RI Historian Laureate's appointment should be terminated

Rhode Island has, among its honorific appointments, a "Historian Laureate," an unpaid position created by RIGL 42-100.1, and yesterday, Dr. Patrick T. Conley, the current appointee to this position, published a letter in the Providence Journal which openly attacked the RI Dept. of Environmental Management as arbitrary, arrogant, and intransigent, and blames RIDEM's "zero-growth bureaucracy" for the "strangulation" of the Rhode Island economy. It is an essay full of hyperbole and exclamation points, but lacks supporting evidence for its assertions.

The duties of Historian Laureate are described in RIGL in terms that speak to the importance of historical accuracy and academic professionalism, given the contexts in which this person is called upon to serve the state and its elected leaders:

§ 42-100.1-5  Duties. – The duties of the historian laureate shall include delivering historical lectures about pertinent aspects of Rhode Island history at important state historical ceremonies and observances at the request of the governor, the speaker of the house, the president of the senate, the chief justice of the supreme court, or the secretary of state; furnishing historical information or advice to the above-named officers upon request; reading and editing state-sponsored historical publications for accuracy upon request; and such other duties pertaining to the dissemination of information about Rhode Island history and heritage as the above-mentioned officers may from time-to-time require.

In my opinion, given the character of Dr. Conley's letter, the state of Rhode Island is not best served by continuing to recognize him in an official capacity, and I have requested that the Secretary of State reconsider his appointment.

From: John McDaid
Subject: Request to investigate and terminate the RI Historian Laureate's appointment
Date: April 27, 2014 at 8:41:33 AM EDT
To: aralphmollis@sos.ri.gov, sen-ottiano@rilin.state.ri.us, rep-edwards@rilin.state.ri.us
Cc: janet.coit@dem.ri.gov

Dear Secretary of State Mollis:
In yesterday’s Providence Journal, RI Historian Laureate Patrick Conley published a vicious attack on the RI Department of Environmental Management, including unsubstantiated charges and slurs on the character and professionalism of the members of this state agency. As a citizen and taxpayer, I find this incompatible with Mr. Conley’s honorific role, and I request that your office investigate this matter and terminate his appointment.

Should this not be feasible due to gaps in the enabling legislation (RIGL 42-100.1 provides no mechanism for removal) I am formally requesting my representatives, Rep. Jay Edwards and Sen. Chris Ottiano, to introduce on my behalf legislation to provide a mechanism for removal.

Best Regards.
-John G. McDaid
Portsmouth, RI

Here is Dr. Conley's piece in the Providence Journal -- its reproduction here falls squarely under Fair Use.

Patrick T. Conley: R.I.’s ruin in regulation and economic strangulation
April 26, 2014 01:00 AM

With the once-wealthy Southern states diminished economically by the destruction of slavery, the federal census of 1890 revealed that Rhode Island had ridden the crest of the Industrial Revolution to become the American state with the highest per capita wealth. Jobs were so plentiful (despite low pay and long hours) that immigrants flocked to Rhode Island from Canada and nearly every European nation.

The mills that we are now trying to recycle as part of our historic industrial landscape sprouted like wildflowers in almost every town and city. Providence, then one of America’s largest cities, led the nation in the production of woolen and worsted products, ranked third in the manufacture of machinery and machine tools (behind Philadelphia and Cincinnati) and was regarded as the jewelry capital of the nation.

Providence was home to the world’s largest tool factory (Brown and Sharpe), file company (Nicholson File), engine factory (Corliss Steam Engine Company), screw factory (American Screw Company), and silverware manufacturer (Gorham). These firms were exuberantly proclaimed as Providence’s “Five Industrial Wonders of the World.”

In addition, the city contained the home offices of the textile empire of Robert and Benjamin Knight. These successors to the Spragues owned and ran America’s largest cotton textile enterprise. To that litany we can add Providence’s Joseph Banigan, Rhode Island’s first Irish-Catholic millionaire and a founder of the U.S. Rubber Company. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

It would take a book to detail the myriad causes of Rhode Island’s decline over the last century an a quarter. My seldom-read books have, at least, summarized this industrial flight and plight, but where have we landed and why?

The answer to the “where” is easy. Rhode Island now has the nation’s highest rate of unemployment; we are near the bottom in the condition of our public infrastructure; our tax system discourages investors and drives out the wealthy; and we are burdened and stalled by the most difficult and cumbersome economic regulatory system in America. This over-regulation is also the “why.”

The Coastal Resources Management Council and, especially, the state Department of Environmental Management are the two greatest obstacles to Rhode Island’s economic growth. The arrogance and the intransigence of the DEM bureaucracy has made developers an endangered species. Intolerable delays are a hallmark of this agency. The state stagnates while DEM dozes. Whoever described a bureaucracy as “a giant machine run by mental midgets” must have had the Rhode Island regulatory system in mind — and on the local level it does not get much better!

Frustrated Rhode Islanders blame our economic woes, in part, on political corruption, but public malfeasance was as blatant here in 1890 (and 1790) as it is today. Yet we thrived. The state government that helped to propel us into the forefront of America’s Industrial Revolution was not politically virtuous.

In fact, nationally renowned reformer (or “muckraker”) Lincoln Steffens correctly described us as “A State for Sale” in an influential 1905 exposé. Charles Brayton, boss of the dominant Republican Party, frequently referred to his political associates as “fellow machinists” and observed that “an honest voter is one that stays bought.” William McLoughlin in his lucid survey of Rhode Island’s history accurately titled his chapter on this industrial era: “Prosperity, Respectability and Corruption.”

These observations are in no way intended to minimize the vital importance of clean government, but merely to show that it is not the panacea for Rhode Island’s economic revival.

Mindless regulation is the dead hand on the throat of the Rhode Island economy. Such regulation has become strangulation. Ironically, the success and the pervasiveness of our bygone industrial endeavors have created the allegedly contaminated conditions throughout Rhode Island that allow DEM to thrive. That arbitrary agency has mandated that we return a site to its pristine, pre-colonial condition before development can occur upon it. Our “lively experiment” is now conducted mainly in the test tubes of the DEM. If that zero-growth bureaucracy existed in the 19th century, it would be a wonder if our five industrial wonders (referenced above) could have acquired permits to operate.

DEM has become an acronym for “Don’t Employ Many!” Under the present system biologists, zoologists, chemists, agronomists, botanists, and toxicologists direct Rhode Island’s economic development and control its financial fate. Boss Brayton and his associates, for all their faults, would have been wise enough to confine these technicians to their laboratories where they could act in a mere advisory capacity. Instead, we have made them policy makers and development deal breakers. We have created powerful jobs for these few at the expense of the many and let the tail wag the dog!

Patrick T. Conley is a historian and a developer. In the latter capacity he has clashed at times with state environmental officials.