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Letter: No need to shed light on Westerly


For those who are upset by recent Town Council actions or those of our Democratic Town Chairman, Robert Ritacco, I propose a different view.

With respect to Mr. Ritacco, I wish to point out the qualities of the man! But first, let’s dispense with his cruel and unfair critics. This public figure:

• Was hounded by state ethics commissioners, who unfairly frowned on special parking privileges he got for his family’s business.

• Endured a spiteful state police investigation of his activities as a state employee. He even pointed out to state police that a potentially incriminating laptop must have been taken by some painters, only to have those same evil painters apparently maliciously plant evidence in it and then hide the thing back in his own car trunk.

• And he has been unfairly accused of trading favors and wheeling and dealing throughout our Town.

What great civic spirit! What unselfish devotion to the public good! When others didn’t volunteer for public service, he did. He runs the Democratic Party, deciding who gets what position, who gets what job, and who gets the party’s blessing for office.

He also runs the zoning board. He decides whose valuable projects get approved, whose get rejected, and whose get delayed — until he is personally satisfied that the applicants have met his most exacting conditions.

He also applied to run our low-income housing authority, to decide who would get government housing. He offered to keep the books of the $30 million school project. And he helped run the comprehensive plan committee: to guide what security, benefits, or “zoning overlays” neighborhoods and developers would get from the plan.

And what a wonderfully benevolent person he has been! His zoning board allowed a trailer park where some selfish neighbors and misguided laws didn’t want it. He canceled and delayed hearings packed with outraged citizens, to avoid unpleasantness. He got his zoning board to provide extra apartment units, variances, and parking for his family properties, again not for any personal benefit, but only to better accommodate, and serve, his beloved public.

He also unselfishly helps some officials decide complex financial and political appointment issues. No, ladies and gentlemen, there is no corruption in Westerly. No backroom deals or undue influence here. Just noble public servants who should be protected from all criticism.

How unfair of our news media to criticize their actions. How unkind of citizens to question them. How ungracious to second-guess or to hurt the feelings of those who make public decisions — decisions that greatly reward or severely deprive those who try to make a living, or who just live, in Westerly. So I propose the following.

Let’s adopt a town charter provision to exempt Westerly from the First Amendment. Reject the New York Times v. Sullivan’s ill-considered Supreme Court decision — a decision that encourages robust discussion and criticism of public officials and their actions. Abolish Justice Brandeis’ concept of “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Prohibit Justice Holmes’ outmoded thought of allowing even unpleasant opinions to be heard and tested in the marketplace of ideas. Ignore Harry Truman’s old-fashioned, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Stop letting citizens hurt the feelings of our dedicated officials. And penalize those who do.

Let’s give some teeth to any public official hurt by public criticism. It’s not enough just to forbid citizens from mentioning the names of public figures at public meetings. Officials should be able to do more than just vote against those who annoy or insult them or impugn their party leaders. Allow these good public servants to fine and jail their critics, including our press—to teach them to be more respectful.

Oh, and be sure not to vote this November. So all this can continue, without further interference from our ungrateful citizens.

Philo Willetts

Westerly



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