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Rob Horowitz: North Providence Must Reverse New Swearing-in Policy

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

 

Last week, the North Providence City Council unanimously voted to require citizens to take an oath to tell the truth before making public comments during Council meetings.

“Swearing people in will hold people accountable, it will assure that what they are saying is truthful. It will add professionalism, integrity and honesty to our proceedings,”Council President Kristin Catanzaro said. It is hard to resist pointing out that Council President Catanzaro has an optimistic view of the power of oaths to shape behavior, since a number of former North Providence Councilmen violated their oaths of office and are now residents of various federal prisons as a result.



On a more serious note, this action sends precisely the wrong signal to North Providence residents. Council meetings are designed to foster a free exchange of ideas; a place where residents can question the direction and priorities of their government and become involved in their community. With this one move, however, the North Providence City Council has essentially neutered the purpose of the meeting - chilling speech by requiring an unneeded and intimidating oath that raises the specter of prosecution if a citizen says something inaccurate.

There are few municipalities that need new leadership and energy from outside the political establishment more than North Providence. Further, in these difficult economic times, where staff and services are being cut back or eliminated, all cities and towns need the public to become more actively involved. Civic-minded volunteers can help mentor at-risk kids, adopt neighborhood parks and provide other services that our cities and towns can no longer afford. Further, by drawing on all the skills and talents available in a particular community, cities and towns can generate new ideas for more cost-effective, modern approaches to local government.

But our local governments need to set the right tone—one that encourages participation and new leadership. Last week, North Providence took a big step in the wrong direction. It is time to admit this big mistake, reverse this decision, and welcome all North Providence residents to play a role in shaping the future of their community.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.

 

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