I have just read Charlestown Town Councilor George Tremblay’s letter to the editor “Charlestown council did its job correctly,” in the Westerly Sun on Sunday, May 20, outlining his conception of the role of the Charlestown Town Council in general, and specifically as it was applied to the Charter Review Advisory Committee decision. I feel a response is necessary.
His letter posits that the Founding Fathers suggested that unfettered democracy was doomed to failure and that officials who are elected are “duty-bound to make decisions based on their judgments of what is in the best interests of the community they serve.” He further asserts that “[t]he council appoints applicants whose values align with the values of those that got it elected.”
Let us quickly dispense with one point. George Tremblay was not elected to the council. He was selected by the four council members who remained when a vacancy developed. His selection occurred in the face of a large number of citizens who spoke at the council meeting and in favor of another applicant. The reasons why he was selected instead of the clear preference of the citizens who spoke at the meeting was never clarified. Thus his comments about the duties of elected officials do not apply to him.
The assertion in his letter that council decisions are based on the judgment of the council members as to what is in the best interest of the community is evasive and incorrect. Any elected official is obligated to elicit and be responsive to the input of his or her constituents. The implication that the electorate, once choosing a representative, must forever leave decisions to the judgment of that representative is false. That type of government is called an oligarchy and is seen in countries around the world like Russia, Venezuela, China and others. In a democracy, representatives are expected, even obligated, to respond to the opinions of constituents. And when they do not, it is expected that they will explain their deviation from their constituents’ advice. This enables the constituents to understand and perhaps accept why their opinions were not considered, and to decide if that representative deserves their vote in the future. To conclude otherwise would obviate the need for public and open council meetings and for a public comment period at those meetings.
In the case of the selection of the members of the Charter Revision Advisory Committee, as in the selection of the fifth member to fill the Council vacancy, this was not done. It should be noted that Rule 13.2 of the Council Rules and Procedures states:
“The Town Council will continue the practice of appointing the best-qualified persons to boards, commissions and committees without regard to personal or political affiliations.”
Despite citizens’ attempts, the council did not explain why only three members were selected, what qualifications were looked for in their selection process, why no one was interviewed for the post, or why it took so many months for a process defined in a town ordinance to be implemented. To say that the council appoints applicants whose values align with the values of those that got it elected implies, implausibly, that the values of those who got elected always align with the electorate. This is even less plausible when the values and the desires of the electorate are not solicited and are ignored when offered.
Once again, I am forced to conclude that those with new voices and thoughts are needed on the Charlestown Town Council.