Cards on the Table

[In a “letter to the editor” published in the Jan 30 issue of the Barrington Times, a resident, unhappy that the political leanings of the town have shifted over the past 100 years, expressed his hopes — and skepticism — for the all-Democrat elected leadership of Barrington. Here is my response to his concerns and questions, which is being sent to the Times, as well, but is longer than most letters published.]

I would like to thank the gentleman who congratulated me and my colleagues on our successful campaigns in a recent letter to the editor, entitled “The Tell.” I’d also like to ensure that credit be given where it is due, and share the congratulations with the voters of Barrington, the majority of whom succeeded in electing officials who share their priorities, values and interests.

That letter also posed several questions and expressed some hopes regarding my newly-elected colleagues and me. I only speak for myself, but would like to address those comments.

First, “kindly tell us who you really are?” -- My name really is Jacob Nathan Brier. However, on February 4th, I do hope that my name will become Jacob Nathan Sahner Brier. I have an appointment at Probate Court to have it legally changed. My wife’s maiden name is Sahner. When we were married, I began using her family name within mine name, unofficially. Now that I’m seeing my name written “officially” more often, I’d like it to reflect how I think of my name. This change is especially meaningful because we’ll also be seeking to legally change her name and our son’s name, so that we all include “Sahner” in our names. My father-in-law passed just over a year ago, and this formal change also serves to honor him and carry his family’s name on.

Also, everything about me listed at jacobbrier.com/bio is true, and offers a fairly good understanding of my background; a lifelong Rhode Islander who has worked in multiple industries and has a passion for serving my community. The “platform” section of my website is also accurate and relates more to issues in town, but I haven’t updated it since the election. I’ve been busy focusing on advancing those priorities. I’m also on LinkedIn and other social media.

That leads me to the next question, “How will you govern?” -- Honestly, I am new to government and am still learning the finer points of the “how” aspect. I can say this: I’m an active listener who is responsive to feedback. My goal is to take into account the many views of folks in our town and try to strike a balance. I will lead with my personal views, because as a transparent person, it was those views that inspired our neighbors to vote for me. However, I will not let my personal opinion stand between the will of the people, as long as it serves the good of the town. I periodically post surveys and will hold “office hours” in public to learn from Barrington residents. I have pledged and will uphold the promise to explain my votes and public actions. My website has a contact form; please feel free to use it to share your view on any issue, or email me directly, at jbrier@barrington.ri.gov. (This section will also cover “Will you represent all of us?”)

“What does the annual mill rate really mean to [each of] you? (if you know what that is)” -- First, for those who aren’t aware, the annual mill rate, or AMR, is a system of measurement invented by Samuel Slater as he was constructing Slater Mill along the Blackstone River in 1793. It is the rate of efficiency with which a mill can produce textiles. Just kidding. It’s the technical term for the tax rate, so that you don’t have to say “per thousand.” Ideally, I’d like to get that close to zero. I don’t think we’d have a very good town if we did that. I know property taxes mean a lot to my constituents, as they do to me. That is why the first thing I asked to do in an official capacity was to appoint to the Committee on Appropriations a fiscal conservative who understands the town’s needs and will be a voice of restraint in spending conversations. (That isn’t to be critical of the COA or to say they do not show restraint. I believe they do a great job, but the sense I got from many in the community -- particularly those who I am guessing did not vote for me -- was that this added view was desired.)

Next in last week’s letter, my campaign slogan was quoted. I appreciate it being called “catchy,” because that’s what I was going for. I disagree that it’s shallow, though. It’s an accurate, short summary of me. I have a few degrees in business and have been successful in a variety of professional roles. My business experience is broad and shows a trend of continued improvement. I’ve been volunteering consistently since I was 13 years old, and have served my communities in many ways (see bio link, above). I was moved to seek a seat on our Town Council for the purpose of serving our community.

“Democrats own it all!” -- I understand that as somebody who rarely votes for a Democrat, you would be frustrated by living in a community that has shifted its political leanings and voted for Democrats by a large margin in the last two elections. But, as stated in the letter, this is not the first time one party has held all seats. I agree that the Town Council and School Committee must produce. But, that’s true regardless of party; and it’s certainly no more true than in the days of old when it was entirely Republican. I would like to point out, though, that the Committee on Appropriations is both non-partisan, and elected separately during the FTM. It is rare that the Council appoints people. And as written above, in this case, the recent appointment is a conservative whose views are not in line with the platform of the Barrington Democratic Town Committee. The budget is not set by the Council or School Committee, it is proposed by the non-partisan COA and voted in by the town’s voters who show up. I encourage all voters to show up.

There were a few proposals for policies -- I agree that a less-than-2.5% increase in the tax levy would be a good benchmark. I think even lower would be great. I’ll share that suggestion with the COA. I disagree with a freeze on affordable housing plans. Here are a few reasons why: 1) the state mandates that 10% of housing must be affordable, and that exceeds our rate of around 2%, leaving us vulnerable to state-forced development; 2) I believe even without that mandate we should have more homes that offer opportunity for people below the median income to live here; and 3) a blanket ban does not serve the unique needs and priorities of a changing community. A ban like that is an example of big government flexing its muscles, and I’d like to steer clear of that one. That said, I also don’t think large-scale developments belong everywhere and believe the town should ensure that any new development, regardless of value, fits within the Comprehensive Plan.

I think both the school budget and the town budget should “respect all taxpayers.” If that means we need to cut services or diminish our ability to remain leaders in education, emergency services, administration, and financial standing, I’ll take a hard pass. Respecting the taxpayers is ensuring that we continue to provide them with superior quality while looking for ways mitigate the burden on taxpayers. As for being transparent and collaborative… I’m in total agreement. That’s how I like to do things, and how we’re already operating.

I’ve never used the phrases “the new normal,” or ”we have what it takes to take what you have,” with regard to our town or its finances. I’ve never heard any of my colleagues say them. The steady increase of the tax levy is one of the things on which I want to work. The second statement sounds like a bully tactic, which I strongly condemn. I’ve been bullied, and it’s awful. I know I’ve done it to others in my youth, too, and feel terrible about it. I prefer to talk things out and make sure there is consensus, whenever possible. I’m not comfortable with the status quo; there’s always room for improvement.

I am truly curious what “tells” you have noticed that “portends to ever-higher tax increases.” I genuinely have no desire to raise taxes, and if I’m being misleading by implying to the community that I do want to raise people’s taxes, I’d like to fix that so I can be transparent. Might taxes go up? Yes. But only if its necessary in order to achieve the the goals and uphold the interests, long-term and short, of the town as a whole.

As for the hope that this group embraces “the ideal of limited government as envisioned by our founders,” ...well, I’m not entirely sure what that catchy slogan means to you. But if you mean to serve at the best of my ability to support the community without getting in the way of life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness; then yes. I passionately embrace that ideal.