2013-10-31 / Opinion


A Most Unfortunate Dynamic

I t was uncomfortable for everyone involved. The City Council’s final meeting of October brought with it a frightening amount of personal barbs and apparent animus directed at one of their own.

Councilor Michael T. Farley, who is currently serving his first term on the dais, had been called to task.

At issue: a resolution that he had put forth chastising the city manager for insubordination. But in the end, it was Farley that would be chastised. His fellow colleagues, some reading from prepared statements, had had enough.

Since being elected to an at-large seat in 2012, Farley has made a name for himself as a maverick, eschewing politics and opting instead for lively and oftentimes contentious debates on issues.

At times, others on the council have lent their support to his endeavors – on things like pushing for a review of the city’s arrangement governing payments made in lieu of taxes by nonprofit entities, or pursuing a review of the city’s lease with its namesake yacht club. However, calling out the city manager in public in the form of a resolution that had no chance of winning even a single vote was apparently a line that he shouldn’t have crossed.

Calling his tactics petty and ill-advised – one by one – each of those council members in attendance sounded off on Farley’s latest resolution, which at its heart centered on a recommendation by City Manager Jane Howington to affirm the city’s lease arrangement with the Newport Yacht Club. Farley had been outspoken in his position that the club should pay more and used the weeks leading up to the meeting to take issue with Howington’s recommendation.

Whatever your take on the lease or Ms. Howington’s recommendation, it seems that Farley’s decision to push his disagreement into the public sphere belies a deeper frustration with the administration that should be of some concern.

In her remarks, Vice Chair Naomi L. Neville lamented the time that was being spent debating what in the minds of many had become a moot point. Second Ward Councilor Justin S. McLaughlin, meanwhile, said that it is important that the council learn to “disagree without being disagreeable.”

In the main, the city appears to be making some rather significant strides on any number of important issues – from the dramatic improvements to our above- and below-ground infrastructure, to all matters of finance.

However, we also share Ms. Neville’s fear that a disjointed council will slow that progress and create an atmosphere of controversy unproductive to the long-term interests of the community.

Several years ago, a previous council faced a similar challenge, as communication between individual council members became strained – and in some cases, ceased.

But observers outside of the city’s political bubble rarely saw the dysfunction, and work on the people’s business continued.

This time, the council’s discord was on full display for all to see. And that is a concern. Let’s hope that these seven elected officials will learn to work together from here on out, and do what we sent them to do: lead.

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