and pleasure, and people have multiple commitments for their time.

The small number of voters required for a quorum at the Financial Town Meeting has the power to set the budget, and therefore taxes, and approve bond issues for all the other residents in Town.  If a resident cannot come to the meeting on this particular night at a particular time, then the voter is disenfranchised.  What about the parent who has other family commitments, the elderly person who may not be able to attend, the businessperson who has to be out of town?  These people are precluded from participating in the decision on their taxes.  There is no all-day voting as there is in a referendum and general election.  There are no absentee ballots.  These voters are disenfranchised.  That is not democracy.  

There are multiple public meetings held by the Town Council and School Committee during the budget process.  Members of the public are given an opportunity to speak at all these meetings as well as at the designated public hearing.  This public input is listened to and does make a difference.  

I believe that the lack of a quorum at recent Financial Town Meetings is not a sign of disinterest.  Residents expect their elected officials to understand and oversee the budget.  People turn out at Town Council and School Committee meetings when they are angry and when they are unhappy with their elected officials.  They know that if elected officials mismanage the budget and Town and School affairs, there is an opportunity every two years, at least with the Town Council, to vote in new people.  

6b. What ideas do you have to better engage people in town government?

Our boards, commissions, advisory groups, task forces and other volunteers have been a source of creative ideas for Town initiatives.  A good example of this is the Downtown Initiative.  The Town Council has increased citizen involvement over the years and I will continue these efforts.  We need to continue to publicize opportunities in the media and on the Town website and to provide meaningful opportunities for involvement as issues arise.

7. In 100 words or fewer, explain why people should vote for you.

I have extensive experience as an attorney and business executive.  I have brought this expertise to my analysis of Town issues.  I look for ways in which municipal government can operate like an efficient business, with a concern for its customers – the taxpayers.  My approach is to develop practical solutions and foster teamwork.  This has enabled us to establish a record of accomplishments and fiscal responsibility, which includes – good management practices, control of operating and employee costs, spending discipline, highest bond rating in the state, no new vehicle taxes, consolidation, shared services, increased senior services, successful Town construction projects.


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