In his decision [pdf] upholding Rhode Island’s new municipal receivership law on Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Francis Flaherty outlined the sequence of events that led to Central Falls’ initial filing and the state’s subsequent takeover of the city. But did he get the chronology right?
Here’s an excerpt from Flaherty’s decision (emphasis mine):
And thus, believing there was no other viable solution to the city’s dire financial plight, the mayor and city council in May 2010, petitioned the Superior Court for the appointment of a receiver, a petition that was granted by the court.
At the same time, however, legislation that would enact a major revision to chapter 9 of title 45 was working its way through the General Assembly. Signed into law in June that same year, the legislation prohibited municipalities from seeking the appointment of judicial receivers, but instead authorized the director of the Department of Revenue to implement a defined process to restore stability to a fiscally imperiled city or town.
I don’t think that’s accurate.
My recollection from reporting on the situation at the time was that both the Carcieri administration and the General Assembly were caught off guard when Central Falls filed for receivership, and they had to scramble to respond. And as far as I can tell, the evidence backs up that account, rather than Justice Flaherty’s.
First and foremost: the text of the actual receivership bill [pdf] says it was introduced on June 8 – just two days before the General Assembly passed it, three days before Carcieri signed it into law, and three weeks after Central Falls filed for receivership on May 19. So technically speaking, the bill was only “working its way through the General Assembly” for three days in early June.
Perhaps, though, the legislation was quietly being drafted behind closed doors prior to May 19, then rushed through the House and Senate after Central Falls’ filing? Contemporaneous reporting makes that look doubtful, too.
Here’s what I reported in a PBN article on May 20, the day after Central Falls filed for receivership:
Larry Berman, a spokesman for the House leadership, said he had not heard any discussion about the General Assembly taking action to either allow Chapter 9 or do something else to aid Central Falls.
And then here’s what John Hill reported in the Projo on June 12, two days after the new receivership law was signed:
It was the city’s May 19 filing for a receivership, the state-law version of federal bankruptcy protection, that triggered the drafting and passage of the legislation.
And this from the General Assembly’s own press release on June 17:
The legislation, sponsored by House Finance Committee Chairman Steven M. Costantino and Senate Finance Chairman Daniel Da Ponte, was created in response to Central Falls’ entrance into receivership last month and to financial struggles facing other communities, and is aimed at protecting all Rhode Island communities’ bond ratings from potential fallout.
On top of that, a May 21 Projo story by Hill and Steve Peoples that rounded up reactions to Central Falls’ receivership filing carried no mention of pending legislation to deal with the problem from Governor Carcieri or anybody else:
“This is all new ground. It’s new ground for the courts as well,” Governor Carcieri said. “It’s obviously very concerning.”
The governor said his office may argue against the move in Superior Court, which will ultimately decide if and how an independent “receiver” may reorganize Central Falls’ finances, a state process comparable to federal bankruptcy reorganization.
“That’s one of the things we’re evaluating right now,” Carcieri said of trying to influence the court case. “I’m concerned about the ramifications of this on other municipalities, on how we’re looked upon as a state if it’s easy for a town — I’m not saying they do it lightly — but if, suddenly, you can go into receivership.”
I’m not saying this is a huge deal, but it did seem worth correcting the historical record, particularly since former Auditor General Ernest Almonte told us in January that state officials could have seen Central Falls coming if they’d been paying attention.