Tiverton on Track

The Council's New Clothes

November 18, 2019 Tiverton Taxpayers Association Season 1 Episode 1
Tiverton on Track
The Council's New Clothes
Chapters
0:33
Track 1: An Explanation of the Podcast
2:34
Track 2: Hilton the Usurper
12:14
Track 3: Newbiew
23:44
Bonus Track: Letters, Facebook, and Modern Debate
Tiverton on Track
The Council's New Clothes
Nov 18, 2019 Season 1 Episode 1
Tiverton Taxpayers Association

This episode conducted by Justin Katz of the TTA and featuring Town Councilors Donna Cook and Nancy Driggs, as well as TTA co-founder Robert Coulter.

Track 1: An Explanation of the Podcast
Track 2: Hilton the Usurper
Track 3: Newbies
Bonus Track: Letters, Facebook, and Modern Debate

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This episode conducted by Justin Katz of the TTA and featuring Town Councilors Donna Cook and Nancy Driggs, as well as TTA co-founder Robert Coulter.

Track 1: An Explanation of the Podcast
Track 2: Hilton the Usurper
Track 3: Newbies
Bonus Track: Letters, Facebook, and Modern Debate

Bumper music:

[]

Justin Katz:

Hello, this is Justin Katz of the Tiverton Taxpayers Association. And this is our new podcast, Tiverton on Track. That's a tentative name. You know, the great thing about podcasts is you can change them. So if we just come up with something better and maybe we'll change it then as well, find new music and go through all that fun stuff. So just to kick this off with kind of an explanation of the podcast, you know, I've been active locally for something like 15 years and I still can't get over how much reporters miss , even things they're directly reporting on and also beyond what the reporters report, how little information actually gets out to the public. This week there was a good example , this past Monday, the replacement town council , after our recent recall, they moved right away to end a policy of releasing executive session minutes. And without getting into the details on that topic, there are a lot of legal questions that the Newport Daily News reporter that's Marcia Pobzeznik, she simply got them wrong. Now with Marcia, I happen to believe she's doing her best to present the facts of the story. But you know, it's hard. These are complicated legal questions and everybody, whether you're a reporter or a resident, everybody can't be expected to pick up on the nuances. And of course, it doesn't help that the town solicitor is, in my opinion, obviously trying to present the law, not explain it, but to make the case for what his clients want. And he sees the town council as his clients . So it gets confusing for the public. And it needs explanation. And in some ways, frankly, you could say that the, the recall election that took two of us out of office was a consequence of this lack of information. I mean, the whole thing was founded in complete lies . So Tiverton on Track , like our website, TivertonFactCheck.org is going to be another way. We're going to try to present a different perspective on what's going on in town. And the plan is to keep them short, keep them fun, keep them informative. So that's what we're trying to do. And so now jumping right into things. I'm here today with , town councilors , Donna Cook.

Donna Cook:

Hello. Glad to be here today.

Justin Katz:

and Nancy Driggs.

Donna Cook:

Hello. Same here.

Justin Katz:

As well as my TTA co-conspirator and frequent office holder, Robert Coulter.

Robert Coulter:

Nice to be here.

Justin Katz:

So, for , for track , that was track one, the explanation. Track two , I wanted to title it "Hilton, the Usurper." So as expected, the president of the replacement town council is Patricia Hilton with Denise de Medeiros as her vice president . I say that it was expected because it became clear, I think one or two months before the recall actually happened. The recall initiator William McLaughlin , Billy Mac, some people call him the goat. He was, it became obvious that he had made a deal probably when de Medeiros offered to collect signatures to help him get his petition over the line. But the deal was obvious that she would not be president. In fact, when, when one of the new town council members tried to nominate her, I was near Billy Mac in the audience and he jumped up, got all "what they're reneging on our deal." So that's why we all expected Trisha Hilton, because her and Denise appear to be interchangeable.

Robert Coulter:

And remember Justin, when Billy Mac started, he was targeting all seven counselors and it was amazing that it got narrowed down to four people that, and he took off of the target sites were the people that actually knocked down this bar, none of us.

Justin Katz:

Right. And so if somewhere in there that became a deal came about. And so Patricia Hilton is now the president of the replacement town council. She's the usurper. And it's obvious to me at least that the plan, and it's clearly a plan is for Hilton to sort of show us how it's done to keep a tight order for the meetings. You know, good luck with that. And it's also obvious they want to make it look like they're getting more things done, which if we're being honest, might not be that difficult because they were the ones preventing us from getting things done. So I wanted to start out with Donna. You've been really standing your ground against Hilton and the gavel. So what's your impression of what's going on in the council meetings?

Donna Cook:

Well, what I found with the incessant use of the gavel , was unbelievable use to stop free speech. She could talk on whatever subject she wanted to for how long and if you objected to that or wanted to put your point of view in , she used the gavel and if you tried to talk over her gavel, she just used it all the harder to shut you up. So I am representing my constituency and she's trying to shut me up. And one of the important points I was trying to make at that time at this meeting on the 28th , was during their campaign they used , or had the help of all the unions and postcards were sent out at the unions' expense to help promote the removal of you, Justin and Rob. A lot of money was put into that. I don't know what that was about, but it became clear to me that it was definitely to remove you from the negotiating team because you're a tough negotiator. So what they wanted to replace it was with John , excuse me, representative Jay's son and he's on the council and he's very pro union , which is fine, but there's something very wrong with being backed by the union and then sitting at the bargaining table. And I just wanted to point that out. I think for disclosure, for anything, whether it's sending out posters or anything you do in a campaign, that it's important that the public know who is sitting at the bargaining table. And for the disclosure, I pointed out that the Teamsters and the AFSCME was under the umbrella of the AFL CIO, the Rhode Island AFL CIO sent out postcards in favor of removing you and Rob from the town council. So to me that was a definite conflict of interest and not in the best interest of the taxpayers. And it needed to be said, it needs to be out there, the disclosure of who's sitting at the table. And at that point , she was gaveling me so hard. Uh, it was hard to talk and then she wanted to remove me from the meeting. I didn't take very kindly to that since their call to arms was free speech. Well, there's certain that , certainly a bunch of hypocrites there. I would also like to add to the at that meeting , when Donna did persevere and I think she really did get her message out, but it's important . The rebuttal we got from Hilton, especially after she called for just losing control and she couldn't quiet Donna. So she recessed and left the table for 10 minutes. And when she came back, it was like we were being scolded the town council about how we, she's not going to tolerate this anymore and this, the, the town council is doing the people's business and we were not going to get politics into it. Well, I think she missed a huge point here in Donna's very valid point that the people have a right to know as their business is being done, who is doing their business for them. And in this case it's something the voters should be aware of. That labor did come in. They were like rats scurrying the tunnel, claiming how little... "Oh, I don't have anything to do with them," blah , blah, blah, blah, blah. But the bottom line is labor came in, in favor of the recall and they benefited from the fact that there was a recall all three of them who are now going to be doing the negotiations, frankly , you know, Edwards who was not elected in the November election. Matter of fact, he was, he was way below people. He's now sitting on the town council because of the recall. Same with Steven Clarke. Just as a point of fact. He had not been elected, but he's there and deMedeiros is now still there and is vice president and people need to know they've benefited from whatever action labor took.

Justin Katz:

I think my favorite part of the, the lecture from Trish Hilton after that recess, and it seemed like it was a five or 10 minute lecture. I don't know if she, she composed it beforehand or just ad libs , at length. But my favorite part of it was that it reminded me of when you're a kid and one kid's beating up on another or, you know, punch backs, and one does it really hard and says, "Okay, we're done starting now, no more hitting." That was kind of what it was. We're not going to be making allegations about council members and bringing politics into this, like, well we just sat through 12 months of them doing exactly that, but now, now it's not, it's not acceptable .

Donna Cook:

Which was the point that Donna also made. And the other thing I just found interesting is Edwards is like a horse, just he's ready to leave the barn. And Donna literally had said three words in starting her presentation during the recall. The minute he heard that word recall, "Madam president," goes Edwards and the gavel and she starts banging the gavel, I see it as they want a neat and tidy recall. They don't want any , any dust, you know, flying around. They don't want any, you know, anyone to say anything. They want their stealth recall to just happen. And everyone's supposed to be quiet, you know, be quiet, sit down and shut up. And I'm just not gonna do that because it was wrong what went on.

Robert Coulter:

And a point to that, that we might've skipped over is to remind people that both Hilton and deMedeiros were actually part of the recall effort. That's where they actually gathered signature of help gather signatures, signed the petition clearly in alliance with all of the proponents of this. So that really drove this through this effort. So , not only is it inconsistent, it's hypocrisy writ large as far as I'm concerned.

Donna Cook:

And Donna did raise that issue and that's they just, the gavel started. " We're not naming names," she said. You guys were helping in this recall and they got furious.

Robert Coulter:

Quite a start for a group that says that they didn't have enough transparency. I think in a year I used the gavel maybe twice.

Donna Cook:

I'm not sure you ever used it.

Justin Katz:

It didn't even take, I mean, this was the second meeting since the recall. The first one during counselor comments, Donna started to speak to explain, y ou k now, she had really felt like quitting the council and she was explaining why she didn't. And I think at that point Edwards at that time, t oo, jumped up a nd went, "Madame president!" An d H ilton, you know, quiet, calm th em d own. But then as Donna started to give her speech, I could see Hilton's fingers almost quivering over the gavel. And Denise deMedeiros, I saw her do like the hand wave, like, no , no, no, no, no, no. Don't, don't ga vel h er down for explaining why she didn't quit. That'd be a little bit too aggressive. So I'm not sure where that's all going to go.

Robert Coulter:

Maybe they'll gavel you down next time you try to say the pledge of allegiance, that'll be the next step here.

Justin Katz:

That does appear to be their plan. And of course, track three. I thought we'd talk about the newbies. So apart from new leadership the council has two new members. That's John Edwards, the fifth, who is son of Tiverton representative John Edwards, the fourth , the son...

Donna Cook:

Otherwise known as baby Edwards.

Justin Katz:

The younger one. Yeah . Or Prince Edward. So he's one of the new ones coming in with what, 1,975 votes to get on town council, which is amazing. And also on the council is our friend Steve Clarke , who was a TTA endorsed candidate. I had a conversation with Steve a few weeks ago, and it's interesting, one of my big lessons from the, the recall is that people won't compromise. I mean, I might, people who know me from before I was elected have commented how soft I've gotten. And so the recall has really proven to me now that doesn't, doesn't really work. But Steve, he's fully in the other direction, wants to compromise, and that's a good thing. I can only suspect he'll, he'll learn.

Robert Coulter:

Steve was on the elected charter review commission which I chaired and Donna was the vice chair. So , he's got a year of experience under his belt there. This will be his first time wearing the bull's eye up at the council chambers.

Donna Cook:

Yeah, I think an important note regarding the charter review, which is taking a little tangent off of what we're speaking about, but it does correlate with the recall is that the charter review was announced , to have people, it's an elected position. So it was nine positions and nine of us ran and all of us, won. Out of 24. Out of 24 people. And then we found out during that whole year that the town council, which had Denise deMedeiros as president at that time and vice president I believe was John Edwards, the fifth, was interesting to note that at that time , we started to be ignored. We asked for help. We wanted some direction. We asked for help from the solicitor. It was radio silence. We got no help at all. And we finally had executive session to talk about this unique problem. And since we felt it was a conflict, we went before the town council and asked for a special council to help us because apparently something was very, very wrong. They denied that and we then continued to have no help. This of course was ...

Robert Coulter:

And by they at that time , the council was led by Denise deMedeiros and Tricia Hilton was on there. At some point we should come back to a track, Justin, on the, I'm not the first president to be dethroned by, by this group. They did the same thing as the last, well not the same thing as a recall, but back to you.

Nancy Driggs:

Oh that's right. Yeah .

Donna Cook:

If you would ignore an election and then you, you then do not use any of the proposals that the duly elected charter review was a task to do, you in essence are ignoring the will of the people. And so this is what happened. It's a little bit different than a recall, but it , it essentially was the same thing and ignored what the electors and who they voted for. So all of our proposals were ignored and they replaced them with their self-generated ones and most of them was to take away the rights of the people to choose a budget , have the FTR.

Nancy Driggs:

That was John Edwards.

Donna Cook:

They do not want it. They, they think, they think they know better than the people. That's why they do these things. They feel the public is too stupid. They know everything. So they're just going to take control of everything. And if, if they don't have control, they're just going to take it.

Robert Coulter:

By, really, by any means necessary. Cause you see chapter after chapter in this book, whether it's the , the financial town meetings of old or it's the charter review commission or it's, you know, they don't like the leadership of the council or , or, or we don't like , uh, you know, we need to , to barely flip a majority. So we're going to do a recall. It's just a, by the way, Steve has nothing to do with any of this, but they're on a little bit of a tangent, but

Nancy Driggs:

Correct. Um , the other thing that I always have found fascinating from the first, my first year on the town council was how often when Hilton and deMedeiros were in the minority, because the majority had elected four of us who, who ran on a similar platform and were endorsed by the TTA. And they always forget that, you know, so when they would feel frustrated, especially Hilton, I can just hear her saying, "you know, I represent my people, my constituents," and I'm going, "Yeah, and we represent our constituents," our constituents who frankly by a bunch bigger majority voted us in. And not quietly, we ran on a platform, we made promises and we were just honoring those promises. And that's what I feel really, really frustrating. The same thing happened on the charter review commission. You know, the nine of us ran on a slate. And what I always found interesting, interesting about that election, three of the people who ran were not, were names that were not yet really known, but they won too. That's right. So obviously they were voting for our slate in which we made the promises we did make in terms of transparency and keeping the , the casino revenue in the budgeting process. All the things we did and , and that we honored and worked hard that year. And they just put , so they're always talking about the will of the people, but then when we don't represent the people, while we sure as heck try and they're the ones who shut it down.

Justin Katz:

Oh, I think the tangent raises a good point is that, I mean, I called this track "Newbies" but Edwards isn't new. And I think that's one of the, one of the things that's interesting here is everything starts to connect. I mean, you mentioned how the solicitor, the lesson is solicitor DeSisto ignored the CRC. One could speculate it was at the behest of the council leadership at the time deMedeiro, but she denies that and , and he covers for her. But so basically that was a big part of the , the impetus for replacing the solicitor quickly with somebody who wouldn't do whatever he was told to do, but would provide a sense of what the law actually is. And so that was part of the reason they wanted to recall. And now we've got John Edwards back on there .

Nancy Driggs:

Do you remember during the commission time when,

Donna Cook:

Oh my goodness.

Nancy Driggs:

Richard Rom came before the town council and he introduced himself at the podium as "Commissioner Rom." And Edwards just went berserk. "Who gave you that title?"

Donna Cook:

We didn't say you could use commissioner!

Robert Coulter:

We never fully understood why he was so upset about the charter commission calling themselves commissioners . I never, I never thought that was much of a stretch.

Justin Katz:

It's really a method of diminishing people. You're not a , you're not even a commissioner, you're just, you're just people who happen to be doing something and maybe you were elected, but that doesn't really mean anything. But yeah , he likes to play games like that. We went back and forth. I mean, I've , I've written a lot and I know a lot about Rhode Island public sector pensions. I dunno , I'll say within 50 people within Rhode Island, I'm in that group that knows a lot about this, and he would go back and forth with me on Facebook about how "there's no such thing as a discount rate in pensions and all the accountants laugh at you," and you know, it says as if, you know , it's so adolescent as if I'm supposed to picture all these, these accountants sitting in a back room, "Ha, ha, ha! A discount rate!" But he's wrong. Of course. Edwards is.

Nancy Driggs:

I'll just you wait, Justin, because at this meeting, when I mentioned a couple of times that the value, one of the value added you brought to the fire and police and were in the process of bringing to the current negotiations with Teamsters and AFSCME, is coming up with a , I'm not even sure I'm calling it the right word, but the way I describe it is an Excel sheet that has the ability, the minute you change one number, it automatically readjust so you know exactly where you are at any given moment. So, so Edwards: "Can we get a copy?" And Jan made it known that Justin had very nicely offered to give as far as he had gotten on the Teamsters, I guess to Jan. "Well, I want that," goes Edwards and I'm just preparing you because it's going to come back with, "Oh, this is just a silly..."

Donna Cook:

On another note , it was eye opening , uh, to find that all these years of negotiating, they had no way to track the expense. So it would be like this big surprise of course, to the future that had a pay this of where the expense was going. So uncaccountable to the public for expenses and future expenses to the, to the children and the legacy left by the past to the future. Terrible.

Justin Katz:

Well, it was, that was, I mean, Tim Cavazza, the town's labor attorney, is really good, but he would at the end, they would start to put this spreadsheet together when most things are settled and just to figure out what they had negotiated in the past. That was one of the shocks to me because this would be the first thing I would do if I ever said, if I were told you're going to be negotiating with these people, you're going to come in with goals. You need to know where you are with the goals. S o y ou can't just estimate it, and it's not as if creating a spreadsheet, I mean, E dwards called it. "a proprietary spreadsheet" or something like that, it's not a mystery how to do that. It's a few equations, but it takes a little time to set it up. There are a number of things in town government I just couldn't believe w eren't the practice. I t's just seems so obvious, like, you know, a longterm financial plan or something like that.

Donna Cook:

Well, I think we always have to be very, very careful with people's wallets and shouldn't be spending money that we shouldn't be spending. They're willing to pay for services, but to be so irresponsible in negotiating, not knowing what the c ost a ren't until the end, is not, not good government. It just isn't. And it's very unfair to the people to be paying extra when they don't have to.

Nancy Driggs:

The other issue that came up was the, the unsealing of the, we haven't covered that, right?

Justin Katz:

Well, I think that might be a future discussion. The clock is running. I mean , if people are listening in the car, we don't want to make them sit in a parking lot for too long.

Donna Cook:

It was so interesting that they can't stop.

Justin Katz:

They can't get out of the car. So, we're probably going to usually end these things with what I'll call a bonus track. And it's really just a little bit more f reewheeling o f a conversation. So as a starting point for this, I thought I'd bring up a letter t o the editor in this week's paper or i t's online t his weekend a way, by Will Newman. And it ties t o, for me, it ties with a lot of conversation on Facebook and w ay public debate is structured. So I found it to be a great example of something.... I'm not sure what. He's criticizing, Ro b a n d I had a statement after the recall, and he's criticizing us for using, he calls it, in cendiary language, a n d it makes me think sort of of Hilton's, "we're not accusing council members of anything starting now," you know, and the recallers, and I think Newman was a supporter and I'd wr itten in favor of the recall. But they were incredibly incendiary and they did lie and it was a political hit job. These are terms we used in our statement. So if our perspective is valid, then it's entirely correct to name things as we see them. And if our perspective is not correct then it seems like Newman only cares about it if we do them, not if the, the ot her people do them. And I think that just seems to be very characteristic of debate. You know, one side can do anything. The y're al ways right and the other side, eve rything's al ways wrong.

Robert Coulter:

And the scorched-earth tactics for month after month, I don't remember Mr. Newman writing about that when it was his buddies doing it. Right.

Donna Cook:

Yeah. I don't get that.

Nancy Driggs:

But we're not supposed to whine at the results. We're not supposed to point out. We're not supposed to even complain about it. It's like an abused child. I'll do what I want to do .

Donna Cook:

Definitely. Yeah. You don't want to set him off. You know, my goodness . And all the months, all the months of having two people in the audience with recall t-shirts on, with TTA with the , you know, the Ghostbusters thing in the back. I said, we were harassed the whole time we were on the council and they started this in January.

Justin Katz:

Not just us. It got to the point where Solicitor Cicione was actually rebuking councilor Hilton for , for making professional allegations against him were just inappropriate. And yet, that's fine. That's just the way it is. I wish we could find a way to sort of elevate the conversation. I mean it's, it seems to be, you know, you set up a group , some facts and you talk about the facts, but that never, that doesn't seem to matter to any of, I guess what we call our opposition.

Donna Cook:

Well, the worst of the free speech guys, which is Bill Mac, the petitioner, with his free speech and we shut him down. I don't know if it was August and he wanted to speak at the public forum and we have, you have to write something on a piece of paper. So he got up to speak and started to use his time, which was very different from what he wrote on the piece of paper for the public forum to attack mister or Solicitor Cicione, go after him. And I stopped him and told him that he was off topic. He proceeded to tell me, "Oh, shut up." Now this is the free speech guy. Right. So I guess it just depends on if it's his free free speech o r mine. So, so inappropriate. And I , I don't know, that's, that's about as low as you can go. I think.

Robert Coulter:

Yeah. It's so, it's so common and it's so outrageous that we sometimes can only chuckle at it, but it's, it's really, I think probably the number one poison in the well of this town and the thing I try to say is you really have to keep an eye out for this kind of hypocrisy on these, on these things. Because it was a , it just never seems to end.

Justin Katz:

Well, it may be incendiary, but you have to tell the truth. You have to call things what they are. It's so amazing to me. You know , at one point, Tom Buchanan, some months ago, was actually reduced to the point of going on Facebook and telling people, "Don't believe Justin's nice guy image. Don't , don't and don't believe that we're bad just because we're attacking people and calling them names. It's actually the reverse of that." It's a weird, weird way to sort of silence people. Hopefully over time , things like this, like this podcast and Fact Check will help people understand it a little bit better what's going on and have some perspective. So,

Nancy Driggs:

Well, can I just say quickly, one thing, when I look at Newman's, I had forgotten his second paragraph where he's basically castigating Katz and Coulter for the language they use during the ... in thinking about what went on about all the lies that had been propagated that this recall was, was based upon. And rather than maybe doing some kind of an exploration, gee, you know, if, if, let's assume this is true, that's horrible what we just did as a town, if lies were put out and people believe them, and based on that they said, well, we better get rid of these guys, that should be the issue. Not the fact that they called it.

Justin Katz:

Yeah . Well that's what's interesting about his letter . It's kind of, it's almost ambiguous whether we're right or not, you know, it's almost as if that doesn't matter. But if what we say is true and actually what happened. I mean he actually thinks...

Nancy Driggs:

That's the important issue.

Justin Katz:

He criticizes us for using the phrase "acted unethically." We heard that for months and months and months from Billy Mac. He would go on, I think it was on Channel 10 talking about how unethical we were. No examples. But there's a social phenomenon where one side is good one side is bad. But we'll , have to put all these people who write these letters, have to put them on our list of people to charm and to convince over time with our,

Robert Coulter:

Yeah, we can invite them on. I find half the time they don't even want to take up an honest debate. They just want to take their shots from afar.

Nancy Driggs:

I'm glad we're doing this because my husband, and I won't name who he is, I can tell you he, he hates this and he just, you know, if I talk about some issue that I'm having or something, I'm concerned: "I hate this. I hate this." And you know what? I probably say 98% of the town hates this kind of dialogue in this kind of toxic stuff that they have brought to the plate.

Donna Cook:

I think they want to be able to count on elections mattering , that matter. And they don't, they want to go back to their life. They decide on which direction they want them to go in and it was just stolen from them. Just outright rug taken out from under them. There wasn't any , allegations were made whether they were true or not. You couldn't defend yourself. There was no, no type of proceedings to go to see if anything was true. They just decided to recall people and, you know, your vote's the most important thing you have as a citizen. And it was taken away in Tiverton, and it was taken away. My vote was taken away from me and I'm pretty upset about it.

Justin Katz:

Well, on that note that we'll keep trying to do something about it with these episodes of Tiverton on Track. This has been episode one. I'm Justin Katz with the Tiverton Taxpayers Association, and hopefully you'll tune in next time.

Track 1: An Explanation of the Podcast
Track 2: Hilton the Usurper
Track 3: Newbiew
Bonus Track: Letters, Facebook, and Modern Debate