It was an honor and privilege to be the first to publicly comment before the new East Greenwich Town Council at their inaugural meeting on Thursday, Nov. 29. I commended them for having public comment toward the beginning of the meeting, and I expressed a hope that it would become a time-honored tradition.
The first time I spoke at public comment was last year when I told the previous Town Council that it did not make sense to enact a nominal tax cut while at the same time declaring a “fiscal emergency.”
The previous Town Council majority did residents a disservice by lowering taxes for no good reason, and by failing to raise taxes when it was necessary. I’m writing here to tell you that I value our public institutions. I value quality public education. I want all of our town departments to be appropriately staffed and compensated, with employees expertly trained, well rested, and – dare I say – happy in their positions.
As long as the Town Council makes its decisions in a transparent fashion, and receives feedback from the public before it makes those decisions, I would be comfortable in paying the taxes the Council deems appropriate. I know that’s a privileged position to be in. I acknowledge that not all residents share my point of view. Beyond valuing our public institutions, I value inclusion.
So how do we balance the desire for quality public services with economic sustainability? In one sentence, I would offer progressive taxation as a possible solution. I know it is a complex issue that may require further examination and deliberation.
The residents spoke on Election Day, and our new Town Council earned an historic mandate. There is much to do, and I thank them for acting quickly and decisively to address the list of major issues facing the town.
As a small business owner, I know how easy it is to fall into the trap of one’s daily checklist, and lose track of one’s long-term mission or one’s long-term vision. It is important to frequently take a step back from daily tasks and look at one’s business from – in my case – the clients’ perspectives, or – in the council’s case – the residents’ perspectives.
Outside perspectives are invaluable to success. When we venture outside our usual bubbles, we have the opportunity to see things through our neighbors’ eyes. We get a better understanding of where people are coming from, and what has informed their goals and opinions.
My wife, Liz, and I have personified the concept of outside perspective. We were not raised in Rhode Island, and we’ve only lived in East Greenwich for two-and-a-half years. We’ve been referred to, derogatorily, as “out-of-town infants.”
In early 2016, before we moved here, friends warned us, “You know, taxes are high in East Greenwich.”
“Sure,” we replied, “But Main Street is awesome, and the schools are excellent.”
My wife and I both value quality public education. We are both products of public schools. Liz from western New York, I from eastern Connecticut. My mother was a public school teacher for 15 years, Liz’s mother and father were public school teachers for 25 years each. We personally believe that a commitment to quality public education is the single best investment one can make as a taxpayer.
I acknowledge my privilege of being a relatively successful small business owner. I acknowledge the privilege of being able to shrug off the prospect of “high” taxes. I value equity across the spectrum of economic and personal identities. My wife and I have found our community in wonderful neighbors, in new friends, and even in disagreements with the former Town Council. But even in disagreement, we came back to a common value. We love our town, and we want what we think is best for it.
So let’s not avoid tough questions. Let’s dive head first into difficult problems – like this new council is doing. My challenge to the Town Council, and to the residents, is to come together on a vision for East Greenwich. Let’s step out of our bubbles. Let’s talk to our neighbors. Let’s share where we came from and share our visions and goals. Let’s acknowledge what a privilege it is to live here, and together, let’s find ways to leverage that privilege. We are the known for our hill, and our harbor. Let’s make the hill a beacon to all searching for a better life. Let’s make the harbor a welcoming embrace of belonging, for all residents, for all visitors, and for our town’s future.
Johnny Paulhus, a graphic designer, lives in East Greenwich.