2017-04-20 / Opinion


Shells, Man-splaining, Sleeping, and oh yeah, a Bigger Polo Center

To the Editor:

The April 17, 2017 Middletown Public Hearing about the Polo Center expansion played out like a political humorist’s dream. Unfortunately, drawing is not my forte, but here is what the picture would look like.

President Robert Sylvia admiring a box of shiny new shells that Bob Silva and David Bazarski presented him at the meeting, with a receipt on the back showing that the shells were purchased on March 20, 2017, the date of the first council meeting.

Councilman Harry “Rick” Lombardi “man-splaining” to a woman representing the residents about how children are a huge tax burden to the town of Middletown, because he thinks he knows more then she does.

Councilwoman Barbara VonVillas sleeping.

Councilwoman Teresa Santos crying and complaining that one of her woman constituents called her and was mean to her, and she hung up on her.

With a thought bubble over Sylvia, Lombardi, VonVillas and Santos saying, “I really wish these stupid residents would just shut up. We’ve decided on this already and just need to formalize it with an official vote.”

For those of you who are saddened by the Ringling Brothers Circus discontinuing their act, there’s no need to fret. Grab yourself a seat at a Middletown town council public hearing.

Welcome to Middletown politics, a place no more progressive than any other city or town in the union. Middletown has the same back door deals, flexible morality, and the “I know more than you because I’m on the council” mentality that you’d find elsewhere.

What was clearly demonstrated last night is that a public hearing is a joke. I was under the impression that a public hearing is a place for people to present new ideas, share their concerns and come together as a community to make a better plan. Instead, I watched a cheap circus act. An act where Sylvia heard virtually the same information from Bob Silva and David Bazarsky that was presented at the first meeting, but this time they labeled it fresh and new. An act where VonVillas looked like a teenager in class who could barely keep her eyes open because she was so disinterested in the conversation, and already knew the outcome. An act where Lombardi “man-splained” Susan Kelly on facts she presented about children in the school system, something she researched and is qualified to answer. An act where Santos cried because she got a phone call from a woman who used foul language, and she was shocked because it came from a woman.

During the meeting, new ideas were presented. New suggestions were given to the town about improving the current Middletown Comprehensive Community Plan. Four of the six council members did not listen, nor welcome the information. Instead they deflected, and in some cases became combative.

We are new to Rhode Island and local politics, but we probably should have listened to our neighbors when they said the town council is going to do what they want, and they are definitely going to vote where they think the money is.

Darcy Roland

Residents' Role is Vital for the Future

To the Editor:

Middletown is a successful community by design, not chance. Communities can grow by choice or chance. Abraham Lincoln used to say that “the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.” We have created a successful future for Middletown by involving our residents who have assisted in determining and planning the town’s future.

As we enter into the budget season, there will be accurate accounts of budget meetings, as well as scuttlebutt buzzing through our community. I know that I speak for my fellow town council colleagues when I say that we are committed to seeing that we maintain a high quality of life for all residents, and that our next generation of Middletowners will be equipped to enter the workforce with the skills that they need to succeed. Our schools are moving in the right direction with the recent passing of the $10 million bond that will repair long overdue infrastructure issues, as well as funding new and current academic agendas.

We will continue to collaborate in a partnership with our school committee to sustain our educational excellence, social environment and after-school programs. We will stay united and renew our efforts and support statewide initiatives to address the need for changes in state funding for public education. We are motivated by a common desire to see that our schools are the best, but we also realize that we must be conscious of the post recessionary times that our residents are still living in.

Middletown residents will again play a vital role in determining our budget, and my personal proposal will be a reflection of their priorities. Hundreds of residents helped shape last year’s budget by offering their feedback during public hearings. This year will be no different as residents will also be asked to give their input on the budget at several public meetings.

We have a history of working together to shape our future. I ask for your support. Attend budget meetings, express your desires and share your thoughts and concerns with us. Open, honest, civil, civic engagement has always been Middletown’s formula for success.

Robert J. Sylvia – President
Middletown Town Council

A Visitor Center at The Breakers is Not the Right Solution

To the Editor:

I recently moved to the East Coast and with great excitement I finally visited the Breakers. I have lived in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia and have seen a range of historic sites around the world. I consider these mansions and gardens in Newport to be icons of American history and architecture. I was very concerned when I learned a visitor center is proposed to be built inside the gate. The justification for the center is to “modernize hospitality” by providing food to prevent visitors from leaving the grounds and increase visitation at other the Preservation Society of Newport County (PSNC) mansions. As a professional in tourism, I would like to offer some insights:

Operations: It appears the underlying reason to build the center is to service corporate groups. These groups visit briefly only one time and should not be the target market for PSNC. Those who eat will monopolize parking spaces, which was the argument for not locating in the parking lot. Deterring guests from going into town will harm small businesses that rely on tourists. A non-profit should not be competing for all of the local tourism business in Newport. The cost to operate the center and future renovations is probably higher than the likely return.

Tourist Motivators: Imagine going into the Palace of Versailles but instead you are greeted with a McDonald's in the middle of the Gardens! The needs and expectations of guests are vastly different at a tourist vacation resort than a historic site. Visitors come to the Breakers for an “authentic historic experience.” Adding a “modernized hospitality” facility in the gardens will erode that experience. Guests will visit multiple times a year to see beautiful gardens, maybe the mansions, but surely not a visitor center.

Marketing: The brochure at the ticket desk only included pictures of the Marble House and the Breakers, giving the impression the other mansions were not significant. If guests automatically go to the Breakers, the less frequented sites should be featured in marketing materials. There is no need to have a visitor center to market other mansions. Standing posters and brochures can be added at the exit, the ticket booth and the gift shop cashier.

Interpretation and Experience: Retaining the loyalty of customers and word-of-mouth communication are the cheapest and most effective forms of marketing. Guests will share their experiences if they engaged in activities, learn history and feel immersed in an historic period. The current tour structure was very rigid and offers no active engagement for interpretation. My thesis research consisted of a comparative analysis of different tour experiences. The findings showed that when a tour follows a rigid structure and doesn’t offer active engagement, guests are less likely to have a delightful experience. They are also less likely to return and refer others to the site.

Conclusion: A business plan should be developed to enhance the gardens, change the marketing strategy and the tour structure. Visitors will not remember if they had a sandwich, but rather if the gardens were beautiful and it was an engaging experience! I will gladly volunteer by providing alternative suggestions to preserve the Breakers, because the Visitor Center is not the right solution.

Charity Richins B.A., M.S.
Parks, Recreation, and Tourism,
Emphasis in Marketing
& Management

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