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Carol Anne Costa: Can Rhode Island Emerge from its Funk?

Thursday, March 06, 2014

 

A new era of tough love, true words and action CAN start a journey toward reform, believes Carol Anne Costa.

As I write this column the Bryant University's Hassenfeld Institute, which is headed by Golocal mindsetter Gary Sasse, released a poll showing that 82% of Rhode Islanders are unhappy with the state's leadership. It hit the news cycle with a vengeance further confirming some of what we already knew; we are tired, fed up and depressed. The poll is part of a new initiative called Job One: Leadership, sponsored by the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership, the Providence Journal, and RI PBS. The poll also notes that the state's electorate remain down on leadership in almost every category across the board. The numbers feel as depressing as our job market and economy. You can hear Charlie Brown loud and clear, “Good grief.” This new information is just another example of the absolute rut we find ourselves in, as we struggle to find bright spots, innovation and a lifeline for our beloved RI. Still, all that seems to lay ahead is a small dark tunnel; confining, claustrophobic and each day feeling like there is no light at the end and even more like a grave in which we will be buried alive.

The bad rankings are taking a toll

As Rhode Island resides at the bottom of so many rankings; business climate, tax burdens, infrastructure, and so many more, our motto “Hope” is shuffling along with slumped shoulders and singing the blues big time. What are we to do amidst this complete and utter funk? We are seeking transformative results without paying close attention to the small stuff, and yes it’s time to start sweating. The dark cloud is looming large over head and is getting bigger and gloomier with each passing day.

The feedback from this newest poll is once again staggering, as it takes the pulse of the average Rhode Islander, replete with the requisite amount of doubt and concern which is quickly fermenting into to total shutdown. When the electorate is asked to rank the following skills of the state’s leaders who are tasked in great part to solve our collective woes. The tallies involving the skill set of our folks at the top looked like this: Problem solving 49%- POOR, communications 29% - POOR, integrity 38% - POOR, fiscal management 54% - POOR, responsiveness 29% - POOR, accessible 28% - POOR, leading people 42% - POOR and conflict management 35% - POOR. These numbers exude the enthusiasm of a sloth. If you listen hard you can hear the people of the state simply giving up and this “abandon ship” mentality is a very bad place indeed.

Advice from Mother Teresa

So, just like when I am down, I traditionally turn to people of faith for wisdom and encouragement, as they always tend to have a novel way of facing bad things. It was Mother Teresa who said, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." This is sound advice from this diminutive woman and powerful soul. This quote has often given me perspective in the day to day world in which we all toil. It provides the insight to realize that it is through effective transactions, transformation can happen. Perhaps we have been focusing on the big changes while turning our eyes away from the sound and solid and best practices that make bureaucracies and governments actually work. Have we been over thinking solutions and going for the grandiose rather than the nuts and bolts? I feel transformation will never occur without reworking the transactions - the small things.

Past cuts still haunt

1,016 full-time positions, or about 7 percent of the state work force, was slashed by the Carcieri administration in 2007 in order to fill a 100 million dollar hole, and the state has been reeling ever since. Only a few departments have gotten the transactions right and rolled with the personnel cuts, by rethinking the tasks at hand. Among them the Department of Health which has remained nimble and provided excellent communications and action in response to public health emergencies. As I write this, they are responding to a measles scare. They do transactions well. Then there was the RI Bureau of Audits ranked 9th in the nation by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) one of the country’s oldest and largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organizations. They categorized the RI Bureau as one of the highest performing state internal audit agencies in the country. It performed transactions well and saved money for the state only to be gutted and oversight moved to the Governor's Office in 2012 by Governor Chafee's first budget. Maybe we get vertigo at the top of the list...

When and until the state is ready to accept that the old state worker model is broken, pure politics can hinder progress on the ground and be ready move ahead with new vision, our state and its government are doomed. Let me be clear, it is not the fault of the workers. They are leaderless on so many levels. And, in my view this is how we began this rudderless journey to the here and now. My concern is that as the bloated budgets at the top of state departments and the legislature grow and swell the people who are tasked to do the transactions are left demoralized. They are provided little or no tools, vision or leadership to do the the real work of government - the transactions. How can we possibly think of transformation if we can’t even do the transactions? It is near impossible. Have you spoken to an ordinary Rhode Islander who has interacted with a state agency lately? Have you spoken with a state worker who has shouldered the burden of cuts, barbs and public wrath? Believe me no one is in a good place.

In order to emerge from this funk, it will take bold vision, innovative thinking and a leader willing to take the General Assembly, by the scruff of the neck and make them legislate for the people and not the next election. If a new leader comes forth and does that as transaction #1 then handholding will end and transformation can begin. A new era of tough love, true words and action start a journey toward reform. Until a person or persons steps up and does that small thing with great love, we can all brace for the spiral; right down the tubes.

 

Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.

 

Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s Most Unemployed Cities and Towns

Below are the unemployment rates for Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns from August 2013.  

The statewide average for the month was 9.1% -- the third highest rate in the country.  

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#39 Narragansett

Latest Unemployment Rate: 6.0

Labor Force: 9,244

Employed: 8,688

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 9.0 (January 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 5.6 (September 2012, June 2013)

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#37 (Tie) Jamestown

Latest Unemployment Rate: 6.5

Labor Force: 3,014

Employed: 2,818

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 9.5 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 5.7 (June 2013)

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#37 (Tie) New Shoreham

Latest Unemployment Rate: 6.5

Labor Force: 1,507

Employed: 1,409

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 30.9 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 5.0 (August 2011)

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#36 Barrington

Latest Unemployment Rate: 6.8

Labor Force: 8,211

Employed: 7,651

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 8.8 (August 2011)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 6.4 (April, May, July 2013)

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#35 Richmond

Latest Unemployment Rate: 6.9

Labor Force: 4,316

Employed: 4,018

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 8.5 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 5.2 (May 2013)

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#34 Glocester

Latest Unemployment Rate: 7.2

Labor Force: 5,893

Employed: 5,470

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 10.7 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 6.4 (June 2013)

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#33 North Kingstown

Latest Unemployment Rate: 7.3

Labor Force: 15,033

Employed: 13,939

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 10.5 (January, February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 6.6 (June 2013)

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#32 Little Compton

Latest Unemployment Rate: 7.4

Labor Force: 1,904

Employed: 1,763

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 12.4 (January 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 6.9 (April 2013)

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#31 Middletown

Latest Unemployment Rate: 7.5

Labor Force: 7,917

Employed: 7,325

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 13.5 (January 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.1 (June 2013)

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#30 Portsmouth

Latest Unemployment Rate: 7.6

Labor Force: 9,362

Employed: 8,651

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 11.5 (January 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 6.6 (June 2013)

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#28 (Tie) Bristol

Latest Unemployment Rate: 8.0

Labor Force: 12,455

Employed: 11,457

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 10.6 (January 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 6.6 (June 2013)

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#28 (Tie) Westerly

Latest Unemployment Rate: 8.0

Labor Force: 11,917

Employed: 10,961

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 11.2 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 6.8 (September 2012)

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#27 Smithfield

Latest Unemployment Rate: 8.3

Labor Force: 11,781

Employed: 10,799

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 10.4 (August 2011, February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 5.7 (June 2013)

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#25 (Tie) Foster

Latest Unemployment Rate: 8.4

Labor Force: 2,701

Employed: 2,475

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 13.4 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.9 (June 2012)

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#25 (Tie) N. Smithfield

Latest Unemployment Rate: 8.4

Labor Force: 3,014

Employed: 2,818

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 9.8 (August 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.4 (December 2012)

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#23 (Tie) Coventry

Latest Unemployment Rate: 8.6

Labor Force: 20,279

Employed: 18,537

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 11.1 (August 2011, February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.1 (June 2013)

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#23 (Tie) Cumberland

Latest Unemployment Rate: 8.6

Labor Force: 19,055

Employed: 17,422

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 10.4 (August 2011, July 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.4 (June 2013)

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#20 (Tie) Newport

Latest Unemployment Rate: 8.7

Labor Force: 12,885

Employed: 11,763

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 14.1 (January 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.2 (September 2012)

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#20 (Tie) Warwick

Latest Unemployment Rate: 8.7

Labor Force: 46,308

Employed: 42,297

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 9.5 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 10.4 (August 2011)

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#20 (Tie) West Greenwich

Latest Unemployment Rate: 8.7

Labor Force: 3,678

Employed: 3,359

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 11.7 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 6.6 (June 2013)

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#19 East Greenwich

Latest Unemployment Rate: 8.9

Labor Force: 6,784

Employed: 6,178

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 11.0 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.5 (June 2013)

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#15 (Tie) Charlestown

Latest Unemployment Rate: 9.0

Labor Force: 4,506

Employed: 4,099

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 14.2 (January 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.1 (June 2013)

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#15 (Tie) Lincoln

Latest Unemployment Rate: 9.0

Labor Force: 11,781

Employed: 10,717

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 10.4 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.9 (November 2012, June 2013)

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#15 (Tie) South Kingstown

Latest Unemployment Rate: 9.0

Labor Force: 16,455

Employed: 14,982

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 10.6 (January 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.8 (September 2012)

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#15 (Tie) Warren

Latest Unemployment Rate: 9.0

Labor Force: 5,908

Employed: 5,377

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 12.0 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.6 (June 2013)

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#14 Exeter

Latest Unemployment Rate: 9.2

Labor Force: 3,865

Employed: 3,509

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 11.7 (March 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.6 (September 2011)

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#13 Tiverton

Latest Unemployment Rate: 9.3

Labor Force: 8,882

Employed: 8,058

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 12.0 (January, February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 7.4 (June 2013)

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#10 (Tie) Cranston

Latest Unemployment Rate: 9.5

Labor Force: 41,657

Employed: 37,682

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 11.3 (July 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 8.8 (April 2013)

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#10 (Tie) East Providence

Latest Unemployment Rate: 9.5

Labor Force: 24,677

Employed: 22,339

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 12.6 (January, February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 8.7 (June 2013)

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#10 (Tie) West Warwick

Latest Unemployment Rate: 9.5

Labor Force: 16,240

Employed: 14,693

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 12.9 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 8.4 (June 2013)

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#8 (Tie) Hopkinton

Latest Unemployment Rate: 9.8

Labor Force: 4,888

Employed: 4,411

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 11.2 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 6.6 (June 2012)

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#8 (Tie) North Providence

Latest Unemployment Rate: 9.8

Labor Force: 18,130

Employed: 16,347

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 11.3 (August 2011)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 8.5 (April 2013)

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#7 Burrillville

Latest Unemployment Rate: 10.0

Labor Force: 9,526

Employed: 8,570

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 11.6 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 8.0 (June 2013)

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#6 Scituate

Latest Unemployment Rate: 10.4

Labor Force: 6,166

Employed: 5,527

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 11.2 (July 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 8.4 (June 2013)

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#5 Johnston

Latest Unemployment Rate: 10.5

Labor Force: 15,645

Employed: 14,004

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 12.9 (February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 9.2 (June 2013)

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#4 Pawtucket

Latest Unemployment Rate: 11.1

Labor Force: 36,412

Employed: 32,378

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 13.7 (July 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 10.2 (June 2013)

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#3 Woonsocket

Latest Unemployment Rate: 11.2

Labor Force: 20,730

Employed: 18,409

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 13.6 (January 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 10.7 (June 2013)

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#2 Providence

Latest Unemployment Rate: 11.5

Labor Force: 80,605

Employed: 71,362

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 14.3 (August 2011)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 10.4 (May 2013)

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#1 Central Falls

Latest Unemployment Rate: 12.1

Labor Force: 8,348

Employed: 7,341

Highest Rate in Last Two Years: 15.3 (January, February 2012)

Lowest Rate in Last Two Years: 11.4 (April 2013)

 
 

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