2018-02-01 / Opinion


More Questions Than Answers

Beyond the political divisiveness that our country is facing, which was particularly obvious from the State of the Union address, we are also asking questions, locally, about our processes and what is happening in our own backyard.

As you can see from the letters on this page, the Portsmouth Town Council is experiencing strife with taxpayers over financial reports, while Middletown citizens still have fresh memories of the controversy between the council and the school department over how we spend on technology for students.

Questions on process seem to be an underpinning issue of late. The long-fought debate on the re-location of the cell tower at Rogers has yet to be resolved, with the issue of who is responsible fluctuating between the city and the school department. On the heels of the Newport City Council filling the vacant seat last month, the process beyond the charter change was a thorn in the side to many, including those who applied for the vacant seat.

Would it be a closed or open process? Many candidates demanded that their interviews be open. Were open meeting laws violated along the way? How would the Attorney General’s office respond to the letters of complaint?

But the most recent issue of process for Newport is the sale of city-owned property. A spreadsheet from the Tax Assessor’s office indicates that there are about 130 city-owned parcels of taxable land, with several dozen having structures. These run the gamut from City Hall to schools, being used and empty, to bathrooms at baseball fields.

At the foreground of the latest process question is how the city is dispensing the Armory building on Thames Street. To most anyone who has sold a home, the process of selling a property has some fundamental steps to it. Perhaps you obtain three to five appraisals, decide on a price, advertise the property and then sell it to the highest qualified bidder.

Granted, the example of selling a private home is an over-simplification of a sale of a city property, but shouldn’t an “open” or transparent process be implemented in regards to the sale of the Armory?

Instead, after an announcement was made in November that options of a long-term lease or direct sale were being considered for the National Sailing Hall of Fame (NTW edition 11-22-17), Gary Jobson, president of the Hall of Fame, indicated in January that the organization would be holding a board vote and was optimistic about an agreement.

NTW is not weighing in on who should occupy the building or what other options the Hall of Fame could explore in Newport. We are simply trying to point out that there seem to be questions concerning the process for selling city-owned property.

It was not until the day of the Jan. 24 Newport City Council meeting that notice was posted that the Armory was going to be discussed, along with Coggeshall and Cranston-Calvert schools, and that it would be in closed Executive Session. (The marketing of the vacant schools was previously discussed in a 4-10-14 NTW article).

The meeting attendees were told that the private discussion would be informational only.

With no other news forthcoming after the Jan. 24 meeting, a notice was sent out on Jan. 29 at 1 p.m. that the City Council was going to meet again on Thursday, Feb. 1, in Executive Session, for issues relating to “the lease or disposition of publicly held property,” Cranston-Calvert School, Coggeshall School, the Pell Bridge realignment, Smart City and other development projects. However, that meeting was cancelled the following day.

So many questions remain unanswered. For example, as citizens, how aware are we of our processes, and how much do we get to say about them?

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