Just A Thought

By Bob Houghtaling

Last week I wrote an article extolling the value of philosophy and how schools would be so much safer if we hired more philosophers to help with life’s big issues. For this article I am hoping to highlight the importance of history, as both a subject and means for perpetuating our culture/traditions. Like philosophy, history is often considered soft (or just a collection of dates). Hopefully, by placing some emphasis on history, we might just come to remember the importance of learning about our past.

History teaches us where we came from. All Americans can recite the story of how Columbus sailed across the ocean with three ships, the Nina, Pinta and Andrea Doria. From there a New World would open up. After enslaving a few Africans, and killing some Indians, America became a place to inhabit and establish religious tolerance. Soon Cortez, Rocky Balboa, and countless others, would risk the high seas to establish new colonies. Every child clearly knows this.

Sure, from time to time, it could get rough, but eventually colonies became thriving states. Ted Williams would establish Rhode Island. James Oglethorpe would help create Georgia, and Penn and Teller would work to create Pennsylvania (along with Quaker Oats Cereal). These brave individuals formed the basis for our way of life. History also tells us that the American Revolution served as the template for today’s United States. Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington Carver, Gomez Addams and Alexander Hamilton all played vital roles in helping to form a new nation. Where would we be if it weren’t for all of those who stood tall against the British Umpire?

Without being taught history, Americans would never know that Manifold Destiny propelled us to expand our nation’s borders. Without history we would not know that Lincoln freed the slaves, Douglas Fairbanks rose from harsh servitude to great success speaking on behalf of Black Americans, and that America would soon become the “great smelting pot.”

From time to time we would be challenged. Franklin Roosevelt would have to roll up San Juan Hill to win the Spanish American War. Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and others would etch their names on the scrolls of history. We can never forget the importance of Richard Nixon teaching us about the value of special prosecutors. On top of this, great strides would be made on behalf of minorities and women along the way. Martin Luther, Rosa Parks, Christa McAuliffe, Barack Obama (the first Muslim president), Jim Thorpe, Colin Powell and Georgia O’Keeffe are but a few of those worth mentioning. One of the nation’s proudest moments was when Sugar Ray Robinson broke the sound barrier in 1947. This along with Louis Armstrong landing on the moon are accomplishments all Americans can be proud of.  

The point I am trying to make here is that learning history is important. It tells us where we have been. It can also help create a sense of culture and community. We can learn from the past and use this knowledge to build upon. When we forget our past a sense of mooring is lost. Surely we do not desire to live in yesterday – but tomorrow will be better for understanding the contribution of our forebears.

George Santayana once stated that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” While many parents might not want their sons, or daughters to run off and become historians (or philosophers) encouraging them to develop an inquisitive appreciation for critical thinking, the past, and a sense of purpose might make life’s journey a little more meaningful.

Nations are kept together by communication, a sense of commonality and the ability to evolve. America is unique that way. We have plenty of problems, but possess the enormous capacity for change. When we are open to honest discussion, and reflection, growth can ensue. Our present days might be filled with questions that challenge, but by considering the past we might learn just how those of yesterday handled the tribulations at hand. While we might not be able to place a philosopher (like I called for last week) in all our schools, promoting the importance of history and civics could be a viable substitute. Intellectual ambivalence now calls for alternate facts and questioning the definition of “is.” We have to be able to discern the foolish from the factual.

As I attempt to highlight the importance of relationships, reflection and critical thinking, the importance of science and technology cannot be minimized. In addition, no pretense is being made that Philosophy and History are going to solve gun violence and other societal maladies by themselves. With this being stated, I do feel that enhancing culture, promoting a sense of community, and creating reasons for pride, are important for society to thrive.

With tongue-in-cheek these words are penned, but still with subtle truth. While often complex, the world’s concerns, at core, often contain fear, misinformation, greed and the survival instinct. Understanding, developing trust, cooperation, and a belief in something greater than the perfunctory, should all be factored into potential solutions. Philosophy and history give us the how’s and why’s that lead to our what’s. In essence they ask us to examine the human condition.

Just a thought.

Bob Houghtaling is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program. 


A Philosopher In Every School

Socrates, painted by Jacques-Louis David in 1787.

By Bob Houghtaling

In the midst of arguments about the roles guns play in our society I offer this simple solution. We need more philosophers in schools. Sure, metal detectors are important. Sure, resource officers are fabulous. And, sure, new laws must make it more difficult to obtain firearms. With all of this said, don’t overlook the value of having a philosopher on school grounds. No, seriously, I am not kidding.

Whatever happened to looking for meaning in one’s life? Whatever happened to Socratic dialogue and thought? Once upon a time, in the ancient world, people would argue points of view in the public square. Those days are long gone. Perhaps, as time went by, we felt that such things were passé and philosophy with all that talking and meaning stuff was pure B.S.

If one looks at the profiles of many of our “shooters,” terms like mentally ill, alienated, troubled, and loner abound. While resource officers and psychologists might prove to be helpful in ameliorating some of the damage caused by mostly enraged men – taking a look at our nation’s societal norms might be something to consider as well. Why are we so angry? Why are young men lashing out? Why are so many feeling unattached? Could our values be a part of this? Questions are the parents of answers. Before scoffing at philosophers as a solution – it might be time to consider the impetus behind the proliferation of our mass shootings.

Sometimes we ignore the simplest of truths. In my opinion looking at ourselves is a key part of the entire gun issue. We place so much emphasis on test scores, and other accoutrements of school success, but far less on social and emotional learning. Maybe equipping teachers with the skills and opportunity for philosophy would be a better solution than giving them guns. Let’s take a look at the human side of the issue. Without addressing life’s whys, all ensuing answers will be incomplete. Aristotle once referred to man as being a “social animal.” We can’t ignore this. Just a thought. See you soon.

Bob Houghtaling is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program. 

Letter to the Editor: Town Acquisition of Fire District Was Good Public Policy

By Michael B. Isaacs

A recent report by the Town Manager seems to question the 2013 acquisition of the formerly independent Fire District by the Town. The analysis did not address the larger public policy considerations and did not look at what is best for the Town and its residents in terms of governmental structure and sound government going forward.  In the numbers, it did not account for the fact that certain Fire District expenses were being paid by the Town.

First, some history. One of the biggest complaints about Rhode Island is the amount of government in this small geographic area. In an area approximate in size to some counties in other states, we have 39 cities and towns, 36 (regular and regional) school districts and more fire districts than municipalities.  In 2013, East Greenwich actually did something about too much redundant government – the independent Fire District was eliminated and the fire department moved into the municipal government as a Town department. This was sound public policy in 2013 and is sound public policy today.

If we were designing a governmental structure today, we would not set up two governments, one for the fire department and another for all the other governmental functions. That would not be cost-effective and it would not be good government. As to governance, the Town Council is elected in a general election with town-wide voting. The Fire District Commissioners were elected at a Fire District meeting at which the quorum was 30 voters. So, while getting only 16 votes, someone could become a Fire District Commissioner and set 10 percent of the taxes residents and businesses paid.

Concern over taxes, various governance issues and public policy concerns led the Town Council to propose a referendum on the Fire District. The voters overwhelmingly supported a merger, with 66.4 percent voting in favor. Legislation to effectuate the merger was passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor.

Besides the public policy reasons, there were immediate obvious cost savings. Both the Town and Fire District had separate legal counsel, separate auditors, separate clerks and other separate outside contractors. It should be noted that immediate cost savings were not as high as might have been expected in some other areas because the Town was already providing some services to the Fire District at no cost – tax billing and collection, accounts payable and payroll, information technology support, unified phone system, snow plowing, moving the Fire Marshal’s office to the building inspector’s office to create one stop for building approvals, DPW repairing Fire District vehicles and construction of a water line.  Except for the sharing of the costs of a mechanic for vehicle repairs, the Town did not bill the Fire District for the services provided. The costs were on the Town’s books. In providing these services, the Town Council believed that it was more important to reduce overall costs for taxpayers than to focus on cost allocations. It is also why the Fire District expenses and taxes were in reality understated. These facts were not taken into account in the numbers in the recent presentation.

The Town Manager and Town Council at the time did conduct due diligence and were well aware of the Fire District budget, finances and pension obligations. The merger was pursued for both financial reasons and taxpayer concerns and public policy reasons and to establish a better government structure going forward.  In this regard, it should be noted that tax increases by the municipal government were less than and more stable than those of the old Fire District. Furthermore, the state’s 4 percent tax cap on municipal taxes did not apply to Fire District taxes.

As to due diligence regarding the Fire District Commissioners’ decision to impose commercial impact fees, I am unclear what is being suggested. Ten years later, should the Town Council have done a legal analysis of the impact fee vote and concluded that ten years later the impact fees would be found to be illegal by the state Supreme Court?  

I also do not see how the analysis provides any help in addressing any current issues.  Whether there was an independent Fire District or a Town fire department, any financial costs would need to be addressed by exactly the same taxpayers since the old Fire District and Town government covered the same geographic area and taxed the same people and businesses.  

The Fire District merger was sound public policy and beneficial to the taxpayers of East Greenwich when it was accomplished and it remains sound public policy and beneficial today.

Michael B. Isaacs served as East Greenwich Town Council president from 2004 to 2016.

Dear Parents: Much Can Be Done

By Bob Houghtaling

Dear Parents and Caregivers,

This is not about politics. This is not about blame. This is not about taking away people’s rights. Gun violence is something that needs to be confronted. For a two-week period I’ve been answering calls pertaining to whether or not our schools are safe. Parents are scared. Their children are scared. I’m scared for them.

Let’s be very clear – our local school leaders and police department take safety concerns very seriously. When incidents do occur they are addressed with care. I see this every day. Oftentimes I am a part of it. We are not perfect, but care and the best solutions of the moment are provided. With this said, more needs to be done. Our nation’s leaders have to take measures that curtail access to assault weapons. They also have to institute viable background checks. These things need to be done.

Schools are now being asked to increase security. Many already have resource officers (we have two excellent ones) and now active shooter trainings are being carried out in a number of districts. Tragically, today’s climate has presented us with the need to prepare for the worst. That is why school trainings and protocols pertaining to shootings are essential. While we cannot control all of the variables, there is much that can be done.

Something else can be done as well. Social and emotional learning is an area that is often forgotten when discussing school safety. Building community, enhancing resiliency skills, promoting empathy and understanding, are at the core of how human beings treat each other. These need to be taught and valued. These also need to be extolled by each community as part of our value system. Many of the shooters that we read about were alienated, mentally ill, and angry. Their despair, along with easy access to outrageous weaponry, is often a tragic mix.

East Greenwich is a wonderful community. We have many advantages. We have many talented citizens. We have children who deserve feeling that they are safe as they head toward success in school. I love this place and I know you do as well. With this said there is work to do.

“We need to demand that local and national leaders stop their acrimonious pettiness and develop viable solutions regarding gun violence.”

Parents, continue to tell your kids you love them. Continue to encourage, set limits, and model behavior. Also, make sure you explain (depending upon age) that the adults are doing things to keep them safe. After all of this is factored in, make sure that you continue to help them embrace the world and others. Playing ball, climbing trees, joining teams, meeting friends, and engaging family are all vital components that lead to creating capable people.

While it is essential that we come together to protect our young people, something else must be done. We need to demand that local and national leaders stop their acrimonious pettiness and develop viable solutions regarding gun violence. We can’t accept that nothing can be done. We also can’t accept that it’s the other guy’s fault. America has established a culture which embraces over-the-top weaponry with minimal restrictions. Most people can accept guns being used for hunting, home protection, and shooting at a range. Having assault weapons begs the question, “why?”. Does the average person need an AR-15? At the very least we have to examine a bunch of how’s and why’s. In addition, common sense and fairness have to play a role in what’s best for society.

Already there has been plenty of posturing by those supporting entrenched attitudes regarding guns and how they might be controlled. As each side argues, ineptitude prevails. Luckily, there is a hint of sanity being exhibited by some individuals involved. Students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, who witnessed the trauma of our nation’s latest school shooting, have been passionately speaking out. They have called on leaders to lead. They also have eloquently expressed their fears. Amazingly, many spoke of creating hopeful action. Perhaps it is time to look to our young people for some of the answers. I am sure we have many local students who might have much to say.

Adults often claim that children are our future. If that’s so, creating measures to protect them should be essential. Gun violence, much like the carnage we’ve seen at far too many schools, cannot become an accepted norm. We all should be outraged by these disasters. We also should be outraged by the epic failure of our leaders to address the many horrors brought on by mass shootings.

Finally, we all need to communicate better. Fear can often cause us to retreat, lash out, or make rash responses. That’s why we need to talk to each other. Sharing information, creating strategies, and offering support can go a long way towards making us feel safe. Let’s pull together to support each other. Let’s pull together to support our kids. We are being challenged in new and frightening ways. Working together we can find solutions. Let’s make sure this gets done. See you soon.

Bob Houghtaling is the director of the East Greenwich Drug Program. He also served on the Exeter-West Greenwich School Committee, taught at Providence College Graduate School of Education and was a consultant at the Rhode Island Training School.

Donate to East Greenwich News during February and take part in a sustaining donor match! Show your love for local news – click here to learn more.

Celebrating Martin

By Bob Houghtaling

As we take a moment to reflect upon the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I think it is imperative to recognize that his work is not done. Let us hope that America will continue to pursue fairness for all. Sometimes such things get lost when our fear takes over.

Rise Again

Verdant sprouts arise again
Despite all attempts to mow
Selma’s bridge is beneath the blade
Despite being crossed years ago
Rise up, let’s rise again
We need to hear a voice
Claiming love for fellow men
That Heaven will rejoice

Change has come so slowly
There is much left to do
Memphis handed us the baton
Our Reverend cared for me and you
March on, let’s march again
Joined all arm in arm
God bless this land of ours
It’s time to be alarmed

With love for our neighbors
We understand their fears
There is no need for hatred
Let’s share each other’s tears
For ignorance is our enemy
Along with exclusion and greed
A call goes to rise again
With hope our constant seed

Bob Houghtaling is the East Greenwich substance abuse counselor. He is also head of the Academy Foundation and is on the board of East Greenwich News.

Photo: In 1965, John Lewis with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leads a march in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to protest the denial of voting rights to African Americans. (Steve Schapiro)


Letter to the Editor: Fire Service Is Earliest, Cheapest Insurance

My name is Tom Bailey and I proudly serve your community. I am a lieutenant on the rescue located at Station 1 on Main Street. I have worked here in East Greenwich for 15 years. I am writing today for several reasons but it should be clear I am speaking on my own behalf. I do not speak for the union that represents me and I am not speaking on behalf of my family at the station ( my fellow firefighters). The following are my independent thoughts.

I would like to address a few concerns that seem to be on going here in town. Mainly as it pertains to me as a firefighter and the costs associated. To keep things simple I’m not going to try and twist this into a political mudslinging rant. I’m also not going to give you some sob story as to why I matter or how what I do matters. It’s in the eye of the beholder on these points so there is no point in trying to argue.

What I will do is try to simplify the conversation to its most basic premise. I will attempt to do this with a few caveats. The first to be noted is I am not a math guru nor am I an accountant. Second is the equation I am about to present is purely for reference and I understand that it is not the actual formula for exact accounting.

So here is what we know: There are 13,146 residents (2010 census). The slated fire department budget for 2018 is $4.1 million (2018 EGFD budget which is just over 6 percent of the entire town budget). With these two numbers we know the cost per resident for fire and EMS services to be $311.88 per year ($4.1 million/13,146), or broken down to $0.85 per day per resident ($311.88/365 days). The above stated figures are just the fire department’s total operational budget and do not include retirement or health care costs. The town separates these costs into employee benefits as a line item. The retirement cost is $787,813 (2018 budget) and the cost for health care is an estimated $702,000. The number was derived by assuming every FD member has the family plan at the highest cost of $18,000 per plan, or 39 firefighters x $18,000 = $702,000). Adding these two figures into the equation brings the total budget to $5.6 million ($4.1 million + $1.5 million). This accounts for 9 percent of the entire town’s budget. Cost per resident per year $425.98 ($5.6 mill/13,146) or $1.16 per day per resident. These figures include the overtime as they budgeted for 2018 ($550,000).

Since some town officials have referred to overtime possibly reaching $1 million, I will go one step further and add an additional $1 million to the fire budget total bringing it to $6.6 million. This number is inflated, since it would cover $1.55 million in overtime costs, but I include it as an absolute worst-case scenario. That total of $6.6 million would bring the total annual cost per resident to  $502 ($6.6 mill/13,146) or $1.37 per day per resident ($502/365 days). This would account for 10.6 percent of the town’s total budget.

None of the above figures account for the $700,000 of revenue  (rescue billing 2018 budget) the fire department brings to the town. That $700,000 is positive cash flow. It does not go into the fire department budget however; it goes directly into the town’s general fund. So with all things being equal the new total for the 2018 actual budget  would be $5.9 million ($6.6 million minus $700,000), $448.80 per person per year or $1.23 per person per day. Accounting for 7 percent of the town’s total budget. Using the Town Council’s $6.6 million dollar amount the new total after deducting the $700,000 revenue the new total becomes $5.9 million. That’s $448.46 annually per person ($5.9 mill/13,146) or $1.22 per person per day. Accounting for 9.5 percent of the town’s total budget.  (Note: I understand each house has its own value for property and each property has a varying amount of people residing. The formula was simply used to put into perspective cost per person not actual accounting of what was paid per household.)

My hope here is to bring perspective to the conversation. I believe perspective can be found in other services that are similar in nature to the fire department. The fire department is an insurance policy in its simplest form. In fact, historically it’s the oldest insurance in the United States. Today the fire department is a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week immediate response for your home, property and life. We may not replace your property and we don’t cover the cost of your ailments. However we do stop further (in many cases prevent) damage to property (cars, boats, houses, sheds, businesses, etc.) and we provide advanced life support services to treat life threatening medical ailments. We provide a litany of other services and yes we will even get the occasional cat out of the tree.

With this in mind, let’s compare other insurance costs. The average cost of homeowners insurance in Rhode Island is $1,162 annually ($3.18 per day). With this insurance you may have coverage to replace what was lost after a deductible is met. This coverage may help you rebuild should disaster strike (Note: some things are not replaceable and the value is only truly known to the person affected). The average cost of health insurance is a tough number to pin down but for the sake of this discussion I will use the national average, which is $18,142 for a family plan with the worker’s cost average of this being $5,277 annually ($14.45 per day). Both home and health insurances cover expenses incurred after damage. Your fire service, which costs comparatively less, is the one insurance that responds immediately to help you as it is happening. Of all three insurances I have discussed, the fire department is the only one willing to put our own lives at risk to help you no matter what the situation or the time of day as it is happening.

So you may ask, what is my point? Well, there are several. First, each service in this community has a place. From parks and rec, to the schools, to the fire department, so on and so forth. Every service in this community has its own value to each resident. Every service makes up the overall value of this town and cumulatively these services give the community its allure and ultimately drive the demand of people wanting to move here, which in turn directly affects property values. Lately the town manager and some of the council have isolated some of these services as unsustainable. They have thrown around wild accusations and alarming numbers. They appear to want to pit the public and town departments against one another. I will not stoop to this level and accuse them as to what their intent is. So regardless if you agree with what they suggest or not, I want you to know that my one goal when I go to work each day is simply to do my best in helping you any way I can at all cost. Regardless of how you feel about the current political atmosphere, regardless of your view of my career, you need to know your fire department is always there with your safety at heart.

In conclusion, the fire department could make up as much as 10 percent of the overall town budget. I am not delusional in thinking that everyone is OK with this figure. I also realize that everyone wants the best bargain for their dollar. I’m also quite aware not many people move to a particular community for their fire department services. What I do know is when you have something of great value it is important to invest in its protection and insure its overall value. I don’t know the dollar value of every property in East Greenwich but I feel it’s fair to guess all property in total to be in the billions. I can however tell you every citizen’s life is priceless. To cut your fire service will have potential effects on the protection of both life and property. It would be the equivalent of buying a priceless art piece but not doing anything to keep it safe or insured. Rest assured no matter what they decide to cut I will guarantee each of your firefighters will continue to do the best they can with what they have to accomplish the mission. I do ask is when town leaders propose options, that you take me and my family (fire family as well as my beautiful wife and three children) into consideration. In order to do this, simply evaluate what they propose and ask, if my workplace asked me or my spouse to do this, how would it affect our family and our lives? Thank you for your time.

Sincerely Honored,
Lt. Thomas Bailey

Added Prospective:

Average full coverage auto insurance cost for RI $1,688 annually or $4.62 per day: https://www.carinsurance.com/state/Rhode-Island-car-insurance.aspx

Average Homeowners insurance cost for RI $1,162.00 annually or $3.18 per day: https://www.valuepenguin.com/best-cheap-homeowners-insurance-rhode-island

Average national cost for health insurance $5,277 annually or $14.45 per day: http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/health-insurance-premiums.aspx

Average cost of a Dunkin Donuts coffee $2.09 large: https://www.fastfoodmenuprices.com/dunkin-donuts-prices/

Cost for your Fire and Emergency Medical Service in East Greenwich $1.37 per day (utilizing the highest figures).

A Moment’s Reflection

By Bob Houghtaling

Winter’s chill is upon us, which for many people around here means that the Holidays are near. While the hustle and bustle of the time can be frustrating, let’s not lose sight of what these seasonal celebrations are intended for.

It goes without saying that our world can occasionally seem scary and complicated. All too often, during moments of fear, people shy away from reaching out and resort to isolation, accompanied by tribalistic attitudes, promoting us vs. them dynamics. When this occurs, it is imperative to recall the wisdom of the ages that asks that we remember how important compassion, love and understanding are. Even though this sounds so simple, reminding ourselves of these long held precepts, from time-to-time, is essential.

I am wishing you all a wonderful Holiday Season. Hopefully, we each can find a moment to reflect on our gifts as well as gain additional insight into our place in this amazing, yet crazy, universe. Every individual’s uniqueness must be extolled. The uniqueness of neighbors must be equally considered. We are all in this together, alone. Man is a social and spiritual creature. Relating to others is part of the human experience. Everyone can benefit from the introspection that this time of year offers.

Holidays can teach us much. Love rises above politics. Fairness is its own power. Justice presides in the heavens–and mercy is our way of forgiving along with helping others. Adults bestow kindness towards their children and each child endures endless anticipation awaiting the season’s magical moments. All of these are guided by something larger than any of us. Everyone knows that at our core, someone’s worth is more than cents in a dollar, it also includes a sense of decency. We get bogged down in believing that our driving the bus is apparent when, all along, the fare for the ride has been paid beyond human control. Sometimes, humbly accepting the journey is in order.

So, revel in these times. Sing, dine and gather together. East Greenwich is a beautiful town, one shared by thousands of wonderful human beings. There might be disagreements on occasion but, upon reflection, most know that the Town’s strength comes from ongoing friendships and cooperation. We cannot forget this. Perhaps the following poem might be a simple reminder.

The Stars

Evening stars dance in the dark
Celebrating this extra time
Holidays are here again
Bringing moments so sublime

Friends all gather for worship
Families celebrate in their homes
Taking care for reflection
That we are not alone

Let’s sing hymns to the world
Ask for love and grace
All the while remembering
Upon everyone’s special place

Gaze into the heavens
Join each hand-in-hand
Feel the spirit of the days
Love your fellow man

Enjoy this special time of year. Wherever you are, whatever you believe, it is important to be connected. Bridges are better than walls. The world is better because you are here. Make it better still. Hope to see you soon.

Bob Houghtaling is the East Greenwich substance abuse counselor. He is also head of the Academy Foundation and is on the board of East Greenwich News.


Letter to the Editor: Council Actions Brave

Town Councilor Sean Todd talks with residents after the council’s vote to return Corrigan as town manager Monday, 11/20/17.

The Town Council meeting last night was filled with opposition. Most attending seemed less disturbed by the revelations underpinning the Town’s runaway spending than by the unseemly disruption to the Town’s facade of comity. Case in point: Councilman Schwager took umbrage at Council President Cienki’s prerogative to post very specific financial facts on the Town’s website, suggesting these findings were the Councilwoman’s opinion. Dr. Schwager did not, however, offer any facts to refute Mrs. Cienki, but instead he opined on the need step back and take time to smooth things over.

 As reasonable as this sounds, the instinct to make everyone feel warm and fuzzy seems like part of the problem. “You can’t please all of the people all of the time,” and “the time to strike is when the iron is hot.” Old bromides, for sure, but lose the initiative, and these problems – building up over time – are as likely as not to slip back into obscurity, and it won’t be until more people start moving out of town than into town that these facts hit home again. By then it could be too late. Many people who have lived here for decades can no longer afford the rapidly escalating tax levy. For them, living in East Greenwich is not just about property values; these people have deep roots, and to be forced out by taxes, cutting those ties, is a very unhappy thing.
EG is top heavy. The nature of top-heavy vessels is they tend to flip suddenly. What the Town Council is doing is one of the bravest things tackled by local politicians in many years. They have reasserted a bold but necessary agenda. It behooves dissenters to wear the Town Council’s shoes and pursue realistic and timely compromise. In my prayers this Thanksgiving will be the entreaty, “Lord, help East Greenwich act wisely.”
                                                                                                                          – Dean Fachon

Letter to the Editor: Thank You, President Cienki … Not

I am writing in response to the letter by Town Council President Cienki to the residents regarding, “Incorrect cost calculations. Misleading reporting. Cronyism and nepotism. Unapproved agreements. Improper loans. Discriminatory hiring practices.”

Thank you Council President Cienki for your thorough and careful review of what had been taking place in our cozy little town.

I am pleased to know that you and your fellow councilors addressed the issue of cronyism and nepotism. I’m certainly glad to know that Ms. Corrigan was hired after a careful and thorough review of her qualifications and abilities as required by the town charter and the council didn’t rush to appoint her because she was initially recommended from some future politician. I’m also pleased to know this was not guised by the council’s claim of a dire need for an emergency management director. I am also happy to see where this was done in an open and transparent manner and not hidden through an executive session.

It is also reassuring to know that Ms. Corrigan refused to follow in the footsteps of those who allowed their personal connections and relatives to be hired. It was nice to see that Ms. Corrigan didn’t sign a term sheet (contract) with Linda Dykeman on July 11, 2017, and the contents thereof because that was never presented to, nor approved by the Town Council. The same would apply to Ms. Antunes, the chief of staff, where Ms. Corrigan again didn’t sign a term sheet on July 6, 2017, because that too wasn’t presented to, nor approved by the Town Council. Knowing that Ms. Corrigan is a business consultant with Ms. Dykeman and connected with Ms. Antunes through the Hope Club, I feel there was surely safeguards in place to make sure cronyism didn’t exist. I’m sure safeguards were in place to remove any appearance of impropriety. The town surely would have followed their personnel policy by way of advertising, reviewing applicants and making these appointments in an open, transparent and non-discriminatory manner, as I’m sure no males applied for those positions.

Thank goodness, the misleading reporting has vanished since the arrival of Ms. Corrigan. No longer can we expect darkness plague our information. No longer can we expect consultants to be hired behind the taxpayers back. No longer will we see where an acting town manager will tell a Providence Journal reporter that her assistant will receive the same pay as the previous administrative assistant only to find out within two weeks she was given a $20,000 increase from what the administrative assistant had been paid.

President Cienki’s letter says, “We are moving forward to get the Town back on the right path.” If this is going forward, please considers going backwards for a while until we catch up.

Maybe I should have started my letter with Open Meeting Act violations, APRA Violations, Town Charter violations, contracts signed without council approval, misleading unfunded liability statements, discriminatory hiring practices, etc., etc., etc. I guess only the names have changed.

– William Higgins

Dear East Greenwich

By Bob Houghtaling

The polarization we are experiencing on a local and national level is painful, troublesome and confusing for most of us. Despite having a wealth of information at our fingertips, we find ourselves, in many situations, diametrically opposed to opinions espoused by others. Why isn’t black, black? Why isn’t white, white? Why aren’t we able to come to consensus? Perhaps, sadly, facts do not matter. Perhaps, feelings, fears and the inability (or unwillingness) to consider options are greater considerations.

Remember, Galileo was locked away due to his temerity in substantiating findings first espoused by Copernicus. Remember, millions opposed Lincoln’s stance on slavery. Remember, Rosa Parks was arrested due to her stance on where African Americans should sit on a bus. History is replete with events and opinions that in retrospect seem “dumb.” How and why could anyone believe in witches? How and why could anyone believe that blacks were only 3/5 human? Looking back, it all appears so simple.

It seems that what we believe in impacts the information we choose to embrace. Religion, race, social status, education levels, peer groupings, family history and other factors all play roles in how we view the world.

From time to time most of us fall into the trap of thinking, “If I can’t understand it, then it can’t be understood.” This then sets in place a dynamic that asserts “Others who think differently than me are wrong.” In the most egregious form of this thinking an additional step follows – “Something is wrong with them for thinking that way.” It is hard to build consensus with this going on.

It has been an honor to have worked in the town of East Greenwich for decades. Over time I have met a number of talented and caring people – many who have become friends. Hopefully this continues a while longer for I truly love the town and its people. All of which makes writing this article difficult. All of which makes writing this article necessary.

The anger, polarization, marginalization and closed mindedness that has manifested, in many different ways, throughout the town is far worse than anything I have witnessed since 1983. Sure there have been arguments, significant disagreements, questionable tactics, etc., along the way, but nothing so entrenched like we are witnessing these days. Issues go from topical to personal almost immediately. To make matters worse, people run to the internet and pour kerosene on the fire. It’s counterproductive. It’s hurtful. Nothing gets accomplished except creating winners and losers. Unfortunately, even the victories are Pyrrhic in nature.

This article is not a call for ignoring major issues or placating things that cause pain. Just the opposite  – advocating for the town’s people is essential. However, there are ways to do this. Finger pointing, disrespect, shaming, threats and subversion should not be on this list. We have courts, elections, the media and public forums to address our differences.

Some of you who read this know me. Whether or not we have always agreed, I am convinced that the vast majority of residents want what is best for the town. I am also convinced that all of this bickering makes you wonder about how we must be perceived by others. On top of this, what do the young people think about the daily diatribes they have become privy to? There is often a difference between being right and doing the right thing. Kindness, understanding and what is best for all need to be factored in. Steamrolling over others leaves many hurt. Along with everything else I have written about, it appears that poor communication and lack of transparency are at a premium. We simply do not trust each other.

Please consider how we are treating friends and neighbors. Please consider the many appropriate avenues available for recourse and change. Please consider that different points of view do not necessitate the creation of enemies. We have all been granted many gifts by living in East Greenwich (and working here). One of the ways of paying back should be treating each other with respect. Another should be showing tolerance for attitudes different from our own. Why have we spent more time creating foes then solving the town’s problems?

Perhaps facts do not matter. Perhaps feelings and beliefs are as important. If that is so, we certainly have established a “mine are better then yours” dynamic. How is that working out? Is it time to push the reset button?

Please, East Greenwich, let us each try to employ those things that make for community. Let us use our talents to better the town rather than to belittle each other. As was stated previously, I love this place. I am sure you do as well. Let us heal the wounds created through discord by listening to each other. That would be a start. There is much work to do, but fragmentation keeps us from accomplishing many important goals.

Quick fixes and scapegoating might provide for populist enthusiasm, but what ensues can hardly be called solutions. Neither are intimidation and threats. These are totally uncalled for. Thoughtful consideration, open dialogue, give and take discussion, creativity and a desire to promote the public good are necessary in times like these. It is so easy to paint rivals as evil and less than. It is so easy to dismiss challenging opinions as off base or ill informed. It is so easy to retreat to like-minded souls. Abraham Lincoln selected a “Team of Rivals” for his cabinet. Why can’t we, too, engage with those whose views differ?

It is disturbing knowing that people you admire and work with have gathered so much distrust. When hurt, many look for reasons to remain so. While this is not unusual, it is counterproductive. I know you. I know how much you care. There would not be so much anger if people did not care. Who that anger is focused on is a concern. What to do with that anger is as well. We need to raise our voices for a solution. This can only come when we can trust and respect each other. Watch out for those ideas that promote division. Embrace those that welcome inclusive interactions. Sadly, at present, we cannot even engage each other for viable dialogue. The “hunker to the bunker” attitude of misinformation, intrigue and a lack of transparency has to stop. Until then it is court hearings, tweets, damaged relationships and inertia. Why can’t we admit to mistakes, forgive some shortcomings and seek common ground? We can do so much more. A call for cooler heads is in order. Will we recognize such clarity when it appears?

Finally, I would like to invite you to St. Luke’s Church, Nov. 15, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., for A Noteworthy Evening. The intent of the evening is to bring people together and celebrate the town through some wonderful music.
On top of this, refreshments will be served. So, come listen to some talented singers and musicians from our schools and community. You might find that you all have so much more in common than one might think. If we can start simple, bigger things will follow. We are all responsible for the changes necessary to heal. In the end, perhaps getting involved with community matters will make a difference. It is the day-to-day cultivation of our community garden that will keep East Greenwich vibrant. Hope to see you soon.

Bob Houghtaling is the East Greenwich substance abuse counselor. He is also head of the Academy Foundation and is on the board of East Greenwich News.