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Sunday, May 8, 2011

Jodi Lecroix tells all! Well, almost....

Jodi and her acolytes Amy Rose Weinreich (right)
and Carol Cullion (front)
Jodi LaCroix recently retired as Charlestown’s Town Clerk after 25 years of devoted service. She and her family are moving to Chattanooga, TN next month. I wanted to catch her before she left and tap her experience with this town to perhaps shed some historical light on why Charlestown politics is, well, so bughouse crazy. Here’s how that conversation went.

WILL: Cathy and I moved back to Rhode Island eight years ago to settle in Charlestown. One of the first things we noticed was how nasty and vicious town politics can be. Was it always like that?

JODI (or “Jo Jo” as she’s already being called in Tennessee; Jo Bird might be next): As I recall, when I first started working for the town, it was pretty quiet.  Gary Anderson was Council President at the time. Curt Shook was the Town Administrator. Of course there were the hot buttons but nothing like it is now.  Mr. Mageau was a vocal part of town then as he is now.

WILL: When did things start to change?

JODI: I noticed the change becoming very apparent in the early to mid 1990’s.    People became even more vocal, which is not a bad thing in local government.  The people that were becoming vocal were not the usual cast, but a different group of individuals. What is bad though is when attacks become personal. 

WILL: What are the most notable changes you’ve seen?

JODI: You have to remember that I’m a homegrown product of this area; a true RI girl. To drive past the towers on Rt 1 is a rarity!  My mother was born in Shannock, my grandmother was born here.  My grandparents lived here, actually in their later years they lived in Shady Harbor! My great aunts worked the mill in Shannock.  

I grew up here, graduated from Chariho and so did my daughter. When I say local, I mean people that grew up here with my mom, knew my grandparents, people I went to school with. People like Forrester Safford, Frank Glista, Mrs. Ennis, Jean Clarke, Marcia Carsten and Mary Taylor, they are true locals, natives. 

So with that in mind I will say that I have noticed more of the “locals” were not local anymore.  They were leaving or passing away.

There were more summer people from out of state that owned houses here starting to stay longer and longer and eventually living here year-round. 

There are folks like those I’ve mentioned that are still around but not like there was.  Back when I was younger (oh I do sound like my mother now), everyone knew everyone.  I can go to the Mini Super today and not know a soul.

WILL: So part of it is the shift from a town full of life-long residents to a town with a lot of transplants. In what ways did these newcomers change the town?

JODI: The influx of new blood from out of state that has moved into town is not necessarily a bad thing.  I don’t want anyone getting a burr under their saddle about that. 

BUT, there are some people (not all, but some people - and I don’t want to paint everyone with the same brush)  that feel that now that they are here, the gates should be locked and no-one else should be let in.  These same people feel that they are going to save us from ourselves.

From where I have sat, or actually stood selling beach passes, these same people come in and complain about the lack of services such as “why don’t we have trash pick-up like they had back in CT?” Or, “in NY we have sidewalks, why don’t you here?” Or, “why don’t you stay open 6 days a week and one night a week or open Friday nights so that people coming in from CT, MA and NY can get their beach stickers?”

My personal favorite: “What day are you going to work to make up for having the holiday off?” I think you get the picture there. They come here, like the rural landscape but they want the city services or they want more of the type of services they were use to getting in the state where they are a resident of.

WILL: How did this population shift affect town policies?

JODI: .   When I was growing up, all those houses on Rt 2, past the Gift Barn to the junction of Rt 112, most of those houses were not there.  It was all vacant.  Then it was about building homes for people to live in. That slowly changed.

People now are more open-space minded than ever.  Many people want vacant land to be open space, have it removed from the tax roll.  No houses, no businesses, only passive recreation like a nature trail at the most.  That is all well and good but if it comes off the tax roll, no-one is paying taxes.  That amount then gets shifted to homeowners to make up the difference. 

As long as everyone understands that up front and it is what everyone wants – great but it comes with a price.  I don’t think these folks truly understand that.  If you want to see a real eye opener, ask Ken Swain to see a map of open space in town and how much vacant land is left. In order to get a true picture, the open space includes the water and space owned by other entities, not just the town. 

I’d like to add that we currently have an open space/recreation bond available.  I’m seeing the town split on this.  One faction wants the money for open space only and the other wants some of it used to fix our recreation facilities.  People have to come to terms with this.  Our beach facilities are shameful. Tourism, whether we like it or not is our bread and butter.

WILL: And of course the big question for me is why does every issue seem to turn into a death cage match so quickly?

JODI: People are more volatile, easier to anger, and not getting the correct information about the subject matter.  Maybe we are all a product of the times now.   People are very quick to, use, abuse, threaten and sue each other.  Gone are the days of civility. There are more personal agendas than Carter has liver pills.  How’s that for an old saying?  Information is being passed around that is so disingenuous that it does a disservice to everyone.  People seem to be out for themselves.  It is a me me me world.  People want what they want and that’s it. They don’t want anyone else to have it.

Never in my life have I been lied to so many times than I have about beach stickers. Can you believe that?  In order to get a town sticker, certain requirements have to be met.  My office has seen and heard it all.  One woman came in for a beach sticker. She told us she lived in the northern part of RI, her husband lived out of state.  They got together on the weekends at the beach house.  Upon further checking, we found out that she was not married to the man, she was his sister and was not entitled to the sticker.  All this deceit for a beach pass. 

The bottom line on that question is people are more volatile, I guess you could say self-interested, and misinformed.  How harsh that sounds.   BUT then there are those that have come out and listened, researched and articulated opinions in a civil and respectful way that one can’t help but listen to them. 

Jodi surrounded by her Board of Canvassers crew
(Susan, Kim & Dale)
You know, there was a time when the staff at the town hall felt like more like a family.  People stuck together, counted on each other.  I don’t expect many will remember that.  Look at what is going on now. 

A current councilor is suing current and former councilors and staff, there is a labor complaint from a clerk that overheard parts of a conversation, jumped to conclusions, bypassed the process and filed a labor complaint,  people on the outside of the building gathering information from employees against other employees in order to hurt them.   

WILL: How has that affected you?

It is very, very sad and I am happy to leave that part of it behind me. What a disservice to the town and taxpayers.

I had heard a rumor that Mr. Mageau had said that I was leaving town was so that I didn’t get sued by Miss DiBello.  I had to laugh.  My husband was in talks with his company before she filed her suit. Checking the date her suit was signed is easy enough.  Though I will say, I don’t doubt that I was on the radar for the future. That was pretty widely talked about. I mean, look at what they did to Ken Swain regarding his second job. He’s on the hit list. Gee, I think that is a clear morale problem, don’t you? 

I don’t want that kind of toxicity to take over my life.  It’s funny but that behavior, that negativity and toxicity has strengthened my Faith and has brought me closer to the Lord and has strengthened my friendships with a few people. I couldn’t have made it through the last few years without them standing by my side. 

I can honestly say with a sincere heart that I have worked with and for some wonderful people over the years. There are some wonderful men and women in this town just as there are those who are not. 

Those people that were at my retirement party have treated me with dignity and respect (except for Rob Lyons when he put that horrible NY Yankee chain around my neck and I will be sending him the medical bill for the rash! haha). I have people that I care about from both sides of the aisle. None of them have ever put me in a compromising position. What a testament to them.  I’ve had to stay neutral and keep my mouth shut.  I’ve tried to stick to the high road and leave my position with some class and dignity.  Hopefully my answering as truthfully as possible does not negate that. 

WILL: Since you’re now retired – and presumably they can’t take your pension away – and will be leaving town soon, how about telling us some of the real deal dirt – the kind of stuff that hasn’t come out into the public eye.
JODI:  Keep asking my friend, I’m still not telling where the bodies are buried  J