Saturday, February 22, 2014

First, just show up

That pesky groundhog saw his shadow and we’ll be looking at snow and slush for several more weeks here in New England. I don’t mind though because the real harbinger of spring — the day when pitchers and catchers report — has arrived right on time. Unlike years past when Red Sox fans spent the offseason complaining about how the season ended, we closed 2013 with eyes bright and pride restored.

The first thing the Red Sox need to do to have a successful season is to show up. That’s right, just having everyone report to spring training with no drama is a good start. Remember the days when Manny’s grandmother died (twice) and made him late? Manny could have  - and perhaps should have – been fined for his absence. After all, he gets paid to do a job, so shouldn’t he show up?  Perhaps we should ask certain Providence City Council members the same question.

I was stunned to see the recent WPRI report about the no-show Providence City councilors. While a few had decent attendance records, some had an appalling number of absences. One of the worst offenders had missed 100% of the meetings for a subcommittee he sits on while another had missed 24% of the full council meetings. Let’s be clear, these council members run for the position voluntarily and are paid to serve. In return they are expected to attend full council meetings and sit on a few subcommittees. The salary is more than $18,000 a year, plus benefits, which include a full health and dental plan along with a cell phone.

Tara Pinsky, the chair of the mini-but-mighty Providence Republican City Committee had a great idea proposing an attendance policy that would allow for a certain number of absences before docking the member’s pay on a per-meeting-missed rate. While I expect her idea to get as much traction as a 1975 Pacer on icy College Hill, we must admit that the concept of getting penalized for not showing up is a novel one in a city known for no-show nepotism, accounting wizardry, and downright corruption.

For those of us who don’t live there, the problems in Providence are still our concern. The ongoing mismanagement is a weight holding the whole state back. Our taxes fund the problems caused by corruption or just plain lazy leadership. If the fifteen people who are supposed to be the most committed to making the city a better place can’t be bothered to show up for work, we can’t expect anyone else to care either. Every time the mayor’s office changes hands we’re promised aggressive, youthful reform. And every time it’s the same old, same old.

This fall Providence voters will have another chance to make a change in the mayor’s office and in the fifteen council seats. In 2010, ten of the fifteen seats were uncontested. It seems like all of Providence is just waiting for someone to show up.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The only game in town

For many of us, the Superbowl is less about crowning a football champion and more about getting back to baseball. About halfway through the game my thoughts turned to the pitchers and catchers making their way to Florida to open spring training camps this week. I freely admit that long before Peyton Manning mumbled his last “Omaha,” my focus was on the 2014 Red Sox and what the next eight months will bring to this championship team.

But fans of Little Rhody — and others who live here — should not let our minds wander from the game at hand when thinking about politics this year. We need to be focused on one thing these days: how we can pull our state back from the brink. You may have seen a little corner of the Providence Journal last week noting that thanks to Nevada’s improving jobs climate, Rhode Island has taken ownership of the highest unemployment rate in the country at 9.1 percent. The rest of the country has officially climbed out of the recession but thanks to our poor education system, weak infrastructure, relatively high taxes and government regulation, we’re the worst in the country. No wonder Peyton Manning obsesses about Omaha — the unemployment rate there is just 3.6 percent. He’s not calling plays — he’s telling Rhode Islanders where to go to find jobs!

All kidding aside, thought leaders, elected officials, candidates and voters need to have a singular focus: getting Rhode Islanders back to work. Our high unemployment rate affects everything – people have less money to spend, hurting local businesses. Others fall behind on their mortgages and foreclosures clog our already depressed housing market. Everything else can wait; there should be no burning social issues on the agenda and we do not need to revisit any previously enacted legislation. We simply need to take action that will make Rhode Island a place where job growth is not an oxymoron. We have piles of studies that show how certain taxes drive away business and how making ourselves competitive with Massachusetts and Connecticut will slow the creeping tide of businesses moving away. Once we stop the bleeding, we can start to attract businesses, encourage growth and get back on track.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but those who are running for statewide office should be able to articulate their plans by now. There shouldn’t be a candidate in the race for governor who cannot give you specific ideas on how he or she would lead the way out of this funk. If a candidate starts an answer with “we need to have a conversation” then he’s clearly not been listening because we’ve been talking for four years about jobs and the need for policies that will grow our economy and lift us out of recession. Voters are to blame too. When we contact General Assembly members or even see them on the street, don’t ask them for a license plate — ask them what they’re doing to get Rhode Islanders back to work. After all, it’s the only game we should be focused on.

P.S. Red Sox pitchers and catchers report on February 15.