2018-04-19 / Opinion


In the Hot Seat

In the heat of the moment, it is not uncommon for anyone to say something off the cuff or do something that later he or she thought better of.

In Newport and Middletown, our council leadership has had to deal with some contentious situations, where their every word, every motion is under scrutiny.

Mayor Winthrop, chair of the Newport City Council, and Robert Sylvia, president of the Middletown Town Council are often in the hot seat, presiding over meetings fraught with tension.

We recognize the difficulty of their positions and empathize with the strains of their virtually volunteer roles.

In October, there was a public workshop in Newport to discuss the possibility of the National Sailing Hall of Fame’s relocation to the Armory on Thames Street. Many from the Armory were in attendance, and the mayor made an offer at that time to hold another public workshop if requested, so the community could show up and speak up about the potential sale. To our knowledge, that workshop was never requested.

At the April 11 council meeting, however, the speaking up began. Those in attendance were stirred to applaud and cheer, expressing themselves fully, thanks to the invitation by the Mayor to show up and be heard, even if the meeting did get a bit out of control and needed to be gaveled back.

In Middletown, Council President Sylvia's recent remark at a council meeting regarding the removal or replacement of the fallen officers’ memorial drew heated criticism, even protest-like gestures from the community. As a former Middletown Police Chief, he felt compelled to write a letter of apology to his fellow officers, which we published last week. (See “No Disrespect Intended,” NTW, April 12, 2018.)

But despite his attempt at making things right, at Monday night’s Town Council Meeting, police officers and supporters showed up in full force, holding signs, expressing their upset at Sylvia’s comment. Whether right or wrong, what’s important is that the community showed up and spoke up.

We remind our readers that each community has a live streaming video of the local government meetings on their websites. To understand the nuances of the meetings, we encourage residents to view the videos and draw their own conclusions about what happens at them. With the cameras poised to capture the speaker and those on the dais, the mood of the room is usually not conveyed, so to really get the full story, attend the meetings.

The freedom to express ourselves is a privilege that sets us apart from many other nations on this planet. It is why so many come to make their homes here, and have for hundreds of years.

Let us respect each other’s expressions in all ways, on all days, affording our leaders and our neighbors the dignity due them as members of this free and greatest of lands.

We all may slip up at times, but the right to a “do-over” belongs to everyone. We can never know when we, ourselves, may need a pass.

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