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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"It's a question of credibility"

"The Conspirators" by William Stang
The town has filed a response to the Open Meetings complaint filed by residents opposed to Larry LeBlanc’s proposed Whalerock wind farm on Route One.

This complaint charged that three Council members from the previous Council held an illegal meeting with LeBlanc at a 2009 URI conference where they suggested he develop the wind farm project with the town as his partner.

So LeBlanc developed Whalerock and the Council enacted an ordinance to assist him. Then all hell broke loose, splitting the town and throwing the Charlestown Citizens Alliance into a civil war. Wind power’s future in Charlestown became collateral damage.

What really happened at that URI conference is the nub of the issue. Recent records obtained by Progressive Charlestown under the state open records law show what facts are undisputed and what claims are in sharp dispute.

BACKGROUND: The case is Areglado v. Charlestown Town Council,” filed with the RI Attorney General on March 1, 2011. The complaint charges former Town Council members Forrester Safford and Candi Dunn and present Council member Gregg Avedisian with conducting a Council meeting that was “not advertised or open to the public.”

The alleged meeting took place with Charlestown developer Larry LeBlanc during a March 2009 URI conference on wind energy. The complaint alleges the three Council members suggested the wind farm idea to LeBlanc and promised him the town’s support, and indeed, partnership on the project. As evidence, they included a sworn statement by LeBlanc before the Charlestown Zoning Board of Review.

The additional detailed documentation in the complaint shows how the Council carried out their end of the alleged deal when LeBlanc did his part by proposing the now stalled Whalerock project.

In a response filed with the Attorney General on June 10, Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero acknowledges (a) the three Council members went to the URI conference; (b) the three of them constituted a quorum for the Council; (c) LeBlanc was there and (d) some conversations took place between LeBlanc and the Council members.

However, Ruggiero, relying on affidavits sworn by the three Councilors, says no actual meeting took place.

The affidavits of the three Councilors pretty much line up, often with exactly the same language, on several points where each Councilor claims:
  • “I deny that [the other Council] members…and I convened, discussed or deliberated any matter involving public business….”
  • “I took particular steps to avoid any conversation or dialogue [with the other Council members]…”.
  • “I had no conversation with Mr. LeBlanc at the forum regarding any project he had planned or was preparing to submit….”
  • And finally that Mr. LeBlanc’s sworn statement to the contrary was driven by his “anger and frustration” at those Council members.

Ruggiero then argues the key issue, whether an actual meeting took place, is subject to “an assessment of credibility.” He argues the Council members are more credible than LeBlanc because LeBlanc has much more at stake. Ruggiero suggests that maybe “Mr. LeBlanc just didn’t recall the event accurately.”

The Whalerock opponents reply that “we agree with Mr. Ruggiero that an assessment of credibility is required.” They then argue documents they provided with their initial complaint support Mr. LeBlanc’s sworn statement that he and the Council members made a deal at the URI conference.

Those records show Councilors Avedisian, Safford and Dunn played not only an active, but a leading role, in pushing Whalerock through the permitting process.

They also point out an apparent inconsistency in the Councilor’s affidavits. Up until the URI conference, there was no Whalerock project, not even a hint of one. LeBlanc swore that the idea for Whalerock came from the Councilors. So saying they “had no conversation with Mr. LeBlanc…regarding any project he had planned or was preparing to submit” “implies a false context” because at that time, there was no project.

The Whalerock opponents didn’t flag one very odd point I saw in each of the three Council members affidavits – the part about how each took “particular steps” not to talk to each other at the URI conference. From my dealings with and observations of these three Councilors, it’s hard to believe they didn’t talk to each other.

I’ve looked at the records submitted by the parties in the case. Whalerock was off and running shortly after the URI conference with the enthusiastic support of the three Councilors. It’s hard to believe, based on those records, that nothing happened between the Councilors and LeBlanc at that conference..

Now all of the key parties have made statements under pain and penalty of perjury – and not all of those statements can be true. Somebody in this affair may end up re-learning an old lesson that it’s not the act that gets you, it’s the cover-up.

NOTE: if you wish copies – in Adobe format – of the two documents referenced in this article, e-mail me at and I’ll be happy to send them to you.

Author: Will Collette