2014-02-14 / Opinion

The Silence is Deafening

The thermometer on the dashboard read 11 degrees on Wednesday morning. It was a cold day, but it heated up quickly.

Just before dawn, news broke that details of the closely-watched pension settlement being negotiated between state and union representatives would have to wait. For political watchers it was a deflating turn of events, with little explanation why.

Days earlier, it had appeared that a deal had finally been struck, setting Rhode Island policymakers abuzz and the media into an anxious state of limbo.

As Newporters, it's easy to sometimes be lulled into our island mentality, content to believe that matters at the Statehouse don't bear much of any relevance to our lives.

This should not be one of those instances.

There are few issues that carry as much importance to our state than the outcome of the landmark pension reform bill signed into law by Gov. Chafee in 2011.

The implications for the state, our economy, and even the outcome of the 2012 election cycle all seem to be tied up in this one issue.

Which is why it has been all the more disappointing to witness the veiled nature of the last week. When news broke that an agreement had finally been reached that could stave off a costly legal tussle over the law, there developed a disturbing cone of silence over the proceedings.

On both sides, state and labor leaders cited a gag order issued during the case as cause for their silence. However, with hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars already spent on legal fees and the fate of thousands of pensioners on the line, it's hard to understand the justification for keeping an entire state in the dark on a matter that so clearly impacts the whole.

Among those who refused to discuss the potential settlement was Newport's own state Senator M. Teresa Paiva-Weed. And for his part, Chafee was out of state, giving a lecture as part of an unannounced trip to Texas.

While reporters throughout the state pounced on the silence on grounds of transparency, business leaders lamented the news as more evidence to support the state's reputation for back-room dealings.

It's hard not to see their point.

In Newport, we've made much over the last several years about the importance of effectively communicating with the citizenry. At least we can take heart knowing that our elected officials aren't the only ones struggling with the issue. In fact, we'd say the state could stand to learn a thing or two from us.

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