CRANSTON POLICE CAPTAIN MUST GO: Mayor Allan Fung has only one true option in response to the revelation that Cranston police captain Stephen Antonucci, the president of the Cranston police union, ordered the ticket blitz that blanketed two political wards with 128 tickets while the rest of the city went virtually untouched – clearly in retaliation for the two wards’ city councilors rejecting a new police labor contract. To use an old axiom, Cranston citizens weren’t born yesterday. Antonucci and his lawyer can claim coincidence and happenstance until their voices are hoarse but will never convince the public the ticket blitz wasn’t retaliation and an attempt to intimidate the two councilors.
The union-ordered ticket blitz was a blatant attempt to strong-arm the democratic process with the misuse of police power, something done routinely in third world dictatorships. If Fung allows this to go without severe punishment to those responsible, to include the firing of Antonucci, the citizens of Cranston will never again trust their police department – nor will they have any confidence that city council decisions are made without “gunpoint” intimidation.
DEMS MAKING “TICKET-GATE” A POLITICAL FOOTBALL: The mostly Democrat Cranston City Council was entirely correct in proposing that Mayor Fung turn the police ticketing abuse investigation over to the state police. Mayor Fung did exactly that, albeit after delaying the action for a long time. Now Democrats on the council are calling for an investigation of the entire police department and all of its actions. Clearly, the council Democrats – undoubtedly at the behest of the state Democratic Party – are on a fishing expedition looking for anything and everything they can find to discredit Republican Fung as the gubernatorial campaign gets underway.
Add to this the call by the chairman of the Cranston Democratic City Committee, Michael Sepe, for Fung to suspend his campaign for governor until he “is cleared of any wrongdoing” in the ticket-blitz matter, and it becomes extremely clear that rotten politics have entered the ticket-blitz investigation.
The “TicketGate” matter is a very serious issue of misuse of police power that requires thorough investigation and appropriate discipline. That process is taking place. It doesn’t help at all that Democrat politicians are trying to turn the issue into a political football. It only diverts attention from an issue on which Cranston citizens should focus their attention entirely. Democrats need to shut up and let the investigation proceed without more caustic and totally unnecessary rhetoric.
SECRECY LAW ON POLICE DISCIPLINE MUST BE OVERTURNED: The General Assembly has a lot on its plate this session and it should not be burdened with minor, inconsequential matters. However, the matter of excessive secrecy that surrounds the investigation of police misconduct in Rhode Island, and the thick, opaque veil that covers police discipline decisions because of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights law must be addressed by this General Assembly.
The ongoing controversy involving the Cranston Police Department and its TicketGate fiasco points clearly to this need. Only the culprit’s admission of his self-proclaimed “coincidental” actions lifted the veil of secrecy. Also in Cranston, the two-year suspension with pay of a police captain, a move that cost taxpayers over a quarter million dollars in wages and benefits, also remains cloaked in secrecy even though he returned to duty last week.
Yes, police officers deserve to have their privacy protected and adverse personnel actions taken against them kept confidential to a certain degree. However, police officers deserve no more of these protections than do the general public. Arguably, personnel actions and investigations regarding police officers should be even more transparent than those involving the general public since we trust these public employees with the power of life and death and the ability to take other actions that can change a citizen’s life forever. With such immense trust must come intense scrutiny of police officers’ actions in the line of duty. Let’s hope the General Assembly is listening.
RAIMONDO ERRS IN TRYING TO LOOK TOO LIBERAL: Gubernatorial candidate Gina Raimondo announced her campaign platform last week and, no matter how you look at it, the platform is about as liberal as it can possible be.
After doing the right thing in 2011 by engineering pension reform in Rhode Island, Raimondo was perceived as a conservative instead of a liberal (I refuse to use the term “progressive” because most liberals are far from progressive). Pension reform made her very popular with most voters. Apparently, Raimondo now thinks she must re-market herself as the most liberal candidate in the field in order to cast off the mantle of conservatism she is misperceived to wear.
Her campaign platform includes rebuilding public school buildings, an assault weapons ban along with other tough gun control measures, forgiving college loans, raising the minimum wage and indexing it with cost-of-living-adjustments, providing universal pre-K, giving illegal immigrants access to drivers’ licenses, utilizing social impact bonds to fight poverty and social problems, and - here’s the kicker - “holding Wall St. accountable.”
Not only is her platform the most left-wing, liberal, anti-gun, anti-business, anti-taxpayer of all candidates’ platforms, it seems totally antithetical to everything Raimondo supposedly stood for when she pushed for pension reform.
Raimondo has already lost the left-wing union votes and won’t get them back. Kow-towing to minorities won’t take votes from Angel Taveras. Her big-spending ideas won’t enamor her to taxpayers or to the business community. And her anti-gun stance will alienate her from hunters, gun sports enthusiasts and Second Amendment advocates.
With enough leftist planks in her platform to make everyone angry about something, Raimondo has decreased her odds to prevail in the race for governor. And the fact that she included just about everything possible in her platform says that she doesn’t really have a platform - that she doesn’t really know where she stands.
Using the words of the inimitable Yogi Berra, here’s a warning to Gina: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else.” With this platform, that “someplace else” certainly will not be the governor’s office.
TAX PROPOSALS ARE NO-BRAINERS: A bill is being introduced in the General Assembly to raise the estate tax threshold to $2 million. For decades our “death tax” threshold of under $1 million has provided a huge incentive for retirees to leave Rhode Island for states with more reasonable estate taxes. A paid-for house, a savings account and a few stocks can easily cause an estate to meet Rhode Island’s unusually low threshold. Business organizations want the threshold to be set even higher, at $3 million. But even raising it to $2 million is a no-brainer that our legislators should jump on.
Additionally, Governor Chafee, in his State of the State address that included his budget proposals for next fiscal year, proposed reducing the corporate tax rate from 9 percent to 6 percent. Another outstanding proposal that legislators should embrace. Maybe there finally is a groundswell of opinion among Rhode Island politicians that something has to be done to improve our little state’s business environment.
ONLY IN RHODE ISLAND: In yet another indication of how Rhode Island’s bureaucracy continues to grow government and inflate costs, Governor Chafee and the state board of education have decided that our little state needs three “boards” of education. Remember when we had two, one for elementary and secondary education and one for higher education? Well, it can be argued that we took one step forward when the legislature opted to cut the educational oversight from two boards to one. Now, we are going to increase from one board to three boards - back to one for elementary/secondary education, one for higher education, and one to oversee both of those boards. Yep, it’s a classic example of taking one step forward and two backward - in this case, it’s virtually literal.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Breathing is not a 3-credit course!” That was the closing comment by online reader “Bendover” in a response to this column’s piece last week about how our high school graduation requirements have become laughable, especially with the recent state decision to grant diplomas to failing students who have been accepted to non-SAT colleges. The reader pointed out that what we give in lieu of legitimate high school diplomas are, in essence, “certificates of participation” that do not reflect readiness for college, the workplace or the military. The quote was clearly meant to emphasize that such “diplomas” are given for simply existing. There’s a problem when we make so many non-graduation options available that the incentive to actually meet graduation requirements disappears.