Valley Breeze

The Valley Breeze Pawtucket 06-13-2018

The Valley Breeze Newspapers serving the Northern Rhode Island towns of Cumberland, Lincoln, Woonsocket, Smithfield, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, North Providence, Scituate, Foster, and Glocester

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22 OPINION JUNE 13-19, 2018 | VALLEY BREEZE | PAWTUCKET EDITION Lawyers are supposed to give their clients utmost loyalty and competent representation. If they lapse, chances are they may be on the receiving end of a malpractice suit. Sometimes, lawyers may be sloppy, since they won't suffer any harm if they work for the state. States have various immunities which render them immune from lawsuits, so most of the time taxpayers can't sue the state's agent, i.e. the state lawyer, for losing them money. Hence, the recent case where a Health and Human Services Dept. (HHS) lawyer didn't file a timely appeal which may result in a $24 million judg- ment against the state (actu- ally you, as the taxpayer) will,no doubt, see him sashaying out of the case without any legal harm to his pocket suffered as a result of any malpractice. He may be tagged with a misdemeanor for the unau- thorized practice of law since he was delisted by the R.I. Supreme Court in January 2018 and will not be able to practice law, but he will suffer no financial harm as a result of any neg- ligence. This case raises the issue of the due diligence of agency heads. State lawyers who work for the state should produce annual statements from the R.I. Supreme Court that they are in good stand- ing in order to continue on the job, a practice now mandated by the gover- nor on June 8. What is pretty surprising also in the HHS lawyer case above is that for over 10 years the attorney didn't submit the forms to a Commission with an executive director and staff and whose job it is too monitor compli- ance with a state practice requirement that lawyers secure 10 Continuing Legal Education (CLE) cred- its each year in order to maintain a legal license. An investigation into that office should be instituted as to why it took so long to catch up with the miscreant lawyer. The Commission also failed to find out in a timely manner that another HHS lawyer who also missed taking the requisite courses was still work- ing as an attorney for two years after his delisting. The Providence Journal also discovered that the chief legal counsel in the R.I. Department of Education is not licensed to practice law in the state. That depart- ment acknowledges that it knew she wasn't licensed but gave the lame excuse that her role is supervi- sory and she doesn't go to court. How somebody who hasn't passed the R.I. bar is supposed to "supervise" lawyers who do the litiga- tion remained unanswered. It also is a lame excuse. David Logan, a law pro- fessor at Roger Williams University is quite correct in observing that Rhode Island law is quite clear that a lawyering is practic- ing law even when outside the courtroom, including supervising the work of other attorneys. Jim Hummel of the Hummel Report also uncovered that the state lost a case this month because a RIDOT attorney didn't object in a timely manner to a request for admissions by a plaintiff suing the state. A projected $4 million may have to be paid because of letting the time lapse. The governor's issuance of an executive order to check the law credentials of attorneys who work for the state is a right first step as well as the new monitoring mechanism of the central registry of cases which put the state on the hook for $100,000 or more, if lost. Violet is an attorney and for- mer state attorney general. Legal lapses, lame excuses There were two important stories for Cumberland read- ers last week. Both by Ethan Shorey, one noted the explo- sion of overtime costs as a result of the Cumberland Fire Department's injured-on-duty claims. The other was the town budget story and how Town Council members, in a feud with Mayor Bill Murray, gave more money to schools, taking some of it from various town hall accounts. In the Fire Department story, it was noted that the budget will go up by about $460,000, or 5.8 percent. The overtime line will go up by $470,073, because the past 12 months was a bad year for both firefighters and taxpayers, with 11 major injury incidents. Because of those injuries and the fear of more in the future, "Taxes did go up the maxi- mum we could tax," said Fire Board Chairwoman Cindy Ouellette. Bills are arriving now. On the other side of town, the council took the mayor's "contingency account from $5,000 to zero," some of which is used for a Town Hall Christmas party, according to the mayor. Bah, humbug! Cumberland is a town where actual dollars available to fire- fighters in overtime will go up by a half million dollars. But at Town Hall, the staff will be lucky to get an employee-paid box of Dunkin' munchkins and water from the bubbler for their Christmas party. Yes, we're in the Twilight Zone. And it's embarrassing. The source of this taxpayer pain is a separate fire depart- ment, with its own taxing authority. Created four years ago in an agreed upon plan backed by the voters, fire districts, and the General Assembly, the unified depart- ment was supposed to create savings with shared men and resources. Everyone expected that sharing of firefighters and equipment across fire district lines would lead to savings. Unfortunately, those savings never materialized. In an April story, Ouellette told us that Cumberland's consolidated department may never lead to savings, and that other towns considering merger should get the notion of savings out of their heads. Today, the situation is bad enough that a hoped-for new fire station in Ashton is out of reach. Further, the state's Auditor General office has been called in to offer help. It's probably time to move on to the next step – making the town's fire department a municipal department under the purview of the Town Council and mayor. While a fire department – with its costly personnel mandates – is different than police, parks, highway and municipal depart- ments, I'm sure councilors can handle it. They do in almost every other city and town. Consolidation was an experiment, and one I and a large majority of taxpayers supported. I don't blame any politician from the past who brought this upon us. It should have worked, but we have to face the fact that it failed. So far, Mayor Bill Murray and challenger Jeff Mutter have announced that they want to serve the next two years as mayor. While the fire department might not be "top of mind" because it is current- ly independent from the town and its budget, I expect voters will be looking for a better answer here. The genesis of the disagree- ment between the two can- didates, as I understand it, is school funding. While Murray has tried to hold the line on spending, others who back Mutter have for years sought more money for schools. In the backdrop, however, looms a fire department consolida- tion that has failed, invited state oversight, and offers up large tax increases annually. This fall, candidates for office will not be able to get off the hook by saying "That's not my job" with regards to the fire department. Whether taxpayers pay from their left pocket (school/municipal taxes) or right pocket (fire taxes) makes no difference to a family's bottom line. My question for both can- didates is: Do you support the current configuration of a separate fire department, with its own taxing authority, or do you think it should be made a municipal department? And if you think it needs to be a municipal department, what will you do – and when – to see that it happens? Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze Cumberland's experiment in fire governance fails From the Publisher TOM WARD Poli-Ticks ARLENE VIOLET ABOUT US The Valley Breeze Newspapers are a locally owned and operated group of free weekly newspa- pers serving the people of Cumberland, Lincoln, North Smithfield, Woonsocket, Smithfield, Scituate, Foster, Glocester, North Providence, Pawtucket, R.I., and Blackstone, Mass. Each Thursday, 60,000+ copies are distributed to retailers, banks, offices, and restaurants and other busy spots. Circulation is audited by the Circulation Verification Council of St. Louis, Mo. and has earned its "Gold Standard Award." OUR MISSION It is the Mission of The Valley Breeze to facilitate a positive sense of community among the res- idents of Northern Rhode Island by providing a forum for the free exchange of ideas, and to provide information of local events and neighbors. It is our further Mission to provide the highest quality advertising at the lowest possible cost to retailers, professionals, tradespersons, and other service providers in order to enhance the economic well-being of our community. Thomas V. Ward, Publisher tward@valleybreeze.com James Quinn, Deputy Publisher jquinn@valleybreeze.com Ethan Shorey, Managing Editor ethan@valleybreeze.com Doug Fabian, General Sales Manager doug@valleybreeze.com Barbara Phinney, Controller accounting@valleybreeze.com Volume IX, Number 43 June 13, 2018 valleybreeze.com @ Breeze THE VALLEY

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