Now that the House Finance Committee has released its proposed budget, it’s worth noting that most of Governor Chafee’s municipal relief package is not contained in the document. Readers familiar with my opinions will know what I think of that; so I wanted to use that fact to highlight another set of facts: that things at the municipal level, and particularly the school level, are crying out for change.
When I testified at the State House on the Governor’s proposal I pointed out how school committee attorneys use the current broken system of laws governing everything from contract negotiations to lay-offs to enrich themselves : to the detriment of teachers, students, and citizens. For example, between August 2008 and early 2011, the firm of Little, Mederios, Kinder, Bulman, & Whitney, PC, was paid $1,363,989.96 for their legal advice to the school committee in East Providence. This extraordinary amount of money was transferred from the public to private hands during (some would say caused) the worst labor strife the city has seen in years.
Why is this relevant now? Because it keeps on happening and no one in the main stream media seems to want to dig into the practice of how certain (not all) law firms bilk tax payers at the municipal level. For example, the same firm listed above was recently hired to represent the School Committee in South Kingston. According to an information request answered John Ritchotte, Chief Financial Officer of the South Kingstown School Department, since July 10, 2010, LMKBW has been paid $226,364.34 in legal expenses. The school committee has spent a total of $266,206.27 in legal expenses over that same period. The main lawyer from the firm assigned to South Kingston is named Sarah Rapport.
What has the town’s $226,364.34 paid to Sarah Rapport and LMKBW bought them? Chaos. Early this spring, after the terminations of three teachers, a series of protests erupted at school committee meetings. Local media like the South County Independent and The Narragansett Times have done a great job covering the discord, but state wide media has ignore the strife. It doesn’t seem to fit the story arc put forward by RIDE of collaboration and cooperation.
But that’s another story. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe that’s the point – maybe the whole point of this is to show that what is really happening at the municipal level and the school committee level has multiple perspectives. Too often we only get one side of the story shared by the media, especially the dominant media sources in this state. When you drill down and really start to look at root causes of problems at the local level and say “hey wait a minute…..” and see a high powered Providence law firm travelling from town to town, earing millions of dollars by creating discord and disharmony maybe then the story has to change a little bit. Maybe the problem isn’t the all-powerful unions. Maybe the problem isn’t overpaid public sector workers. Maybe there is a different problem we need to address.