2015-10-08 / Opinion

Is 36 Too Many?


Already bored now that summer has left us behind? For those of you who, like it or not, spend your autumn, winter and spring on frosty Aquidneck Island, you need not wonder what on earth you’ll be doing during the months ahead.

We’ve got options for you. Lots of them.

How does the Newport Planning Board sound? Not your thing? Then there’s the Affirmative Action Committee. Still no go? Do you like financial affairs? If so, how does the Newport Trust and Investment Commission sound? Participation is needed from volunteers with a variety of backgrounds.

According to the city's website, there are 36—yes, three dozen— “authorities, boards, commissions, committees, task forces and work groups” officially sanctioned here. That seems like a lot.

Even though most boards meet once a month or less, their agendas can be frustrated by absent members. On Oct. 1, the Planning Board was to meet, but could not muster a five-member quorum. Lawyers and clients were there with business to attend to, but for naught. The same board was scheduled to meet on Sept. 10, but also failed to attain a quorum then.

Similarly, the Zoning Board on Sept. 28 had recusals on some applications that forced continuances because not all members and alternates were present.

Other boards struggle with even getting off the ground. The city’s temporary Finance Review Committee gave the City Council a package of recommendations last year. The council received the recommendations and established a permanent finance review panel, but that has been the only action so far. The Harbor Walk Commission formed a year ago is also in limbo.

The need for a permanent finance review committee to be named and launched seems all too obvious to us. These days, municipal finances pose complex challenges for all cities and towns, what with unfunded pension liabilities, ornery public sector unions, and myriad other issues that carry large price tags. Newport is no exception.

Perhaps City Council should put forth more effort to populate these panels that they themselves create. Boards and commissions should have qualified members to conduct business or they should not be established in the first place.

Which, come to think of it, may be the root problem. Perhaps 36 official panels are too many for a city the size of Newport. Maybe the City Council should consider whether they are all necessary. Case in point is the North End Commission which was recently disbanded because "they fulfilled their mission."

We believe there is no point in maintaining the status quo with Newport’s 36 authorities, boards, commissions, committees, task forces, and work groups. If anything, it should be challenged.

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