Editorial: Set new guidelines for good government

Posted 2/2/22

This would be a good time to review how the municipal government of Barrington operates, and talk about how it should operate.

Barrington Town Councilor Jacob Brier has brought to light legitimate …

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Editorial: Set new guidelines for good government

Posted

This would be a good time to review how the municipal government of Barrington operates, and talk about how it should operate.

Barrington Town Councilor Jacob Brier has brought to light legitimate questions about how the town government communicates, both internally and externally, all while stirring up some real animosity between himself and council President Michael Carroll. Tension between the two has been obvious for the past two years, and some of the recent dustup is simply a manifestation of that conflict. 

But much of it is also justified. For much of the past two years, Councilor Brier has shined a bright spotlight on the council’s process for setting its own agendas, rightly questioning why one person, the president, wields such unique power. Now Brier has questioned the guidelines for internal communication, bringing evidence that the previous town manager and the longtime council president have not always communicated equally to all members of the leadership group.

Other councilors have suggested that Brier should keep the dirty laundry behind closed doors, preferring to talk about these issues in executive session. That would defy the very reason there is an Open Meetings Law — to ensure the public’s business is discussed in public. Because as much as some might like to hide behind the conveniences of executive session, these issues — setting agendas, keeping public officials informed equally, and the actions of the town manager (not the performance, the actions) are very much public issues that warrant open dialogue.

With a new town manager in place, and with any real election season still months away, now would be a great time to step outside the routine and talk about the procedures and protocols for town leadership. Take all the breakdowns in communication, all the suggestions for improvement, and throw them into a series of public workshops, facilitated by a qualified outsider.

In most other municipalities, the town clerk plays a key role in so many of these issues. The clerk sets agendas, distributes memos and keeps everyone in town leadership informed, while simultaneously leading communication with the public. In Barrington, at least in the recent past, the clerk is hardly seen, while most information flows through the town manager and town council president.

Barrington residents have a right to question if that is a healthy structure, and how this municipal government can be better than it has been. Based on the breakdowns brought to light in recent weeks (and years), it’s obvious there is room for improvement.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.