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Providence City Charter Proposal Would Allow City Officials to “Flout Any Laws They Wish To”

Posted: July 27, 2012|

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A proposed revision to the Providence City Charter could essentially allow “the Mayor and the City Council to flout any laws they wish to,” the Rhode Island ACLU argued in testimony submitted to a Providence City Council committee last night.

The Ordinance Committee held a hearing on a series of revisions proposed last month by a City Charter review commission. ACLU Policy Associate Hillary Davis called one of them “breath-taking in its scope and reach.” That proposed addition to the Charter provides that: “No contracts, agreements, ordinances, resolutions, rules or regulations, and/or by-laws shall limit, abridge or in any way impede the authority of the mayor and/or the council of the city to exercise organizational and managerial discretion to protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents, and to maintain the fiscal health of the city.”

In written testimony about that provision, the ACLU argued:

“It is hard to think of more far-reaching and wide-ranging language that essentially allows the Mayor and the City Council to flout any laws they wish to. As worded, a Mayor can ignore a city ordinance, breach a contract or disregard a formally-adopted regulation if he or she decides in his or her ‘managerial discretion’ that doing so will better protect the welfare of residents. The same holds true for the City Council which could effectively suspend a duly-adopted city ordinance merely by passing a resolution, without the formal requirements that repeal of an ordinance would require, in the exercise of its ‘discretion’ to protect the city’s ‘fiscal health’ or welfare. Whatever may have been the intent of this section, it amounts to a usurpation of the democratic process and contains unbounded opportunities for mischief.”

The ACLU raised concerns about a few other proposals of the Review Commission, including one that would eliminate a requirement that city legal notices be published in a newspaper of general circulation, instead allowing them just to be posted online. A recent study estimated that one in five American adults still does not use the internet in any capacity, and this lack is greatest among the poor, the elderly and people with disabilities. “While we recognize the incentives to move from newspaper postings to internet postings,” the ACLU stated, “these individuals should not be excluded from equal information and equal participation in government simply because of their lack of internet access.”

All of the testimony received at last night’s hearing by the ACLU and others was taken under advisement.

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