Playing at Sandywoods, Friday 3/16 -- hope to see you there!



On Friday, March 16, I'll be playing at Sandywoods in Tiverton in the Rhode Island Songwiters Association semi-annual showcase, along with the awesome musicians Lainey Dionne, Kim Moberg, and Terry Kitchen. Sandywoods is a super-cool venue where you can BYOB/BYOF and have a great time listening to these singer-songwriters I'm thrilled to share the stage with. Doors at 7pm, tickets $15. 43 Muse Way, Tiverton, RI, 02878. This will be a fun evening!

PHS reverses course; no suspension for student walkout

At a packed meeting of the Portsmouth High School parent organization last night in the library, Principal Joseph Amaral tried to allay parent fears about security and appeared to modify his position on allowing students to participate in a walkout next Wednesday, March 14. The first half of the two-hour meeting was led by district security coordinator Allan Garcia, then he and Amaral fielded questions from an audience of parents who expressed significant frustration with communications from the school.

One pressing question on the minds of many attendees was what was happening next Wednesday.

“So they’re talking about a walkout," one parent asked. "And I know you guys are anti-walkout, but having a conversation that’s student-led, which is what these kids want to do with this walkout, personally I think it’s a good idea.”

Garcia seemed as confused as some parents. "Anti walkout? Are we pro-walkout or anti-walkout?" He looked to Amaral.

Amaral responded, “We’re doing a walkout with all the students on March 14th to the new gym. Some students already came to me and said ‘I don’t want to be a part of that,’ so there are going to be options for those students to go somewhere else. The walkout to the new gym is working with the Student Council leadership. I’ve met with them at least three times already to ask what they need, how they want to work it, how they want to construct it, and there are students who would prefer to walk to the track. And what I’m trying to do is accommodate, and be sure that they’re safe throughout.”

That led to another parent commenting, “Okay, this is another example of communication that’s a little bit awry. Because the e-mail that I received says that you can’t do it. It’s not safe. So please, the overarching thing here: more words in the e-mail. Maybe more frequent e-mails. [If we had that]I think maybe half the people wouldn’t even be here.”

“We’re going to try to honor everyone’s preference to make sure that there is support," Amaral continued. "And I think that’s probably more generous than a lot of districts, other high schools that I’ve talked to in the last two days.”

That seemed like a shift in message to some parents. “I left that communication thinking that if they go down there, they’re liable to be suspended,” said one. “And that’s what they think, too,” another added.

Amaral attempted to explain his e-mail. “I think that the communication indicated that we’re going to have an assembly, and we’re going to do that, I’m still working with the Superintendent in terms of the consequence, because we have a policy in place. But I also feel this is an extraordinary event. What we don’t want to do is create a precedent. Because there will be situations where students will want to manifest their opinions in ways that are sometimes positive, sometimes negative. Suppose a student gets suspended and they want to protest that student suspension. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good idea. Especially when they leave. I’m still concerned. I have to be sure we protect those kids from doing stupid things. Getting out, getting into trouble.”

Approached for clarification after the meeting, Amaral had this exchange with a reporter:

Amaral: “What I don’t want to have happen is kids shaming other kids, making other kids feel bad. That’s why I’m offering all these things. Because as many kids as we know want to be involved in either the gym walkout or the track, kids have come to me and said, I don’t want to do this. And I want to honor those kids too. It’s not like it’s a unifying...I wish it was more unifying...but every kid comes from a different place. And I’m working with the Superintendent to make sure that because of the extraordinary effect of what’s happening nationally, with the students, and the things that we’ve been going through here, to be as flexible as possible.”
Reporter: “What was in that memo that said that people were going to be suspended...”
Amaral: “The policy was reiterated. That was not in the original memo. I’ll just say that.”
Reporter: “So that’s not operational now? If students walk to the track, if they take that option, will they be suspended?”
Amaral: “No.”
Reporter: “Okay.”
Amaral: “Is it possible because we have, because we have rules, is it possible that they will have to meet with me and have a deterrment, you know, say, hey, you did this, but it doesn’t mean that next week you do another walkout because you don’t like the lunch food.”

The clarity of communications from PHS was a major theme, as parents peppered Amaral with questions for most of the second hour of the meeting.

“My kids don’t feel safe here," one parent said. "The e-mail and the communication that has been given from the school — they’re inadequate.” [This received a round of applause from attendees] And to send an e-mail out to say that that child — and he needs help, to bring a weapon to school, you either feel like you need to defend yourself or  you want to hurt something, either way, you’re reaching out and you need help — and to say that child had no intent to do anything is ridiculous, to even send that statement out. I feel like this was a great presentation, there was a lot of talking on your part, and fine, [but] I don’t think we’re really addressing anyone here. [Security measures that were discussed] I want to see that. But what are we doing...how can my kids feel safe tomorrow. Because they don’t.”

“The kids are afraid," said another parent. "They have real reason to be afraid. There was an intruder with a knife that came into their place. And hurt a teacher. In front of them. So, yeah, we’re uptight because of the Florida shooting, but we were attacked here. These kids were attacked here. A teacher was attacked. They need help. The kids in this school need help. And I don’t know when that’s coming.”

“Something bad is happening and I think a joint communication from the administration and the police department to the parents is absolutely, positively, a necessity," another parent added. "[We need you] To say, ‘we’re on everything.’ We’re giving them all this information [that] it’s going to be okay, but if they don’t see you, Principal Amaral, and the police chief stand together united saying, ‘we’re chasing, we’re following, all these things that are going on in this community, we’re on it. We’re the professionals.’ They need that. They need it badly. So support us as parents, and do your job. Stand up in front our kids. Look them in the eye. Old school communication. Pull them in a room. Get together. Side by side. And say, ‘This sucks. This is tough. But we got you. We’re going to do everything within our power to protect you.’ They need you guys to do that.”

One parent raised the issue of getting professional help to assist the schools with structuring their messages. “Do you have a crisis communications consultant?" they asked. "Because if you don’t that’s the person you probably need most. [T]here are ways to communicate confidence. I’ll give you just one example. The phrase, ‘we found no evidence to,’ repeated many times in the communications. As we all know, Snapchat is virtually untraceable. So telling us you found no evidence of something is poorly phrased. And I mean that in a very constructive way. There are things you’re trying to communicate that a good crisis communications professional might help you with. And I do think that a more rapid response mechanism for the school system, with communications, would help damp down the social media.”

Another parent stressed the importance of involving the students. “At this point, you have a real credibility issue," the parent said. "So what you need to think about doing is whatever you construct in terms of this crisis communications, [you need to] get student leadership to partner with you. To disseminate that good information. So that all the students are talking to each other and spreading good information that’s positive. And that might get your credibility back.”

This reporter followed up on another concern that had been raised by the wording of the initial memo from PHS. This reporter had sent an e-mail to the Superintendent, principal, and school committee, copying in the RI ACLU, questioning what appeared to be an attempt to limit student expression in last week's e-mail from the school.

Reporter: "To be clear, you’re going to allow the students to determine the content of what they do on that day?
Amaral: "That was never a question."
Reporter: "That was a question based on how it was written in the e-mail."
Amaral: "The students are the ones that are creating...if you you notice the e-mail, it was written by myself and the students. They approved...every single student that was in the leadership of the executive council approved that statement. And that statement was done from the conversations that we’ve had about how we’re going to move forward as a school and how we can do it in a safe fashion. The content is something that the students are going to have to determine, and that’s one of the things that’s in progress right now. They’re going to determine what the fashion of the meeting is going to be like. Are they going to do the 17 minutes of the moment of silence, are they going to have songs and a tribute from their peers, those are the things that they’re determining. I’m not going to edit them any more than anyone else here. As long as it’s not disrespectful or hurtful to another student. That was the purpose. Nothing in that e-mail that I saw indicated that I saw indicated that we were trying to sanction or subvert student messages. That was something that...you can interpret that, but that’s not the message.”

After the meeting, this reporter followed up.

Reporter: “I apologize if I misinterpreted what was in that e-mail, that was just how I read it.”
Amaral: “I understand. But there was more information to come. I have to give the students a chance to meet. Today was the earliest we could meet, with the Student Council. I gave them until Monday to come back. And I don’t know, other than, individually, some kids saying that I’m going to do that walk to the track, [there has been] no leadership from that area has come to me and said, ‘I want to do this.’ If they had come to me before, I could have said, look, let’s do a sign-up sheet, do something, so I know who’s going, so I know how many people to assign there. None of that happened. I had to go to student leadership to say, look, this is important, we should do it, just the opposite of what you stated in your e-mail is happening. I approached student leadership and said, look guys, this I think is important to do, what do you think you should do. And then they debated it, and they took it to Student Council general membership, which is elected by the student body, and then they came back to me. Today was our third time meeting to come up with a plan that they want to entertain. It’s not about censorship.”
Reporter: “Then the e-mail could have been written a bit better, because that is what that e-mail said. That recommendation for a crisis comms person, that’s a real job.”
Amaral: “I’ve never heard of that, but I will mention it to the Superintendent. [...] That was one of the things that Sue Lusi said that we needed in our district, and we still need that communication piece, maybe that’s something that the Superintendent will put forward in future budgets.”

You'll notice that nothing from the first hour of the meeting is described in this reporting. The following exchange with Garcia took place at the beginning of the event, after he told a student with a video camera to turn it off and not record the proceedings.

Garcia: "Anybody here with the media? (Reporter raises hand) Okay, and what are you going to do with the information I provide today?"
Reporter: "That depends."
Garcia:" I just, and, uh, no offense, I cannot give away the playbook, obviously, to some of the safeguards we have here. So..."
Reporter: "But you’re going to discuss it with parents openly?"
Garcia: "Uh, yeah."
Reporter: "Okay."
Garcia: "I just...do you understand that I don’t want this published in any type of periodicals about certain capabilities of certain things because it would, you know, if somebody’s reading it that shouldn’t be reading it, you know, it could be a bad thing."
Reporter: "You realize that’s prior restraint."
Garcia: "Okay. You call it what you want."

To be clear: If there was anything in the first hour of the meeting that deserved to be reported, I would have included it here. And the district's safety consultant needs to understand the implications of government attempts at suppression of press freedom. When a government official speaks at an event at which the general public is present, there is no expectation of confidentiality. Prior restraint exceptions need to be narrowly scoped. Much of what he said in that first hour had no security implications whatsoever, and his request of this reporter — and demand that a student not record — was, in my opinion, inappropriate.

Two Portsmouth Democrats elected to state Women's Caucus

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 11.09.21 AM.pngThe Rhode Island Democratic Women’s Caucus announced the results of their first elected board of directors Tuesday morning, and according to a news release, Portsmouth's Michelle McGaw and Daniela Abbott were voted into leadership positions.

The new officers elected by the membership are Sulina Mohanty, Chair; Bridget Valverdi, Vice Chair; Jessica Vega, Secretary; Darlene Allen, Treasurer; Michelle McGaw. Congressional District-1; Jordan Hevenor Congressional District-2; Joanne Borodemos, Kent County; Tracy Ramos, Bristol County; Abby Godino, Washington County; Tracy LeBeau, Providence County; and Danielle Abbott, Newport Country. Also elected: Abigail Altabef, Town Committee 1, and June Speakman, Town Committee 2. The Board will serve an initial one-year term; subsequent terms will be for two years, per their bylaws.

Said founding co-chair Sen. Gayle Goldin, “Over the past year, the Women’s Caucus has grown to over 160 members, thrown a successful fundraiser, held monthly meetings, voted on a resolution to support reproductive rights, connected with women who are ready to run for office, and made sure our voices have been heard in Rhode Island. I cannot wait to see what great accomplishments this next year and this new board will bring.”

The Caucus — led initially by Sen. Gayle Goldin, Rep. Grace Diaz, Rep. Shelby Maldonado, and Rep. Lauren Carson — has engaged hundreds of women in monthly workshops about the political and election process.

The Caucus was reorganized in early January 2017, in the aftermath of the historic presidential election and outpouring of women voters looking to get politically involved.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

Rep. Ruggiero OpEd: Play Ball! But Where?

By Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-74)

ruggiero_oped.jpgI love it when my constituents provide input on issues. The PawSox stadium has brought many emails and calls from both sides of the bench. Many have argued about the economic importance of the PawSox to our state. I’ve sat through many, many hours of testimony in the House Finance Committee and asked many questions. Now that the bill has been sent to the House, my committee will have more hearings, during which I’m confident we can continue to improve the proposal and make it a better deal for taxpayers.

My first question was “Can Pawtucket afford this?” If they default, the taxpayers of the state are the back stop. Their fiscal analysis shows they can support the $18 million in bonds to pay back. Also, part of the deal includes PawSox developing 50,000 square feet for retail in Pawtucket, so the city will see tax incremental funding as well.

I would like to see the PawSox backstop the city of Pawtucket in the event that they default. The Pawsox could put $18 million in escrow, as security, in the event that the city of Pawtucket defaults on its notes. Each year that the city of Pawtucket meets its financial obligations (without taxpayer help), that portion of the security deposit is returned. Make sense? The owners are multimillionaires, and they can afford to have more skin in the game. Besides, staying in Pawtucket benefits them, because it would cost them significantly, probably millions, to rebrand themselves in New England as the WorSox (home team to Worcester, Mass.)

I don't know if people realize that the $45 million that the PawSox are putting in for this deal (including buying the land) is 54 percent -- the most of any Triple A deal in the country; most Triple A teams have put in 25-30 percent of the public/private partnership.

Then I asked, “Would the debt service be too much for the state?” Rhode Island currently gets about $2.1 million in revenues from McCoy today (with 400,000 attendees in 2016, and that’s the lowest since 1992!) The state’s debt service under the new deal is $1.6 million a year-- well below the annual income that the state already yields.

This is NOT 38 Studios. Curt Schilling was an amateur businessman with an unreleased video game who was over his skis compared with a Triple A team with over 40 years of history in the state. It is public/private money for a public use with public benefits. And to ensure 38 Studios never happened again, the legislature passed a statute limiting any state funds to no more than $25 million. Someone once said, “There’s a reason the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror.”

Finally, looking to the future, I wondered if the state were to not authorize this public/private partnership with PawSox and the city of Pawtucket, would Pawtucket suffer extensive blight and an economic downturn in 4 or 5 years? Pawtucket has already lost Memorial Hospital and the Gamm Theatre, and Hasbro is considering a move. On the other side, there are some pretty cool local breweries in Pawtucket attracting a young, professional clientele.

When you come into Rhode Island from Boston, the gateway to our state is Pawtucket and that old Apex building! Would Rhode Islanders regret and become resentful if the PawSox became the WorSox? Has Brooklyn ever gotten over losing the Dodgers?

The House Finance Committee will work to make the Senate bill a better bill for Rhode Island taxpayers. I suspect there will be more change-ups in this saga, but the first pitch will be thrown in 2020. The question is where?

Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, chairwoman of House Committee on Small Business, serves on House Finance and represents Jamestown and Middletown in District 74. She can be reached at rep-ruggiero@rilegislature.gov or 423-0444.

Sen. Seveney intros bill to ban ‘bump stocks’ on semi-automatic weapons

Jim_campaign_medium.jpgSen. James A. Seveney (D-11) has introduced legislation that would ban ‘bump stocks’ on semi-automatic firearms.

A bump stock is an attachment that allows the shooter to fire a semi-automatic weapon with great rapidity. It replaces a rifle’s standard stock, freeing the weapon to slide back and forth rapidly, harnessing the energy from the kickback shooters feel when the weapon fires.

“While federal law bans fully automatic weapons manufactured after May 19, 1986,” said Seveney, “The bump stock does not technically make the weapon a fully automatic firearm, even though it allows a weapon to fire at nearly the rate of a machine gun. This law would effectively ban these horrific devices in Rhode Island.”

In last year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, 12 of the rifles in the gunman’s possession were modified with a bump stock, allowing the weapon to fire about 90 shots in 10 seconds — a much faster rate than the AR-15 style assault rifle used by the Orlando Nightclub shooter, which fired about 24 shots in nine seconds.

The legislation would make it unlawful to possess, transport, manufacture, ship or sell a bump stock, regardless of whether the person is in possession of a firearm. Those violating the provisions, would face imprisonment for up to five years, or a fine up to $15,000, or both.

Editorial note: From a state house news release.

Letter to Portsmouth school administration about this morning's events at PHS

Subject: Fwd: Power Outage at PHS -- Request for follow-up
Date: October 30, 2017 8:23am
To: cortvriendt@portsmouthsc.org, rileya@portsmouthschoolsri.org, amaralj@portsmouthschoolsri.org

Hi...
I think PHS parents -- and the citizens of Portsmouth -- deserve a comprehensive explanation for what happened this morning. This storm was no surprise, and yet PHS seems to have been totally unprepared, holding students for 45 minutes with no information. I have heard that it was known that power was out in the building as early as 5:45am, according to communication from an administrator to a student.

Why was there no communication with parents? Why was there no contingency plan in place, other than to hold students in the cafeteria and gym, without taking attendence. This strikes me as a huge safety and accountability issue. The same goes for the dismissal, which I can personally testify was haphazard, with students visibly wandering off campus only moments after their parents had been notified.

I ask that the administration and school committee conduct a post-mortem on this event, including next steps to address identified gaps, at the next school committee meeting. If I need to formally request this at the Admin office, just let me know.

Best regards.
-John McDaid

------
John McDaid
@jmcdaid
harddeadlines.com

On October 30, 2017 at 7:57:22 AM, PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL (portsmouthhighschool@blackboard.com) wrote:
A message from PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL

To PHS Families,

Due to a late power outage this moring we will have to dismiss student early from school. Buses will pick up students beginning at 9:00 a.m. All students who drive themselves will be able to leave immediately. Students who will be picked by their parents will be supervised by staff in the new gym which has power.

Thank you for your understanding.

Sincerely,

J. Amaral

This e-mail has been sent to you by PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL. To maximize their communication with you, you may be receiving this e-mail in addition to a phone call with the same message. If you no longer wish to receive email notifications from PORTSMOUTH HIGH SCHOOL, please click here to unsubscribe.

Prudence Island Water District sets water and tax rates

Prudence Water District logoAt its regular monthly meeting on Saturday, September 16th, the Prudence Island Water District Board adopted a budget for fiscal year '18 which begins on October 1st, according to an announcement sent to local media.

The Board approved operating budget is $250,027. The Board also approved a capital improvements budget of $200,000.

Having decided this past February to implement the District's tax authority, the Board also set a tax rate as well as a water rate to fund the budget for the coming year. The tax rate was set at $0.67 per $1,000 of assesed value of property within the district with a total tax levy of $50,213. The annual water rate was set at $535.00 per connection.

The Board held two public informational workshops in July to discuss with the community the decision to implement the District's taxing authority. The Board also took public comment on the decision to implement a district water tax at its July Board meeting.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

Playing at the Big E weekend of 9/23

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 4.32.03 PM.pngNew England's "state fair," the Eastern States Exposition (aka, The Big E) kicks off in Springfield, MA soon, and I'll be one of the two dozen local singer-songwriters featured at the Rhode Island building. I'll be playing two 45-minute sets of original tunes, at 2 and 5pm on Friday, September 22, and at 1, 3, and 5pm on Saturday, September 23.

The RI Songwriters Association (RISA) stage will be set up right inside the door of the Rhode Island building on the Avenue of States. You'll want to come early and make a day of it (you'll also want to come early to avoid the traffic, which I've been told can back up as the day goes on.)

The Big E is an enormous, 17-day fair combining the best of 6 New England states, full of everything you expect: sheep shearing, butter sculpture, horse show, giant pumpkin contest, a midway, rides, agricultural demos, and main stages with top musical attractions in the evening. Of course, there's classic "fair" food — everything from burgers, waffles, vegetarian and gluten-free options to a "deep fried piña colada martini."

I'm delighted to have this opportunity to play alongside some of the best local musicians. A big thank you to RISA and RI Commerce, for this chance to entertain the thousands of folks who visit the Big E every year.

Here's the full schedule of local performers:

Time Fri 9/15 Sat 9/16 Sun 9/17 Fri 9/22 Sat 9/23 Sun 9/24 Fri 9/29 Sat 9/30 Sun 10/1
12pm
and 3pm
Burce
McDermott
Rick Quinby/
Dennis
Caussade
Wyatt and
Barb Lema
Lainey
Dionne
Jacob
Haller
12, 2, 4
Lisa
Bastoni
Caroline
Doctorow
Mathew
Gingras
Gracelyn
Rennick
1pm
and 4pm
Dennis
Caussade
Rick/Dennis Andy and
Judy Daigle
Michael
Gutierrez
John
McDaid
1,3,5
DB Rielly Rich Eilbert Morgan
Johnston
Terry
Kitchen
2pm
and 5pm
Alison
Guiliano
Rick/Dennis Kala
Farnham
John
McDaid
Ralph
DeFlorio
Rupert
Wates
Hal
York
David
Provost

OpEd: Lessons from Harvey: R.I. must plan with flooding in mind

carson.jpgby Rep. Lauren H. Carson

In recent days we’ve seen harrowing images of Texans carrying their children, belongings and pets against strong currents in chest-deep waters, and heard the heartbreaking stories of loss as one of the most-damaging storms in history wreaked its havoc on the Gulf coast.

Here in the Ocean State, we must take heed. We may be 1,800 miles away, but we are similarly at risk for devastating flooding in the event of a hurricane or other severe weather event.

In 2016, I led a special legislative commission that studied the economic risks that sea rise and flooding pose to our state. What our panel found was that Rhode Island can protect itself from some of the economic risks posed by rising sea levels through coordinated statewide planning and awareness programs aimed at policymakers, homeowners, business owners, and real estate agents. But we also found that we musts do more to ensure that all policy makers across the state grasp that the risks aren’t merely hypothetical. As a coastal state with a majority of our population and resources located near the water, the dangers to our lives and resources are inevitable, and we need to protect them before the next Harvey, Katrina, Gloria, or Carol comes our way.

Toward that end, this session I sponsored legislation requiring continuing training on sea rise and flooding for all local planning boards. The bill aims to ensure that those who have the front-line duties of determining whether, where and how we build our communities have the information and tools to ensure new development and redevelopment is built with an eye toward protecting assets from rising sea levels, which also affect inland and riverine municipalities. The training program has already been developed at the University of Rhode Island, having been funded in last year’s state budget, and consists of a one-hour course that planners can take for free online at their own convenience.

This is quite possibly one of the most critically important things we can do to protect public and private assets, as well as lives and livelihoods, from flooding. Empowering local planners to recognize future risks and require that future development protect against them will do more than protect their investments; it will also help keep insurance costs for all Rhode Island properties from rising rapidly, since high replacement costs and recurring disasters increase insurers’ costs, and property-holders’ rates. The insurance industry should embrace this effort to prepare for future risk.

This legislation has passed the House and is now awaiting Senate approval. The Senate Judiciary Committee had recommended it for passage by the full Senate before the Assembly unexpectedly recessed in June. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to see this bill through to the finish line when the two chambers return on Sept. 19.

Rhode Island must be more proactive in planning for flooding and sea rise. The devastating toll of human loss and suffering in Texas must remind us of the high stakes involved.

Rep. Lauren H. Carson (D-75, Newport) served as chair of the Special House Commission to Study Economic Risk Due to Flooding and Sea Level Rise.

Editorial note: OpEd provided by State House news bureau.

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