The following letter was written by Gregory Mancini, President of the North Kingstown Town Council.. It may be read online right here and in the January 11 edition of The Independent.
As many know, I recused myself from voting on the most recent bond matter that went before the voters of North Kingstown this past November. And while I did provide some assistance to local first responders who were advocating for the bond’s passage, I stayed out of the public debate, and so did my employer.
Notwithstanding my recusal some in our community regularly alleged that I had some sort of conflict of interest even though I did not even vote on the matter. So, reluctantly I submitted the issue to the ethics commission for determination.
The ethics commission staff thoroughly investigated the matter by conducting several interviews with myself and reviewing relevant material and provided a report to the commission who ultimately issued a unanimous decision. The decision said I could participate in council decisions on a potential bond question for the voters to decide because doing so “would not directly financially impact” myself or my employer.
Notwithstanding this unanimous decision, a friend of mine suggested that I continue to recuse myself because I will still be criticized. That is something I just went through. Another friend disagreed. She said the issue of my supposed conflict of interest was brought up each of the last three elections and in each of those elections you were the top voter getter. She further said that the people of NK have clearly spoken about this on multiple occasions. My friend went on to say that the citizens of NK elected me to do a job so in the words of Bill Belichick — do your job. So, I will the job the people of North Kingstown elected me to do.
I ask those who are tempted to criticize me for doing my job to have a conversation with me before you comment. If you do, will find out that I always respond to constituents and am always available to meet. You will also find out that except for at Quonset, to the best of my knowledge none of the organizations I represent do business in town. All anyone would have to do is look at our town building permits to verify that — they are public records. You will further find out that bidding laws require our administration to award any contract to the lowest qualified bidder. Regardless of anyone’s affiliation. Lastly, you may find out that I am putting my heart and soul into this job on pay for less than minimum wage.
Unfortunately, however, not one person in our community has ever reached out to me to discuss. Not one person. Yet I have been roundly criticized and personally attacked from behind a computer on social media on a regular basis, many times by people who have aliases or from anonymous contributors. Additionally, I am criticized by local individuals who block me but yet assassinate my character, something that is completely foreign to everything I believe in.
This is the state of public service in NK. People lash out on social media before reaching out to their elected officials. This lashing out is getting harsher and harsher. It is this councilor’s humble opinion that this is the principal reason why our community has had three school committee members resign in the past 17 months. Lashing out, particularly on social media, has even escalated to multiple death threats in the case of one school committee member.
Former U.S. Congressman John Lewis said that “When you see something that is not right, not fair, and not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” So I am speaking up tonight because the treatment of local public officials by too many in our community is not okay. We are better than that NK. Whether you agree with local public officials or not, I can tell you unequivocally that we are all participating in our democracy for one reason and one reason only — because we care about our community.
To those that have questions, rather than personally attack someone on social media I say reach out to that public official individually. Or better yet come to a meeting and make your case on the merits to all of us. To the silent majority, I ask are you okay with this? I respectfully ask you to speak up when your fellow citizens are viciously attacking those who are trying to improve our community. And lastly, to anyone in NK that think they can do better; I say step up and run for office. It is a lot more fulfilling than sitting behind your computer and criticizing those that are trying to improve our community.
These are challenging times and our community has difficult decisions to make. It is my hope that, in the words of Rep. Lewis, we all do something about it in respectful and constructive fashion that benefits all of us. Ultimately, however, the question of whether we act constructively or destructively is a decision we will be making as a community, and it will also be our individual and collective legacies.
Gregory A. Mancini
Gregory Mancini is the President of the North Kingstown Town Council