Editorial: Small-town governance

Posted 12/15/21

There was a time, not long ago, when we celebrated Barrington for setting a great example in small-town governance. Citizens with talent and good intentions volunteered for public service, spent one …

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Editorial: Small-town governance

Posted

There was a time, not long ago, when we celebrated Barrington for setting a great example in small-town governance. Citizens with talent and good intentions volunteered for public service, spent one or two terms serving their community, and made decisions, big or small, with tact and humility.

Other towns were home to the hidden agendas, backroom politics and nasty fighting that seemed all so unnecessary in small municipalities like these.

The government of Barrington is not what it used to be. If you read this space regularly, you know we have been frequent critics of this town’s leadership for the past three to four years. We believe it is for good reason, as two recent examples attest.

First, consider Katherine Quinn’s quest to be on the town’s zoning board. Though for nearly three months she was the lone applicant for the board, the town council maneuvered, stalled and delayed until it had enough applicants to NOT appoint her, and then finally decided to act. No surprise, it did not appoint her.

The whole process felt sneaky and disingenuous, not to mention totally unnecessary. If the council did not want to appoint Ms. Quinn, it could have simply chosen to not appoint her. It could have said, “Ms. Quinn has made disparaging comments about this community, she has been disruptive to this board, and we don’t want her to serve in public office.”

Procedurally, that would be simple. They could consider Ms. Quinn’s application, seek a nomination, either fail to appoint a second or fail to get enough votes, then close the vote and move on. It would be an open, transparent and decisive action — much more respectable than the hidden machinations that took place.

Secondly, consider the dustup between Councilor Jacob Brier and departing Town Manager Jim Cunha prior to the most recent council meeting. Mr. Cunha admitted that he does not share all his communications, most notably his opinions on certain issues, with all members of the council. So he admitted that he and councilors talk behind the scenes, orchestrate decisions and have a running dialogue that does not include all parties in town leadership.

Another reason Mr. Cunha does not share everything with the outspoken  Mr. Brier is because the councilor shares too much with the public. For many, Mr. Brier’s email newsletters, often recapping town council meetings, are must-read. Obviously others don’t like that.

The recent pattern of governance in Barrington is to have no pattern. Certain issues surge to the top of agendas, while others never see the light of day. Some flags rise to the top of the flagpole immediately, while others languish in public hearings for 18 months. Some groups can sell booze on public property, while other private enterprises are hit with regulations and fees.

It all feels too small-town for a town that used to be so much bigger than this. Barrington should be managed by an open, transparent and representative government. Barrington should be better than this.

2022 by East Bay Newspapers

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Meet our staff
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.