Readers should be aware that I am currently a candidate for Tax Assessor on the Portsmouth Water and Fire District Board, in an election to be held Wednesday, June 13. Any posts bearing on that race should be read in that context. For my campaign page, please visit JohnMcDaid.com.
The Rhode Island Senate today passed legislation introduced by Sen. Jim Seveney (D-11) that would change the way drug awareness programs are approved and funded.
The bill (2018-S 2025Aaa) would amend the Rhode Island Student Assistance High School/ Junior High/Middle School Act to regulate and update the administration of the programs.
“Currently, there is little to no state money that’s allocated to substance abuse prevention in Rhode Island outside of the annual federal SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) grant,” said Seveney. “With passage of this bill, we’ll fix the flaws in the existing law and ensure that the programs are administered effectively.”
The legislation would place approval of drug awareness programs for minors charged with civil marijuana offenses in the discretion of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). It would also redirect funds from certain civil fines imposed to the general revenue fund to be expended by BHDDH to fund substance abuse and student assistance programs for youth.
“There’s supposed to be a fee on every moving violation that the Traffic Tribunal processes to go partly into a restricted receipt account and partly into the general fund to be managed by BHDDH,” said Seveney. “That money could amount to something approaching $1 million. Currently, we do not collect it. With passage of this legislation, we will. It also assesses 50 percent of all misdemeanor marijuana fines that the Traffic Tribunal processes and puts it into the same fund.”
The act would also mandate that BHDDH establish funding criteria for distribution of funds and require that municipalities that receive the funds file annual reports verifying that the funds are being used for substance abuse prevention programs. It would also make high schools eligible for the program; currently the law mentions only junior high and middle schools.
The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration, where similar legislation (2018-H 7221) has been introduced by House Majority Whip Jay Edwards (D-70).
Editorial note: Written from a State House news release.
The Administrative Board for the Portsmouth Water and Fire District approved a $4.32 million operating budget for its 2019 fiscal year that began on May 1st. The 2019 fiscal operating budget has increased 3.65% compared to the 2018 fiscal budget. The approved total budget, which includes capital expenditures and principal payments on debt service, is $4.75 million. There is a 4.51% increase in the 2019 fiscal budget compared to the 2018 fiscal budget.
There are no increases in water usage rates or base charges in the approved budget. The quarterly water rates are $7.28 for the first 5,000 gallons and $10.71 for all water use over 5,000 gallons in the quarter. The average residential customer that uses 60,000 gallons of water per year would have an annual cost of $624.04.
The Board set the District’s property tax rate at $0.21 per thousand dollars of assessed value, which is a $0.01 decrease from the approved FY-18 budget. For a District property assessed at a value of $400,000, the tax bill would be $84.00. Property tax revenue accounts for less than 13% of the District’s total revenue. The use of its taxing authority allows the District to issue general obligation bonds, which offer a more favorable interest rate than revenue bonds, when funding capital projects.
Philip Driscoll, Administrative Board chairman, indicated that the Board is working hard to properly maintain and improve the water system, and to improve efficiency through technology, while providing fair and reasonable rates for customers and taxpayers. To help improve the District’s operational efficiency, Mr. Driscoll encourages customers to pay District water and tax bills using the District’s online payment portal. The portal allows customers to pay by checking account, debit card or credit card at no cost to the customer. To pay online, customers should log on to portsmouthwater.org and click on Pay My Bill. Additionally, customers are encouraged to sign up for CodeRED to be notified of emergencies and shutdowns. Go to https://portsmouthwater.org/codered-emergency-notification-system/ to learn more and to sign up.
Editorial note: Written from a press reeleast.
Today, our campaign turned in almost 60 signatures on nomination papers, which is the first step to appearing on the ballot for the Portsmouth Water and Fire District Board election on June 13. The minimum number of signatures required is 25, but candidates always get extras in case some are not validated by the canvasser.
Collecting signatures is a great opportunity to have conversations with voters about their issues, and over the last three days, I heard questions about how water quality information is communicated and the relatively recent change to a quarterly billing cycle, among others.
I want to thank my friends Terri Cortvriend and Linda Ujifusa who helped collect signatures. Also have to say thanks to the folks who have already contributed to our campaign — because of their generous contributions, I can now plan additional opportunities to get my message out. Thank you.
For more information, please visit my campaign web site where I'll be sharing any election-related posts.
At a brief press event on the Bristol Town Common, Republican Stephanie Calise announced her candidacy for RI Senate District 11, taking on the incumbent Democrat Jim Seveney.
The Rhode Island Foundation is offering grants and scholarships through the Miss Swinburne Fund. Female students from Newport County and nonprofits that support the self-sufficiency and independence of Newport County girls and women have until April 6 to apply.
In 2017, the Miss Swinburne Fund awarded $42,200 in scholarships to 24 students and $22,000 in grants to local nonprofits, including Boys & Girls Club of Newport County, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center and Lucy's Hearth.
The fund memorializes Elizabeth H. Swinburne, a civic-minded woman of the early 1900s who established a school in her Newport home to educate young women. Following her death, the Civic League of Newport continued her mission until transferring its remaining assets to the Foundation in 2002 to establish a permanent endowment.
The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. Working with generous and visionary donors, the Foundation raised $38 million and awarded $43 million in grants to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities in 2017. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit rifoundation.org.
Editorial note: Written from a news release.
The Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC) Board of Directors announced the appointment of John F. Shea as Executive Director in a statement to media this afternoon. The AIPC said, "John Shea brings expertise in a wide array of policy areas, non-profit management, and addressing concerns at a regional-scale."
An executive search committee, chaired by board Director Sara Churgin, conducted a national search following the departure of former Executive Director Thomas C. Ardito in November. Said Churgin, “John has an outstanding record of non-profit leadership and has successfully built consensus among different perspectives to achieve common goals. Additionally, he is passionate about the region and the mission of the organization — we feel that he is coming to AIPC for all the right reasons.”
Shea most recently served as the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute, a non-profit economic and fiscal policy think tank in Concord. Prior to this, he served as Head of Policy & Economic Advisor to the Falkland Islands Government and established his own company to promote renewable energy investment in New England. The bulk of his career, the AIPC noted, was spent at the New England Governors’ Conference, Inc. (NEGC), a non-profit policy organization whose Board of Directors consisted of the six New England state governors.
“On behalf of the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission Board of Directors I am pleased to welcome John Shea to our Island and AIPC," said AIPC Board Chair Dick Adams. "John brings extraordinary strengths in leading complex projects and initiatives. As Executive Director of the New England Governors’ Conference he coordinated and managed policy initiatives, research projects and environmental programs, including climate change, transportation and pollution reduction action plans, and achieved consensus on numerous issues among highly diverse stakeholders. I look forward to working with John on Island resiliency, transportation, water quality and other issues of importance to Aquidneck Island.”
As Executive Director, Shea will work with AIPC’s Board of Directors, island municipalities, and other stakeholders to identify the areas of work and focus where AIPC can provide the greatest value to Aquidneck Island, while ensuring the continued growth and financial stability of the organization.
“I’m very excited to be joining the AIPC," said Shea, "And I look forward to working with all residents of the Island to address the opportunities and challenges facing our region.”
John Shea holds degrees from the University of Michigan and Harvard University. He will formally assume his new role as executive director for AIPC on April 2nd.
“We are pleased that John has chosen to live and work on Aquidneck Island," said Adams. "Please join me in welcoming Mr. Shea at AIPC’s third annual Newport County Legislative Forum on April 5th."
Editorial note: Written from a news release.
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!
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: “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."
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.
The 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.