To The Editor:
Last Saturday I went to the site of the new Library to speak with folks gathering signatures there. Individuals outside of the Pier Liquor Store held signs stating that the Library and the Liquor store could share the building (an undisputed proposition) and referenced the “compromise”. I looked up “compromise” which according to merriam-webster.com is defined as: “settlement of differences by arbitration or by consent reached by mutual concessions” Aside from Mr. Mannix inappropriately presenting a proposal (definition: an act of putting forward or stating something for consideration (merriam-webster.com)) for a new plan for the library during a public session unveiling the proposed 2021 budget, to my knowledge, no compromise has been proposed in 19 months.
The “proposal”, a violation of two open meeting statutes: a Meeting Agenda supplied to the public at least 48 business hours before the meeting (RI Statute § 42-46-6. (b)) and (RI Statute § 42-46-5.(a.)(5)) regarding executive session and real estate acquisitions. Clearly, based on the response from his colleagues, to his presentation that evening, no executive session discussion had taken place.
On June 15, 2020 Mark Davis, Town Council solicitor, added a motion based on a “compromise” between the owner of Pier Liquors and Library supporters which would enable the store to gain 1,500 sq. feet and several parking spaces for five years at the current rental rate with an option for an additional five years at a renegotiated rate. The problem? There had been no substantive discussion, and no compromise. Mr. Davis rescinded his motion saying he “thought” there had been one.
On Saturday, it became crystal clear to me how frequently Matthew Mannix has used the Trump playbook during his tenure as president of the Narragansett Town Council. The Mannix team has decided to use the illegal “proposal” and rescinded “compromise” motion to exhort people NOT to sign a petition that seeks to prevent this Town Council from selling the purchased property “…unless such real estate is approved by the initiative process…”. Their rationale: otherwise the woman-owned business presently on the site would be eliminated, which is based on nothing and is also patently false.
Unpacking this idea are several memes that I find repeated over and over again by the Trump wing of the Republican Party. First, make false statements and repeat them frequently enough so that people begin to believe them. Next, acknowledge that something will happen (i.e. a compromise), but identify harm using the tactics of gas lighting, “whatabout-ism” and dog whistling like, “yes the library can take possession of the Pier Marketplace building but “what about” the loss of the female-owned liquor store?” Or, “yes the library will occupy the building but only after they “compromise” by releasing several parking spaces and 1,500 square feet at no additional cost to the business”, and finally, “signing this petition will result in the loss of this thriving Pier Marketplace business”, despite the fact that since purchase of the building by the town, NEVER has anyone affiliated with the library made any statement regarding the removal of Pier Liquors from its current location. I have spent my adult life supporting and mentoring women in business, but the issue in the petition is the Public Library.
This whole exercise smacks of campaign rhetoric in an effort to show how the Mannix team and the “silent majority” are willing suddenly to compromise with the “angry mob” after 18 months of opposition. In Oklahoma, Mr. Trump used the phrase “silent majority” and referred to the “unhinged… mob”. Coincidence? I doubt it. Hearing these words felt like a typical Monday night in the Town Council chamber.