Voting their wallets
Much has been said about the reasons for Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt's landslide win in Woonsocket's municipal election in November.
Was it her well organized group of volunteers? A grassroots door to door effort? Her record on the House floor? Her political platform, or well thought out message for voters? Her abundance of signs, flyers and political advertisements?
I, for one, believe the the answer is simple. Faced with declining property values and tax bills they couldn't afford, residents cast ballots reflecting the sad state of their wallets. Higher ups in city government paid with the loss of their jobs.
This week, the new mayor announced her administration's appointments to the school board, bringing back to light the first victims of the phenomenon: the elected members of the Woonsocket School Committee. City voters approved the change from an elected to an appointed school board via a referendum in the 2012 election, not long after news of the department's growing - and largely surprising – $10 million deficit officially broke.
The choice was, undeniably, a setback for the local democratic process, demonstrating a tax base so alienated and frustrated by their inability to fix the city's problems that they were willing to relinquish their right to elected representation.
The decision should hardly have come as a surprise. When news of the district's deficit first began to leak out, I was a reporter for the online new site Woonsocket Patch. I began writing about discrepancies in School Department's figures long before it was officially announced, thanks to a bug in my ear placed there by Finance Director Thomas Bruce. I remember pacing the floor of my home one evening agonizing about what to write after then school business manager Stacey Busby reported a surplus, conflicting with information Bruce had just given me, and thinking "someone is either very wrong, or lying."
At the time, Patch was an outlier, and hadn't fully gained legitimacy on the Woonsocket news scene, and some Committee members tried to discredit my reports. I still have a recording of one meeting where Committee veteran Eleanor Nadeau said that Busby was "the best business manager in the state" no matter what it said on "the Patch."
Adding insult to injury, the Committee ousted Chairwoman Anita McGuire-Forcier in July of 2012 saying that they felt under her leadership the board was "too focused on financial issues," a decision for which Nadeau publicly apologized this week during The John Dionne program on WNRI.
McGuire-Forcier said she was one of the 28 candidates who applied for the new appointed board, but none of the formerly elected officials were chosen.
Will Baldelli-Hunt's new, appointed school board do a better job of getting a handle on the district's financial problems? Only time will tell.