Highs and lows from last week

Highs and lows from last week



(HIGH) Two days ago, we published an eloquent letter from a Westerly High School senior that was framed as a goodbye note to her loved ones, teammates, coaches, teachers, and to you, her readers: “This is a note for when I am killed in a school shooting.” She described her reaction to the Florida school massacre and said she had read texts from Parkland students saying goodbye to their parents. The student, Quinn Chappelle, has appeared in our pages before, mostly in the sports section, and she has also been a writer for The Barker, the school newspaper. With her letter, she has joined a growing chorus of students across the country who have risen up to demand stricter gun laws. She also made the point that Westerly High School itself, for various reasons, including its campus configuration, “is in no way safe”: A shooter armed with an AR-15, she maintained, could get off 315 rounds in the time it takes a student to walk between the Ward and Babcock buildings. More broadly, she expressed the hope that “The fight to protect our nation’s children from gun violence and shootings is not over.” Demands for change have quickly faded after previous massacres, but organizers of  school walkouts, and a National Day of Action on the anniversary of Columbine, think that this time it might be different. If so, it will be because of a younger generation that can finally overthrow a political class that is now in thrall to the gun lobby. 

(LOW) Let’s get this straight: Representative democracy, a foundation of government in the U.S., is not a meritocracy. It shouldn’t be an oligarchy, nor should it function as a club of the like-minded. The people who serve as as our representatives owe their positions as lawmakers to the voters, who are free to choose anyone they wish. Unfortunately, once elected, our officials sometimes lose sight of this principle and decide that they, as a group, know better than the voters. Last summer, Susan Champouillon was passed over for a vacancy on the Westerly Town Council, prolonging a partisan tug of war, and on Feb. 12 the Charlestown Town Council, acting with dispatch, named a former council member, George Tremblay, to fill the seat vacated by Steven J. Williams. The appointment should have gone to Robert L. Malin, who was the next highest vote getter in the 2016 election. Tremblay, who was elected in 2012 and 2014, wasn’t even on the ballot. In both towns, the appointment of a runnerup candidate is a valid option to fill a vacancy, but in both towns factional politics overrode the voters’ wishes. This was particularly disrespectful because in both cases, the runnerup choice would have brought needed diversity to the governing bodies. Champouillon, at the time, would have been the only female councilor in Westerly, and Malin, a Democrat, would have been the only member who did not owe his allegiance to the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, which has been in total control of the council in the last two election cycles. Malin, a videographer and filmmaker whose views on the issues do not differ greatly from the CCA’s, performed respectably at the polls, with 1,986 votes. That total, incidentally, is higher than the tallies of the leading vote getter, former council President Thomas B. Gentz, in the 2010 (1,649); 2012 (1,959); and 2014 (1,908) municipal elections. Here’s a question: What does the CCA have to fear? Diversity itself? Four of the five, including Tremblay, are retirees who worked in white-collar jobs — in banking, finance, academia, and one provides freelance editorial and composition services. Their interests necessarily reflect the positions of people who, in retirement, are enjoying the town’s natural amenities and financial advantages. Tremblay, at least, has a record of questioning some CCA initiatives, but, as in Westerly, the council should have followed the will of the people.  

(LOW) We ran a congenial photo on Saturday of Westerly Town Council members, along with the town manager and public works director, the Stonington Board of Selectmen, and an official of the Ledge Light Health District. The occasion was an agreement that the towns would work on a Memo of Understanding regarding notifications of water problems. The need to put in place a better procedure arose from an equipment malfunction at a pumping station on Feb. 8, a Thursday, that resulted in the addition of an excessive amount of an anti-corrosion chemical to the water supply. Personnel with the Westerly Water Department, which supplies Pawcatuck, thought the problem had been corrected on Friday, but later that day customers in Pawcatuck complained of skin irritation. The water department flushed pipes in the neighborhood, but as word spread on social media, the “fear factor” kicked in, First Selectman Rob Simmons said, and Westerly Town Manager Derrik Kennedy didn’t send out an email until Saturday morning. It wasn’t until the night of Feb. 13, a Tuesday, that customers were warned to flush any faucets that hadn’t been used since Friday. Uncertainty about reporting requirements for pH problems, as opposed to bacteria, was part of the delay. Simmons was forthright about his initial concerns, and apologized to Kennedy for his criticism. But Kennedy did not respond to our inquires about the matter. He needs to do a better job of communicating.


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