Editorial: Be it resolved, Barrington botched this one

Posted 6/25/21

There are clear differences between following the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law.” The Town of Barrington followed the letter of the law by officially posting …

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Editorial: Be it resolved, Barrington botched this one

Posted

There are clear differences between following the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law.” The Town of Barrington followed the letter of the law by officially posting notice of its final Financial Town Meeting agenda. A revised version of the town meeting agenda landed on the Rhode Island Secretary of State website at 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 10. That final agenda included a new resolution to spend $3.5 million to fund acquisition of the former Carmelite Monastery on Watson Avenue.

The town spit on the spirit of the law by failing do anything more than a simple upload of its agenda to notify residents and taxpayers that a consequential new spending initiative, bound to generate a fair level of controversy, would be decided by a majority of voters on June 16.

The town’s explanation is that negotiations with the Providence Diocese were deliberately kept quiet, as most negotiations are, and they could only be revealed at the 11th hour. That’s dubious, since the town is prepared to make a full-price offer, winning approval (by 1 vote) for the $3.5 million asking price, for a property that has been on the open market for months. One could reasonably question why this needed to be held in such strict confidence.

Even if they’re not, the town’s maneuvers feel underhanded. There are long established practices, rules and policies for deciding financial matters in Barrington. They begin months in advance of the Financial Town Meeting, with workshops and committee meetings, review by an elected Appropriations Committee, and many hours of vetting and public decision-making. And then there’s this mess.

Town leaders met secretly to hash out a $3.5 million real estate deal, then blindsided taxpayers who took the time to get involved in their town government. Very few who walked through the doors of that high school auditorium had any idea the monastery purchase was on the agenda. They should have.

There is no reason why the town, once it had committed itself to this course of action at 11 a.m. on June 10, did not do everything in its power to notify its residents. It could have used social media, its email database, its website, maybe even the local newspaper, to get the word out. (The truth is the town manager did call us — 5 hours after the paper went to press the night before the meeting.)

Instead, they seemingly did nothing.

The irony is that we and many others might have been supportive of this action. The town has moved too slowly in other instances and either lost control of valuable properties or paid a steep price to get control. Maybe it is taking the right actions here.

However, because of the way it was handled, taxpayers have a right to feel angry and skeptical. Massive questions loom about the future use, cost and density of the property, and so far no one has provided any answers. Town leaders should understand why people feel betrayed and understand why they owe Barrington residents more accountability.

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Media Group team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaymediagroup.com.