OPINION

Vote yes on the charter amendments

Posted 10/14/20

There's much at stake on Nov. 3 for our city, state and country. The contests among candidates for offices, from president down to local councils and school boards, have rightly drawn significant attention in recent weeks and months. In Cranston,

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OPINION

Vote yes on the charter amendments

Posted

There’s much at stake on Nov. 3 for our city, state and country.

The contests among candidates for offices, from president down to local councils and school boards, have rightly drawn significant attention in recent weeks and months.

In Cranston, particularly, the race to succeed Allan Fung as mayor is of great consequence. So, too, are the various races that will determine who sits on – and controls – the City Council in the next term.

But there is much more on the ballot this year, and we hope voters will take time to closely consider their decisions when it comes to a series of ballot and bond questions.

Among those questions going before Cranston’s voters are four proposed amendments to the city’s charter. These updates to the community’s governing document were recommended by the Charter Review Commission, a panel whose work is part of a process completed every 10 years.

We urge voters to support all four amendments, which have received broad and bipartisan support throughout the process, including before the City Council.

In a nutshell, the four proposed amendments seek expanded veto authority for the mayor; the addition of new charter language aimed at curbing gerrymandering in the drawing of ward maps; a new minimum balance requirement for Cranston’s “rainy day” fund; and a lower cap for annual tax increases.

In terms of veto authority, we feel providing the mayor with power to veto both increase and decreases the City Council makes to the city’s budget during its review to be a prudent step. Currently, the mayor’s veto authority extends only to increases the council approves.

It is worth noting that this proposal was amended by Steve Frias, the commission’s chairman, during the charter review process after Citywide Councilman Steve Stycos raised concerns over a provision that would have allowed the mayor to veto the entire budget document. This, we feel, speaks to the bipartisan and consensus-building approach taken throughout the panel’s work.

The two charter amendments related to the city’s finances have been presented as a means of cementing Fung’s record on the fiscal front.

The first would require that the city’s undesignated fund balance – the more formal term for the “rainy day” fund – equal at least 5 percent of its operating budget. The amendment includes exemptions for emergency situations.

The second would limit annual increases in the tax levy to 3 percent, lower than the 4-percent threshold provided under state law. It includes exceptions that require support from a supermajority – or four-fifths – of the council.

We view both of these proposals as providing valuable safeguards for taxpayers without wholly limiting the flexibility of local officials to address difficult financial situations. Given the crisis we face now, and the uncertainty that continues to surround the pandemic’s impact in the months and years ahead, they may each be tested sooner than we would hope.

The gerrymandering amendment is based on similar measures used in other states, and would add language to the charter requiring that ward maps “respect the geographic integrity of local neighborhoods or local communities of interest in a manner which minimizes their division to the extent possible.” The new language would additionally require that “major roads or natural features” be used as much as possible when determining boundary lines, and prohibit the place of residence of any official or candidate from being considered in the map-drawing process.

This amendment, we feel, speaks for itself. Regardless of partisan affiliation, having wards that most accurately and fairly represent our neighborhoods is in the clear best interest of all Cranstonians. We view this new proposed language as welcome guidance – and note that it, too, may soon come into play based on the results of this year’s census.

We applaud each member of the Charter Review Commission for their service on the panel and for together conducting a process that reflects so well on our community. Addressing the nuts and bolts of city government may not be the most glamorous or exciting work, but it is exceedingly vital. Cranston is fortunate to have so many dedicated citizens willing to take on this responsibility, and to do so with seriousness and civility.

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