Officials of the Rhode Island Airport Corporation could use a lesson in Public Relations 101, as could some members of the Westerly Town Council. Whether information is good or bad, it needs to come from the agency or government body or nonprofit organization or garden club. It’s always worse when the information has to be ferreted out.
Consciously suppressing information is never good when you are in the public eye. And failing to communicate sends a message that can rightly be interpreted as arrogant or uncaring.
RIAC has done both over the years. Oddly, they have even admitted that they have made some bad PR mistakes and they claim to have learned from them. Still they persist.
Most recently, the quasi-public agency has indicated that it will be shortening at least three of the four runways and may shorten the forth as well. This comes after the agency’s decision — apparently — to throw in the towel on its attempts to get residential neighbors to accept the removal of trees now deemed a danger to pilots using instruments to land at night and in inclement weather. An injunction preventing the tree cutting remains in effect while a lawsuit initiated by neighbors lingers.
Neighbors who have lived near the airport for decades have found RIAC a difficult agency to deal with. Surprise clear-cutting operations and lack of communication in general are the chief complaints. Further frustrating them is the fact that the Federal Aviation Administration is really calling all the shots. To the neighbors, RIAC is a bumbling bureaucracy that in worst case scenarios lies and in best-case scenarios simply doesn’t communicate.
We have experienced the latter all too often here and RIAC’s lack of communication with us hinders our ability to help the community understand a complex issue. Calls for comment routinely go unanswered and basic questions in the past have been met with evasive responses and accusations that we are being unfair by simply asking the questions.
Regarding the council, three members had information about the runway shortening — a plan that we are told will reduce the types of aircraft that can use the airport, which makes neighbors happy and airport businesses and advocates angry — and didn’t reveal it at Monday’s council meeting even when asked directly.
The information is big, but it’s not personal or protected by the Access to Public Records Act. Councilors Ed Morrone, Bill Aiello and Jack Carson sat silently when asked about the information. They learned of it from Chamber of Commerce President Lisa Konicki, who happened upon a surveyor outside the Chamber office who indicated he worked for RIAC and explained the runway reduction plan for the airport, which is across Route 1 from the chamber’s office. Konicki also informed Town Manager Derrik Kennedy before Monday’s meeting, after first asking RIAC officials to inform the town and never getting a response from the agency.
Why the councilors, manager and RIAC remained mum is puzzling, frustrating and disturbing. It’s also irresponsible. RIAC has clouded the airport discusson long enough. It doesn’t need any help from people who are supposed to be respresenting residents and sharing information, not suppressing it.