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I hardly know where to begin. In a nutshell, the Democratic Town Committee/union coalition strategy, as it emerged, was to scare parents into showing up, delay away half the allowable meeting time, rearrange the order of the meeting in completely convoluted ways, distort the meaning of adopted rules to erase all distinctions between amendments and motions so as to pass their preferred budget, get in one talking point about all the horrible things that will happen if they lose, shut off debate on the expenditure of $25 million — by far the greatest expense of the town — so that their newly frightened contingent (parents) wouldn’t have a chance to hear contrary arguments, and vote for more money for themselves and their pet causes.

If you’ve been to a heated school committee meeting during negotiation season, this was that on steroids. As it happened, we didn’t actually get to a single budgetary vote. For the more extended version, I’ll follow the official docket (PDF).

We got through the opening formalities fine, although it was clear that Moderator Mike Smith had some jitters his first time on the dais. It was also clear that many folks in the audience were newly quasifamiliar with Robert’s Rules of Order and that there was some sort of intention to throw everything the moderator did into question. The initial vote count was 1,026, with voters over-spilling into the auditorium.

The only contention with the moderator’s resolutions/procedural rules came with number 5, which essentially restates Robert’s Rules that, upon passing an amendment, the body would move to a vote on the amended motion without discussion, although we voted to add “as amended” to the language.

At that point, the Happy Gilmore heckler guy, the guy who goes to public meetings declaring our retirement communities to be a “cancer on the community,” Mike Carreiro, made a prepared motion that, should the moderator voluntarily step down, the second runner up in the vote for moderator, last year, Mike Burk would become the moderator. After an hour or so of working through that motion, objections, amendments, and so on, the movement actually passed, but with Mr. Smith stating his intention not to do any such thing.

When we reached the Town Council Resolution, which authorizes the Town Council to “transfer ownership” of various unneeded buildings for more than fair market value or give them away to “a non-profit or government entity,” TCC President Dave Nelson moved to amend the resolution to get rid of the giving away stuff. Several people noted that there would be no tax revenue should the property go to a non-profit, and the amendment and motion passed.

Resident Dana Allcock also amended the resolution to ensure that the proceeds would go to the debt on our three new elementary schools, but he withdrew the motion after copious debate and statement of the fact that the next resolution on the docket took that action.

When it came to that resolution (the first “taxpayer resolution”), Council Member Ed Roderick moved to postpone discussion indefinitely on the grounds that the matter had already been considered during discussion of the previous resolution. I argued that Allcock had withdrawn that amendment from consideration, so the only purpose to postponing the taxpayer resolution would be to prevent its receiving a vote. Then, I had to defend a subsequent motion to move the motion from a collection of folks, beginning with Town Councilor Louise Durfee, who attempted to change the “move the motion” discussion into a debate on the resolution. (It gets confusing, but essentially, their intention was to ignore my motion to stop debate.) Ultimately, my motion was moved, but the resolution failed 514 to 481.

That’s when things got hairy.

Resident Bob Martin moved that we take the agenda items out of order and “skip to page 8,” on which the school appropriation appears. Anticipating the opposition’s intention, I put forward a parliamentary inquiry suggesting that the motion was actually to put the school budget before the body, which at least brought the rules of the meeting into effect to move the Budget Committee’s presentation first.

Budget Committee Chairman Jeff Caron placed his $20,047,961 on the table. Per the rules, School Committee Chairman Jan Bergandy got the the first amendment and put forward the amounts that his committee approved this week: $25,620,772, with a presumed $4.64 million to come from the state and federal governments (although the town would be liable for every penny that other sources reduced their contribution, according to the Rhode Island Department of Education).

Mr. Martin proposed an amendment giving the schools a local contribution of $20,666,622 and then attempted to turn his amendment of the school budget into an amendment of the entire town budget. I called that out of order, and the moderator agreed. Resident Deb Pallasch appealed the decision on the grounds that moderator’s rule number 6 made a motion to move the docket in order. I argued that rule number 6 merely states that such motions require a majority vote; it does not make them in order when any other similar motion would be out of order. Otherwise, I could have made a different motion to move the entire docket right then and there and take the floor.

In much escalating confusion, we ultimately won because Martin withdrew everything but the school appropriation amendment.

Next, Dave Nelson made an amendment to give the schools the full remaining tax increase up to the cap, which added $27,500 to the Budget Committee’s number.

For the last allowable amendment, Pallasch moved $25,620,723, but didn’t know the local amount. She said it was the same as Bergandy’s, so essentially she’s assuming $1 more in aid. In other words, she just wanted to use up the last allowable amendment. However, her bumble of the presentation highlighted that the town would be on the hook for that amount (at least if you believe the Department of Education), and even some of the school supporters gasped. It results in a potential 22.3% increase in taxes.

But we proceeded with debate, and prominent Rhode Island left-winger Nick Tsiongas — husband of School Committee Member and teacher from another town Carol Herrmann — stated that, if the Budget Committee recommendation were to be approved “we’re going to” close an elementary school and so on. I’m a little fuzzy on the order of events, here, because the opposition deliberately threw them into confusion, but my recollection is that, when the debate was about to proceed Mike Burk moved the motion, and we spent the rest of the time allowed for the meeting defeating that motion so that the people of Tiverton could actually discuss such a massive expenditure.

I tell you this honestly: In all of the various strategies that we in TCC batted around, we never once considered an attempt to shut off debate on anything… let alone something of such importance. (I did extemporaneously make such a motion, earlier, but my intention was truly to move the dragging meeting along, and the matter had already been pretty well discussed in a prior action.)

At one o’clock, the moderator adjourned the meeting (until next Saturday), and both he and Mr. Caron wound up requiring the intervention of uniformed officers to deflect hostile residents. Meanwhile, I killed time while the crowd dissipated by picking up the remarkable amount of garbage that people had left in the bleachers and on the gymnasium floor and was berated by union-friendly resident (who appeared to have family under town employ) for voluntarily cleaning up a public space in my own town. (For more on that anecdote, see Anchor Rising.)

So, upon the reconvening of the meeting, next Saturday morning at 9:00 a.m. in the high school gymnasium, the present electors will take up the proposed school budgets in the following order:

  • $20,979,030, with a total liability of $25,620,773, for a tax increase of up to 22.3%, to a rate of $17.46 and an average property tax bill of $5,376.
  • $20,075,461, with no additional liability, for a tax increase of 4.48%, to a rate of $14.91 and an average property tax bill of $4,591.
  • $20,666,622, with no additional liability, for a tax increase of 6.39%, to a rate of $15.18 and an average property tax bill of $4,675.
  • $20,979,030, with a total liability of $25,620,772, for a tax increase of up to 22.3%, to a rate of $17.46 and an average property tax bill of $5,376.
  • $20,047,961, with no additional liability, for a tax increase of 4.39%, to a rate of $14.90 and an average property tax bill of $$4,587

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