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Curmudgeon's Corner: Thompson's resignation not exactly a surpise (OPINION)

January 18, 2012

I wasn’t surprised by Joe Thompson’s announcement that he is resigning from the North Kingstown School Committee.
I was at the committee’s meeting on December 13th when Mr. Thompson and his sidekick Bill Mudge stormed out of the high school cafeteria. Messrs. Thompson and Mudge were upset at a ruling by Chairperson Kim Page, supported by legal counsel Mary Ann Carroll, that a motion by Dick Welch to reconsider the vote on a $6.4 million bond issue was in order.
At a previous meeting Thompson and Mudge were joined by Melvoid Benson in voting against the bond issue. Mesdames Page and Lynda Avanzanto voted in favor. Committee members Larry Ceresi and Dick Welch were absent. Since a quorum was present, the bond issue motion was defeated. Or so it seemed.
Attorney Carroll said that her revised edition of Roberts Rules of Order allowed a motion to reconsider a previous vote to be made either by a member casting a prevailing vote or a member who was absent from the meeting at which the vote was taken.
Mr. Thompson, reading from Mrs. Page’s Roberts Rules, argued that a motion to reconsider could only come from someone voting against the bond issue and the motion could be made no later than the day following the initial vote. Presumably Mrs. Carroll’s leatherette-bound edition was more authoritative than Mrs. Page’s paperback. When Chairperson Page overruled his objection, Mr. Thompson said, “I can see where this is going.”
The motions to reconsider and to ask the town council to submit a request to bond counsel and hold a referendum on the matter passed predictably 4-3.
As chairman of the town audit committee, I use Webster’s Roberts Rules backed up by The Idiot’s Guide to Roberts Rules to run meetings. Both references state that motions to reconsider are peculiarly American and the most contentious motions of all.
The problem I have with Mrs. Carroll’s interpretation is that it is generally agreed that a body can conduct business properly brought before it if a quorum is present. If Mrs. Carroll is correct, any action taken by the quorum of a body can be overturned by a motion by a member who was not at the meeting at which the vote was taken. In other words, no elected or appointed body should conduct any business unless all members are present because any vote can be overturned at a subsequent meeting.
Joe Thompson made no secret that the main reason he ran for school committee was the firing of Gerry Foley as principal of the high school. Secondarily, he thought the school district budget was too rich for the town’s taxpayers. He was never specific about where the budget could be cut and was disappointed when his generalities were met with skepticism.
It will now be interesting to see if Thompson’s replacement lines up with the Avanzato-Ceresi-Welch bloc or sides with Benson and Mudge. The difference will be whether school committee meetings remain contentious and chaotic or productive and conducted with decorum.

n Several state employees, teachers and police officers have told me that pension reform is unfair because they have paid into the system throughout their careers. True enough. Pension contributions for teachers are set by law at 9.5%. Police officers and firefighters contribute 9% until 75% of their final average salary is paid in. General municipal employees contribute 7% until 75% is accrued.
There is, however, another side to the story. According to the footnotes to the draft audited financial statements for the year ended June 30, 2011, North Kingstown taxpayers contributed $1,342, 424 or 63.6% more than municipal employees paid into their pension system. Teachers contributed $2,960,658 toward their pensions while the town and state taxpayers paid in just over $5 million or 93.4% more than the teachers ponied up. Police and firefighters’ contributions totaled $574,186 while town taxpayers paid $1,653,985 - nearly 3 times more than the first responders.
Note that this does not address retirement benefits other than pensions, principally healthcare insurance, for which North Kingstown taxpayers paid $1,203,348 toward an annual net cost of $3,058,590 resulting in an unfunded liability of $4.5 million at June 30, 2011.
The public employee pension system is unsustainable even considering the recent reforms which are being challenged in the courts.

n Last Friday the commander-in-chief revealed the Obama war-fighting doctrine for the 21st century which appears to be based on Barry’s Big Adventure in Libya. Going forward, our nation’s defense will rest on the Navy and Air Force with emphasis on special operations and unmanned aircraft and missiles. To provide funds for Obama’s social programs, the ground forces will be cut.
Rhode Island’s senior senator Jack Reed says this will be good for the state’s economy because submarines will play a big role in the new military order of battle. Reed says this is due to the submarine’s virtual invisibility when submerged. This is nonsense. The United States placed sonic detectors on the floor of the oceans to track the whereabouts of Russian ballistic missile submarines and then stalk them with our attack subs. There is no reason China cannot do the same thing or rent the detectors the USSR doubtless placed to track our “boomers”.
President Obama and his advisers, including Secretary of State Clinton, believe that by relying on attacks by drones and cruise missiles and not putting “boots on the ground” the War Powers Act does not apply to “kinetic military operations” as our intervention in Libya was described.
Visiting URI lecturer Jeff Bachman asserts that the Obama administration launched 117 Predator strikes in Pakistan in 2010 and 145 such drone attacks in Libya. These are in addition to the cruise missiles launched at the Quaddafi forces by the Navy. Mr. Bachman says, “As long as there is no risk of casualties among the American military, according to President Obama, there is no war.”
Unfortunately, drone strikes can cause collateral damage. Notre Dame law professor Mary O’Connor asserts that the Obama-Biden drone-strike doctrine “has successfully killed approximately 50 civilians for each al-Qaida leader” in Pakistan.
There is, as I write this, a young Marine staff sergeant on trial for killing 24 Iraqi civilians when his squad was attacked by an IED which resulted in the death of one of his men and wounding several others. A vehicle approached this killing zone and failed to stop on command whereupon all five occupants were killed. A similar situation is depicted in the HBO miniseries “Generation Kill” and described in the book with the same title. Of course, this was during the so-called “combat phase” of the war so no one was charged.
The Marines then entered a house from which they thought fire was coming and where the insurgent who detonated the IED might have been hiding. While clearing this house 19 more civilians including children and women were killed.
I have yet to hear an explanation why this non-commissioned officer is on trial while there is no indictment of the highest levels of command up to the commander-in-chief who authorize the launching of a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone to take out a Taliban or al-Qaida leader that also kills 50 civilians.

Richard August is a North Kingstown resident and a regular contributor to the Standard Times. His opinions are his own. He can be reached at

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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