The mother of a friend of mine, I’ll call her Martha, told me that she had discovered a lump in her breast. I asked Martha if she had been seen by a doctor. Martha said no. Why not, I asked? Martha said that she did not want to see a doctor because she was afraid of what the doctor might tell her.
It turned out that Martha had told a number of friends and acquaintances her story. You see, Martha was seeking people who would tell her what she wanted to hear. Martha wanted to hear that there was nothing to be concerned about and that everything would be OK. When Martha finally was seen by a doctor, it was too late.
The Westerly Town Council and town manager (WTC&M) and Martha have a lot in common. Like Martha, the WTC members only want to listen to people who tell them what they want to hear. The members delete emails and ignore public comments when delivered by people who they believe will not tell them what they want to hear. The WTC&M want to avoid being exposed to and confused by facts and the truth, which might upset their personal agendas. The WTC&M would rather spend their collective time and efforts together arguing about how to reorganize the Town Council or the pros and cons of artificial turf. Sidewalks and double poles are other favorite topics for endless and inane discussion.
Then there is the ever-popular subject of how to evaluate the town manager’s job performance. And let’s not forget the endless discussion regarding the proposed expansion of the Westerly State Airport or the Harbor Management Plan.
The Town Council chamber is a peculiar place. A WTC member speaks up and says nothing. Nobody listens and then everyone disagrees. The other WTC members don’t listen because each is thinking about what they are going to say. The ensuing discussion that follows usually degenerates into petty bickering and arguing with each member steadfastly resisting the urge to remain silent. A recent example took place the other evening when the WTC opened discussion regarding the contract for the upcoming real property revaluation.
The dialogue focused on the town’s solicitation that included the content of the Request for Proposal. None of the WTC members could write an RFP if their life depended on it, yet it did not slow them down. Rather than critiquing and possibly offering amendments to the existing RFP, the WTC ordered that a new RFP be generated and re-advertised. When in doubt do a do over. Now there are two RFPs out in the public domain. When all is said and done the WTC will still be addressing a topic that they know nothing about. The WTC members will reveal this fact when they again speak to the subject.
For 18 years the town has contracted with the mass appraisal company Vision Government Solutions Inc. to perform a mass municipal appraisal/assessment. The fact that over the years Vision has violated its contracts with the town with impunity has escaped the watchful eye of the WTC&M. Not only has Vision violated its contracts with the town, the company’s misapplication of computer-aided mass appraisal technology has produced mass incorrect property assessments. The incorrect property assessments have gone undetected and unchallenged for years. Unaware of the contractor’s misuse of its proprietary computer models and algorithms, the WTC&M and the town tax assessor, like Martha, believe that there is nothing to be concerned about.
When the contractor’s deliberate incorrect assessments are pointed out to the tax assessor and the Board of Assessment Review, they all react by believing that it is possible to obtain correct property assessments using incorrect methods and procedures. Like Martha they all want to believe that everything is OK.