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ACLU Issues Statement on Central Falls Receivership Decision

Posted: October 18, 2010|Category: Voting Rights

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The Rhode Island ACLU was one of only two organizations to raise concerns about enactment of the statute passed in June by the General Assembly, and aimed at Central Falls, authorizing the state to appoint a “receiver” to “distressed” municipalities. The law was introduced, heard, voted on and signed into law within the space of less than 72 hours. RI ACLU executive director Steven Brown issued the following statement in response to Judge Silverstein’s ruling today upholding the law’s constitutionality:

“This is a sad day for democracy in Central Falls and every other municipality in Rhode Island. The law that has been upheld gives the state unprecedented and open-ended authority to intervene in municipal affairs and take over the running of a city or town if certain relatively broad criteria are met. Despite Judge Silverstein’s best efforts to claim that the law is narrow in scope, the opinion itself belies any such claim.

“In upholding the law, the judge stated that although it ‘appears to be a broad delegation of power, those powers are expressly circumscribed by the terms and standards contained therein.’ But those standards are actually as broad as they could possibly be: acting for ‘the fiscal well-being, public safety and welfare’ of a distressed municipality. Those are precisely the goals and role of any municipal government. Indeed, in another part of the opinion, the judge acknowledges that the new law gives the Receiver an ‘assumption of powers whether they are of an elected official or relate to the fiscal stability of a city or town.’ In other words, any power an elected official can exercise, the unelected Receiver can as well.

“That there are virtually no limits on the unelected Receiver’s powers is crystallized by the judge’s ruling that the Receiver’s powers supersede those of the Mayor and City Council in making appointments to the Central Falls Housing Authority – an entity that the opinion notes is directly overseen by a federal agency and funded solely by the federal government.

“Lost in the parsing of the statute is the basic fact that the entire citizenry of Central Falls has effectively been disenfranchised, and no longer has any say in the running of its municipality. There is more than a little irony that, in finding that the Mayor and City Council have no constitutionally-protected property interest in their positions and thus can be relegated to purely figurehead positions, the opinion states: ‘Elected public officials such as the Mayor and City Council hold office for the benefit of the citizens of Central Falls and do not have an entitlement to their office.’ Left unanswered is how it is to the benefit of the citizens of Central Falls to have no entitlement to representation whatsoever unless and until state bureaucrats decide otherwise.

“The League of Cities and Towns has previously pointed out that a number of other municipalities could just as easily meet the fiscal standards for the appointment of a receiver by the state. Especially in bad fiscal times, it is particularly important that the people have elected decision-makers who can effectuate their policy choices. It is no reflection on the good intentions of the Receiver in emphasizing the serious impact this decision has on basic notions of democratic government for municipalities in the state and their residents.”

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