2017-05-04 / Opinion

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Smith Announces Candidacy

To the Editor:

I am excited to announce my candidacy for Senate District 13 for Newport and Jamestown.

I would like to thank former Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed for her work and devotion to Newport and Jamestown.

This special election on Tuesday, Aug. 22, gives us all a great opportunity to set a new course for hardworking Newport and Jamestown residents.

As a husband, father, and small business owner, I and my wife are faced with the joys and challenges of living in the community we love while dealing with the ever-rising costs of living.

Like most island families, we continually ask, “Why are our taxes, fees, and overall costs of living continuing to increase each year, while at the same time the economy, jobs, schools, and opportunities for our kids continue to drop?”

Newport’s year-round population has dropped over 50 per cent in the last 40 years. Unless we turn the tide, that number is expected to increase.

We all see it. There are less children. There are less families.

This is our future.

As you next senator I will fight for:

– A year-round economy and year-round careers. We cannot depend on seasonal tourism alone.

– Making our schools top-performing.

– Preserving our environment and improving recreation spaces.

– Eliminating the car tax.

– Term limits.

– Ending elderly and military retiree taxes.

– Like you, I love Newport and Jamestown. We want to stay here. I am running to make our community viable for families so we all can stay here and prosper here.

Thank you for your vote on Tuesday, Aug. 22.

Michael Smith
Newport

The Onus is on the Cell Companies

To the Editor:

Remember the doctor who was dragged off a United Airlines plane because he refused to give up his seat? Well, the Newport School Committee is now in a position similar to that of the doctor. But it isn’t United Airlines who is threatening us. Our antagonists are three cell phone providers: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile. They are telling us that if we don’t allow them to continue using a tower on the grounds of Rogers High School, they may cut off cell phone service to the southern part of the city of Newport.

This threat to eliminate cell phone service includes a threat to eliminate 911 emergency service. In effect, the three giant companies are saying to us, “Look, if you School Committee folks don’t do what we demand, it is likely that the good people of the south end of Newport won’t be able to phone the police when burglars break into houses, or the fire department when these houses catch fire, or the rescue squad when the people who live in these houses have heart attacks. These tragedies will be on your blood-stained hands.” This is outrageous and nonsense.

In December of 2015 the School Committee, at my initiative, voted not to renew its contracts with the three cell phone providers, contracts that allow them to use our Rogers High School tower to mount their equipment. The Committee acted because of complaints from neighbors and others who consider the tower to be an abomination for many reasons, and in so doing we sacrificed $90,000 per year in combined rental from the three companies. We judged that it is more important to be a good neighbor than to get $90,000 per year.

Well, the companies have not given up. They want the tower, and they want it at the low annual price of $90,000. Apparently, they cannot find any other landlord in the southern end of the city who is willing to let them set up a cell tower for $90,000 per annum. So they are putting a gun to the School Committee’s head. They are essentially threatening to let houses burn down and get burglarized; they are threatening to let people die of heart attacks unless we give them what they want. And they promise to blame these tragedies on the School Committee.

Remember the doctor? By now everybody realizes that United Airlines should have offered him a carrot instead of a stick. Instead of dragging him off the plane, United Airlines should have made him a generous money offer. He would have taken it and walked peacefully off the plane.

Let the cell phone companies offer a sufficiently generous price to landowners at the southern end of Newport, and I bet they’ll soon find a taker. What about the State of Rhode Island? For the right price, surely the Governor would allow use of state land.

It is the job of the Newport School Committee to operate the Newport public schools. It is not our job to help billion dollar communication corporations save money and trouble for themselves. We are an education agency, not an assistant to a cell-phone agency.

Dave Carlin
Newport School Committee
Member

Stop Signs Vandalized

Earlier this week, 62 stop signs and the former Coggeshall School were vandalized in Newport. "We are currently investigating the matter," said Newport Police Sgt. Joe Carroll.

"It looks like this was planned out," said Director of Public Services William Riccio. "They probably identified the signs ahead of time and used a stencil." City employees will use graffiti remediation products to clean the signs, he said. The politically charged vandalism provoked a flurry of reactions on the Newport This Week Facebook page. Here are what a few people had to say: Karen S: Sad! This will cost the city a lot to repair… hopefully, they find who did this and hold them accountable... just more money taken from the taxpayers. Alicia R: Vandalism or art? Ryan O: Rhode Islanders don't stop for stop signs so this artist put them to good use. Camille D: LOVE the new Stop signs!! Please leave them as they are....Kudos to the activist artists... Andrew C: Likely someone who doesn't have to pay taxes for the replacement.

To read all of the comments, follow Newport This Week on Facebook.

Can Regionalization of Schools, Fire, and Police Help with Tax Relief?

To the Editor:

In the April 20 edition of Newport This Week I read with interest the article on the Paradise Avenue parking area removal.

The second part of the article is what really drove me to write this letter.

Learning the city is going to push a new tax requiring homeowners to pay for their properties’ impervious areas under the guise of improving storm water infrastructure is just downright insulting. We already pay extremely high taxes and I can say I paid far less on my home in California, a state known for their high tax rates, than I do in Middletown.

At what point is the city going to do the hard work to cut spending versus taking the easy route of sticking it to homeowners? Why are we not reading about cost saving measures such as regionalizing our fire and police services on Aquidneck Island instead of tax hikes sold as water quality measures? The regionalization topic comes up frequently with our schools; why not something much simpler such as combining fire departments? This would clearly improve coverage while significantly reducing costs: a win-win to everyone but the entrenched union interests. Is the city unwilling to stand up to organized labor?

I can’t imagine any taxpayer saying they would oppose this move as they may with regionalizing schools. Schools have an impact on property values; a beautiful new fire station does not. Would-be homeowners are going to look at our schools and our tax rate and I would argue our taxes are now driving middle-class families away! It is certainly driving discussions in my household.

How about treating the police and fire departments like our schools and giving them one set dollar amount for the year and let them figure it out? I’m certain they would, just as our schools must do. Is it only newcomers that wonder why Middletown has a new police station and fire station yet the High School is a dated, tired looking edifice? Are we really going to attract families to our city with these priorities?

And, where has all the new tax revenue gone with the building boom happening everywhere in Middletown and especially around the Tuckerman Avenue area? From my house alone, there are two new homes and one in progress, equating to about $25,000 in additional annual tax revenue. And, there are almost 11 new homes on Julia Court within the last 24 months, equaling about $88,000 in new tax revenue. Where has this windfall of new funds gone? Certainly not into repaving streets!

Reviewing what could be regionalized with the other two cities on Aquidneck Island is just one example of how our great city could find efficiencies in spending versus simply raising taxes again and again as the easy way out. I hope other Middletown taxpayers will stand up to this rooftop, driveway, and sidewalk tax and let the city know our priority is prudent spending of the tax dollars they already receive. In my opinion, our city has a spending problem to solve, not a revenue problem.

Scott Washburn
U.S. Navy (Retired)
Middletown

Separation of Church and State Should Be Upheld

To the Editor:

Newport’s earliest settlers would be aghast to see our island’s Town Halls being used for an explicitly religious purpose, the avowedly Judeo-Christian “National Day of Prayer.” Rhode Island’s founders understood that mixing religion and government does not promote true religious freedom; it undermines it. Following the principles espoused by Roger Williams, those founders understood that separation of church and state was the best way to protect the freedom to worship, or not to worship, as one wishes.

In 1695, Newporters reacted strongly when a government building, the Colony House (predecessor to the building that stands now in Washington Square), was used for explicitly religious events by the Congregational Church, which had just arrived in Newport. This was the church of the Puritans, the very group that had driven religious “dissenters” Roger Williams, Anne Hutchinson, John Clarke, and other Rhode Island founders out of Massachusetts, where church and state were closely intertwined.

As with the other religious groups who struggled to practice elsewhere in New England, Baptists, Quakers, Anglicans (Episcopalians), Jews, the Congregationalists were free to worship in Newport despite their own religious intolerance. Rather than meet in private homes as other religious groups had done in the days before they could build a house of worship, however, the Congregationalists began to hold worship services in the Colony House.

Though they accepted the right of the Congregationalists to worship here, Newporters drew the line at using their government building for religious services. The General Assembly acknowledged that “most of the inhabitants” were “dissatisfied” that their government building was being used for other than secular purposes. Their complaints led the General Assembly to pass a law restricting use of the building to government activities. It was forbidden to use the Colony House for “ecclesiastical purposes.”

Today, religious Americans enjoy the same religious freedom, freedom to build their own houses of worship and practice their religions in those protected places that the Congregationalists had in Newport in the 1690s. And it is exactly in those protected places where the National Day of Prayer should be observed. The religious community should not ask for, and the City Council should not allow, the practice of religious ceremonies on our secular government property. There is no shortage of houses of worship or other private facilities where such ceremonies could be held.

Newport’s earliest citizens understood that religious freedom means church-state separation. It was a founding principle of Rhode Island. Our current city leaders clearly need to re-learn that valuable lesson from those who first built our community. It is as true today as it was in 1695.

Chuck Flippo
Newport

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