On the Ninigret bond: A Word of Caution

The following letter appeared in the Westerly Sun and is shared with us here by the author George C. Tremblay. Mr. Tremblay is a member of the Charlestown Town Council.

I agree that Ninigret Park has been neglected and that greater effort should be made to address the 7-year-old Master Plan for the park in a systematic and rational way. A course of action begs for public input, which is why I supported putting the million-dollar bond on the ballot.

The Master Plan is a large menu of options that calls for stepwise funding and buildout over several years. Those familiar with the details know that a million dollars will just get the job started. It would be best if this initiative were routed through normal channels of town government, to be coupled to specific objectives and reasoned priorities. In fact, the town is currently working to schedule a joint session between the Charlestown Town Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission for this very purpose.

But the citizens’ initiative raises a larger issue than the park and its Master Plan and I write to draw attention to it.

A citizens’ initiative, such as the Ninigret bond proposal, is not the product of an elected governing body. It arises out of dissatisfaction with the normal political process. When a group can’t get what it wants from government, it can petition the voter to give it to them. Success with one such initiative can encourage another, and yet another, as witnessed in dysfunctional California.

In casting this ballot on spending, the voter is also deciding whether to empower a dissident minority, or issue a vote of confidence in the government it elected. It is a weighty decision, and I urge voters to consider it closely before casting their ballots.