Opinion: Touching a Nerve

by | Oct 7, 2022

Editor’s note: Submissions are welcome – send to [email protected] The last day to submit an opinion column (or letters to the editor) about the Nov. 8 election is Oct. 25, two weeks before election day (11/8).

By Brian Turner

As I prepared for the Oct. 3rd candidate forum [find a link to the forum HERE], I reflected on comments I’ve heard from constituents, issues brought up at recent Town Council meetings, and the numerous public documents like our most recent budget and long-term strategic plans. As a political outsider, I waded through the enormity of this information searching for what I thought could be the emphasis of the discussion and the hot topic to differentiate my candidacy to East Greenwich voters. Much to my surprise, it was not my background, translatable leadership skills, new ideas, answers to questions about active shooters or proactively improving engagement with portions of the community. Instead, two simple facts touched a nerve with our incumbent Town Councilors and proved to strike at the heart of what it now seems this local election may be about. The first fact was: 33 percent of voters in East Greenwich are registered Democrats. The second: 100 percent of East Greenwich elected officials are Democrats. 

While this information was shared to illustrate the imbalance of representation of our community’s political diversity, it triggered a range of responses and emotions from the incumbent candidates. Councilor Mark Schwager fired the first volley by claiming he was “disturbed” by our attempt to bring partisan politics into East Greenwich town government. His claim suggesting diversified constituent representation is partisan while in a forum for political office was quite ironic. However, I understand the effort when needing to manage the inconvenient facts that influence voter considerations in a race he wants to win. If I hadn’t witnessed his reaction and heard the serious tone, I would have thought it sarcasm as it was tantamount to saying, “Don’t bring politics into politics!”

Councilor Mike Donegan followed up with an attempt to align the mention of these facts with national political rhetoric and emphatically claimed that none of the politics or behavior seen on Facebook or Twitter are present in this council. Unfortunately, Councilor Schwager then had to admit he banned a constituent from his Facebook page* and there was not ample opportunity in the format for discussion on Councilor Englehart’s 2021 Twitter rhetoric (some of which has been deleted), that previously generalized conservative constituents with certain opinions as extreme and fear mongering. I would ask the community to consider if Councilor Donegan’s altruistic non-partisan behavioral characterization of the current Town Council is factually accurate and if those constituents feel represented by all their councilors. 

Later in the forum, Councilor Corenthal took “offense” to the fact that constituents would feel unheard or unrepresented. Unfortunately, her feelings and emphatic declaration do not alter the facts and are a common debate tactic of being offended and escalating the emotion of the discussion to distract from the reality of the topic. 

However, the true cherry on top for this issue occurred in remarks from Councilor Zarrella who demonstrated true partisan rhetoric when he suggested that replacing Councilors Corenthal and Englehart (not sure why he is assuming they would lose the race, but that’s beside the point) with Republican candidates would make East Greenwich run by, “five white guys!”  He is implying to you, the voters, that inherent traits like race and gender are a more valid measure of diversity than the diversity of thought and ideas. A truly partisan and progressive position that apparently permeates our Town Hall. 

After all this effort to insist there is no partisanship in East Greenwich politics and diminish the reality of two simple facts, Councilor Zarrella closed his evening asking for you, the voters, to elect him and his fellow Democrats in November. To be clear, he didn’t ask you to elect the most qualified, the people with the best ideas, or the people you feel most align with your values. He asked you to vote Democrat. It is likely that every other incumbent candidate you heard that night in the Town Council and School Committee believed the same thing but just didn’t say it out loud. Take notice that there is only one party running a full slate of candidates to control every position in our town government. It challenges voters to ask, if our Town Councilors are truly non-partisan in their beliefs, values, and perspectives, why are they not running as Independents?

After all the spirited, yet civil, rhetoric of the forum, the fact that 100 percent of East Greenwich’s elected officials are Democrat is true. Constituents on a full spectrum of political persuasion must decide if they believe that represents their values and perspectives and will result in decisions at the school, town, and state level of which they are likely to be accepting. To dig a bit deeper, I’d like to offer some detail that three one-minute responses in the forum wouldn’t allow a candidate to articulate. 

To begin, we must understand the definition of terms. While I can’t be certain how our incumbent councilors meant their choice of words to be heard, they seemed to be using represent and serve interchangeably. In support of them, it was never suggested that they don’t faithfully serve all constituents of East Greenwich. That is their ethical responsibility as it will be mine if elected. I thank them for that service and offer no contention to it. On the point of representation, every candidate brings their views, biases, values, and beliefs to the position in which they serve. They will listen, respond, and ultimately vote on issues through that lens. While input from the community does and should influence them, rarely does a politician completely abandon their values. Frankly, I wouldn’t want them to, and when they do, history suggests they do not get re-elected because they failed to deliver expectations for the people who thought they represented them. The problem with the rhetoric during the forum was your incumbent councilors were telling you they control who is represented when in fact only an individual voter can say who represents them or if they feel an official is doing a good job of it. 

Since none of our elected officials have run as Independents, it is fair to assume and apparent in some of their statements and voting records that their values and beliefs range from leaning liberal to extremely progressive. When issues in our school and town arise, we can count on that bias influencing their view of the viable solution options. What that means is that the ensuing debate will occur in that range of ideology and the natural tension and final decision will likely land far left of center (which is exactly what they want). While that clearly does not matter in how we plow the streets as Councilor Donegan suggested, it can have significant influence on more serious matters such as taxation strategies, cannabis business management, affordable housing plans, parental rights in schools, and education curriculum. 

With these realities, does a far-left ideology represent the majority of East Greenwich residents?  The voter affiliation data clearly suggests, no. With 48 percent of our registered voters identified as unaffiliated, it is a reasonable hypothesis that this community desires to be moderate in its ideology and ultimate management. For that to occur, balance must be restored in our town’s elected officials so that the natural tension returns to the middle with representation of ideas and values from progressive to conservative. As there are no Independent candidates on the Town Council and School Committee ballots, the only option to return the historical centrist ideals to our community and represent a larger portion of our population is to elect some new perspective to these governing bodies. 

I hope the moderates in our town will discern the truth of what I’ve presented and make the decision to bring balance back to East Greenwich this November. Please be sure to vote November 8th. Don’t vote based upon Republican or Democrat, man or woman, or other categorical demographics. Vote for the individuals you believe will allow your elected government to run effectively and deliver ultimate solutions that you believe will most closely represent your values and interests as they faithfully serve the community. 

Brian Turner is a candidate for East Greenwich Town Council.

*Editor’s note: At the forum, Mark Schwager said he unblocked the constituent after speaking with him.

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  1. Jackie ayotte

    Thank you Brian for putting into words how many of us are feeling. It will be refreshing to have equal representation on topics many of us are concerned about, yet haven’t been heard on.

  2. Paul

    This is the BEST representation of what is happening in this town that I have ever read. Just incredibly honest and well written. Wow. If you read this and cannot see the truth in this, then you are part of the problem.

  3. Jean McLevedge

    Thankyou for a really interesting post. I hadn’t focused on our use of party labels for local office, and that officeholders took it so seriously. When I was in the Secretary of State’s office in Vermont in the 1970s, local offices were intentionally not labeled by party.

    EG allowed its GFOA membership to lapse several years ago, does not use capital budgeting, and managed to build a middle school without any capital budgeting analysis. We have had a couple of school finance directors who belonged to ASBO. I don’t know if having more Republicans would have solved that gap in our knowledge but to me the issue is professional membership and training.

    • Renu Englehart

      Hi Jeanne – our current Finance Director Patricia Sunderland, is a member of RI GFOA and a former recipient of 2016 GFOA Budget Presentation. She is also a current award winner for the RI Public Expenditure Council Public Service Award.

    • Anne Musella

      Jean – Maggie Baker, the school district’s Director of Finance, belongs to the Rhode Island Association of School Business Officials (RIASBO).

      • Jean McLevedge

        Thank you both for pointing out these changes. The Town’s website indeed reflects more influence of GFOA and ASBO in EG’s governance: in the past 3 years, EG began using a six-year capital improvement plan for both the town and the school side.

        Since at least 1990 the Town side has maintained a basic CIP. Sue Cienki told me a few years ago that it was she who suggested going through the school buildings and inventorying all the repairs and improvements needed. I asked officials at the time whether there was a plan to transform that inventory into a capital budget, and there was not. So this recent shift reflects a huge amount of work, and we are lucky to have the benefit of all this training and expertise.

  4. Jennifer Mignanelli

    Brian, thank you for articulating everything I personally have felt over the past few years. I felt my voice was NOT heard, nor my views represented … (I’m a registered Independent). This town NEEDS 2 pts of view to meet successfully in the middle. The world is not black and white there is most definitely plenty of grey.

    • Jody Stone

      I would like to thank Mr. Turner dearly for expressing so clearly what many of us feel but have been unable to articulate.

      The frustration is real and it is palpable.

      If our incumbents were being intellectually honest about this they would admit the town is missing the representative voice of many and welcome some balance.

      In East Greenwich, where we can come together — we do. This was evidenced best when the town came together last year, bypassed elected officials and the administration, to give our kids the Homecoming they so deserved. This is East Greenwich in action.

      The division felt here is directly related to one sided partisan control. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous. There is no better example of ‘taxation without representation’ than what we are seeing right now in East Greenwich.

      There is nothing controversial in admitting that a representative voice — for our neighbors that have been maligned, muted, mocked and marginalized over the last few years — is needed.

      It is gravely concerning that our community has no check and balance in executive sessions of both the SC and TC.

      When we have elected officials abdicating their authority to a higher office or worse — to unelected “consultants” — we have a problem. When you have a large population of your residents feeling so disenfranchised by their local government — a government that has consistently maligned the broader range of community opinion to be heard in timed & limited public comments that have often go ignored — we not only have a problem, we have an evidenced and real threat to democracy.

      It’s time to bring balance, common sense, community and communication back to East Greenwich.

      It’s time.

      • randy

        Ms Stone, is your memory really so short ?

      • Don

        We should totally bring back Gayle.

  5. Tracey Gritz

    Thank you to Brian for brilliantly articulating exactly how myself and many others have been feeling about important matters. Very honest and precise. The town would be lucky to have him as town councillor.

  6. Lindsay

    What a wonderfully written article on what IS happening in our town on so many levels. Thank you for being bold, being a leader, and putting yourself out there.

  7. Kristine

    Monday’s manufactured outrage on this issue just goes to show how much of an echo chamber they are working in.

    • Kristine

      To be clear, I’m speaking to how the incumbents responded when the disparity in representation was called out.


    I will admit you lost me at “As”. One thing noticeable though in your diatribe you seem to intertwine National Politics with that of Local Politics. I guess we are all part of the same hypocrisy.

  9. Matt Renninger

    I can’t help but notice that through all those words (well written, certainly), at no point did this candidate for town council voice a viewpoint or opinion on well, anything. Not housing. Not education. Not taxes. Not infrastructure. Not business. What I did read was a lot of whining about not being a part of the cool kids table, which is certainly an argument 8th grade me identifies with, but is a poor argument for obtaining one’s vote. Facebook blocking? Democrats endorsing democrats? Also, as someone who is both unaffiliated to a party and would happily identify as a leftist, referring to the council as such is silly.

    I’ve been reading Ulysses S Grant’s memoirs recently- I’d recommend it to anyone regardless of party affiliation- and throughout it he laments attachment to party over substance. While the author seems to share that, he also offers nothing else for his own candidacy aside from “I’m not *them.*” I’d like to think such a well spoken individual can do better before Election Day.

    • Margaret

      Mr. Renninger,

      Being an older, longtime East Greenwich resident, I have to take issue with your comments. Maybe you missed the “Forum” last week where all the issues you claim were discussed by ALL the candidates, taxes, infrastructure, business, parking, overbuilding, education, schhol safety and even dogs. So maybe you should take the time to attend, like I did, or watch as provided by EG News video tape. You say you’re a liberal, I say I’m unaffiliated. I find some of your comments strange.

      I have to say that having attending the Forum benefited me in my decision making this election season. The two new member attempting election appeared to be polished professionals who have never run for office. Both were calm and impressive, one a former Navy Veteran with extensive leadership experience and one a chemist, Brain Turner with real life experience managing people and business acumen and both with some innovative ideas. These potential candidates came across as “real people”, not polished politicians, willing to dig in and do the hard work for East Greenwich residents.

      I watched the unseemly tactic of the Democratic members and it was not impressive and appeared to be planned and practiced. Maybe you should watch the video, it is provided by EG News. Ms. Corenthal was abrasive and overbearing, just trust her. Mr. Zarrella has given up on overbuilding in East Greenwich and seems unwilling to challenge the state, or charge our State Reps to act, so we are not overwhelmed by all this building without infrastructure to deal with what is to come. It reminded me of the commercial with the former boxer “Not my Problem” and he tries to get by with humor. The current Town Council seems to living off their laurels. Dr. Schwager looked scared and shaking during the whole session. standing to speak while others sat? I’m not sure he had much to say as we are the good guys. Mr. Donegan comes across as the smartest guy in the room and speaks like a lawyer, obviously his profession. I have to say they were not impressive. I actually voted for some of these candidates last election because of some of the previous official’s same attributes. I have information now to make an educated decision and glad I attended. I always like to hear things for myself than have others disseminate. I have always have called it like I see it.

      I have to agree with you Mr. Turner, it is an impressive article and concur, it is time for some balance, new ideas and regular people willing to fight for all the residents of East Greenwich!

      • Margaret

        I apologize Mr. Rodgers I could’nt remember your name from the Forum and hit send before I could search it.

        Also THANK YOU for your service!

  10. Nancy Reed

    I think that the fact we have a town council of Democrats is because the majority of people realized that the previous town council did a great disservice to our town. I commend the people of EG on voting for policy over party.

  11. Don


  12. Stephen J. DiGianfilippo

    Housing Projects masquerading as “Affordable Housing” are overwhelming East Greenwich.

    Expanding affordable housing has been a goal of the national Democrat Party for years. The stated reason has always been to help those in need, but I feel the true objective was to alter the voter base of the suburbs in favor of Democrats.

    Democrats were unable to implement this policy on the federal level, so they turned their efforts to the State level and, with assistance from Justine Caldwell (and the silent complicity of the Town Council), passed legislation which now is impacting us at the municipal level here in East Greenwich. Conveniently, for the political party now running our Town, hundreds of voters who likely will favor Democrat candidates are being relocated to East Greenwich before our eyes.

    Our local elected officials are all Democrats, and like so many national-level Democrats, probably felt compelled to support their Partys’ far-left policy goals, including the expansion of “affordable housing”. Maybe they could not have stopped this train, but they at least could have bucked their Party, spoken up loudly and tried.


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