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Sunday, October 2, 2011

UPDATED: FAQs about the Charlestown Citizens Alliance

Revised guide to Charlestown’s shadow government
By Will Collette

What is the CCA? That’s the Charlestown Citizens Alliance. It is an unincorporated association started in 2006 now registered with the state as a political action committee. The Board of Elections ruled they were raising money to work on electoral issues. According to their last campaign finance report (filed July 30), they had a cash balance of $2339.46.

Why should anyone care who or what they are? The CCA is Charlestown’s shadow government. They picked each and every member of the Planning Commission. Two of their long-time leaders head the Town Council and, with Lisa DiBello’s vote, hold the majority.


To ignore the CCA is like ignoring the Republican Party’s control over the U.S. House of Representatives, or the Tea Party’s control over the Republican Party. Or the corporate interests that control the Tea Party. To understand power, you don’t just look at the puppets, but at the puppet masters.

The CCA’s radical views such as their opposition to decent sanitation at the town beaches, wind energy, affordable housing and most recently red light cameras. They opposed the construction of the Cross Mills Fire Station. They say they support worthy things like preserving our dark skies, protecting trees and allowing homeowners to have wind generators, but somehow can’t seem to come up with practical, enforceable ordinances to allow those things they say they support to happen.

Their organizational anthem is “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”

Why are the CCA leaders and supporters so sensitive to criticism? That’s a good question and I don’t know the answer. I have a theory that they were traumatized by their experience with Jim Mageau. Maybe when they hear criticism, they think somebody is about to shove a camera at them.

The CCA functions as Charlestown’s controlling political party. Yet, despite that power, they are pretty ineffective. They seem most adept at passing unnecessary and intrusive ordinances whose only saving grace is that they are often unenforceable. With power comes heat from those of us who do not agree with their vision or their actions. If they can’t stand the heat, drop out. Go fishing. Go back to Florida. But stop whining.
CCA HQ - hidden behind camouflage
Where are they located? If you look at older Board of Election filings, they listed 130 Shirley Drive, the address of former CCA Treasurer John Jurgens, husband of former CCA President Kallie Jurgens. Except that the Jurgenses claim Stuart, Florida, as their legal residence. But now, the CCA only lists their box number - PO Box 81. They prefer you contact them by e-mail.

I believe CCA headquarters is a small mud and wattle hut in the reeds somewhere along the shores of Ninigret Pond. Alternative location: a cave dug into the side of Mount Cliffy, Charlestown’s highest point at 250 feet above sea level, conveniently located on Ruth Platner and Cliff Vanover’s farm near Biscuit City Road.

How can I join? You can’t. The CCA has no method for people to join. In its early days, CCA was more open. You could join. They used to hold public meetings. But after their civil war (2009-2010), they went into a shell of secrecy.

You can get your name on their e-mail list (unless you’re black-listed). You can even submit a comment for their e-mailing. But you can’t join.

I suspect there might be some exceptions made. For instance, if you were overheard in the Mini-Super yakking about how much you hate casinos, affordable housing, wind turbines, beach toilets, casinos, outsiders, the Narragansetts, casinos, conservation development, casinos, children, the elderly or cats (and casinos), you may get spotted as new member material.

I can picture such a person being grabbed while coming out of Rippy’s some night. Bound and gagged with a bag over their head, the prospect gets thrown in the back of one of Tom Gentz’s Porsches. Then, he or she is whisked to one of CCA’s hidey-holes around town. While hanging from the ceiling, the CCA conscript is beaten with braided reeds and quizzed on their views about the traditional village concept, wind turbines and outdoor lighting.

If you pass the test, you are inducted into the CCA, take the oath of secrecy and sing their anthem “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It.”

Lately, it looks like the CCA’s arch-nemesis Jim Mageau is bucking for membership, if not the leadership, of the CCA. Wonder if they’ll let him in?

How does the CCA make decisions? Ouija board? Random sample? Harold Camping? Who knows? They have four some unknown number of officers. Their current leadership structure is a bit of a mystery.

Last June, the CCA sent out an e-mail telling its readers that the CCA was “re-inventing” itself by essentially shuffling leadership roles among the same dozen or so people who have always run the CCA. 

Jurgens and Jurgens were out as President and Treasurer. Bernice Krantz was named the new President and Leo Mainelli as the new Treasurer. Dr. Milton Krantz was to continue on as Vice-President and Town Council President Tom Gentz was to stay on as Secretary. Kallie and John are still receiving reimbursements at their Stuart, Florida, address – Kallie for the CCA e-mail service and John for mailing services.

But without explanation, the CCA changed its officer roster. On July 7, they filed a report with the RI Board of Elections that only lists two officers: Bernice Krantz as President and Leo Mainelli as Treasurer. They drop any mention of officer positions for Dr. Krantz and Tom Gentz, saying only that CCA has officers as required by state election law, but all voting members of the steering committee have an equal vote.  So, hi-ho, hi-ho, the CCA appears to say it operates as a collective and that it only has officers because the state tells it that it must.

The CCA Steering Committee members are:
Tom Gentz
Kallie and John Jurgens
Dick and Marge Newton
Leo Mainelli
Bernice and Milton Krantz
Faith Labossiere
* * Kate Waterman
Virginia Wooten
Tom DePatie. 
* * When Tom Gentz was listed as an officer, he was not on the Steering Committee. But now he’s on the Steering Committee list.
* *Waterman was recently added, again with no announcement, after resigning from the Planning Commission citing health and age issues, and moving to Connecticut.

John Goodman is not on the Committee but is listed as a trusted advisor, as is Planning Commissar Ruth Platner, who also serves as the CCA’s web mistress. Town Council Vice-Prez (and former CCA President) Dan Slattery’s current relationship with the CCA is murky.

This same small group has pretty much run the CCA since it was formed.

Lots of people have left the CCA. Former Town Council candidate Joe Dolock left in a huff when he was caught in the middle of a flap over a racially-tinged e-mail by Kate Waterman about the Narragansetts. The CCA-endorsed Town Council for 2009-2010, the group that ousted Jim Mageau, were all excommunicated by the CCA less than a year later.  

But seriously, how do they make decisions? To get an answer to that, you’d have to have a set of the CCA bylaws, if such a document exists. And you’d need to actually go to a CCA meeting, but they’re not publicized or open (though before its 2009-10 civil war, they used to hold open forums).

The CCA endorses candidates and spends money on those candidates. But how they make those decisions, I don’t know. (If anyone does, please post a comment or send us an e-mail to progressivecharlestown@gmail.com).

One way they seem to make decisions is by conducting an occasional survey. However, that often doesn’t really affect what they do. For example, in December 2009, the CCA conducted a survey on wind energy and an overwhelming number of respondents favored commercial wind energy development. They even sent Tom Gentz as their representative to read the survey results into the record of the Town Council. But of course, surveys be damned, since we all saw how the CCA did a 180-degree turn to come down in opposition to ALL wind energy development, even for residences.

Then there are their anonymous comment e-mails. The CCA takes a town issue and then runs collections of anonymous comments that stake out the CCA position. In the past year, they did this to kill a conservation development at the derelict YMCA camp on Watchaug Pond, their ill-fated effort to convince voters to reject funding for decent sanitary facilities at the town beaches and, most recently on red light cameras.

One minor change: when they run these comments on their website, sometimes the writer’s name is given. Ruth Platner’s name is on some that she writes. Other occasional names also appear, but generally not on the comments that are the most outrageous.

What are the CCA’s plans for Charlestown? 
The CCA will be going into the 2012 election season not so much as the folks who drove Jim Mageau out of public office, but as the people who believe the “Platner Principle” that no Charlestown property owner may do anything with their property unless it is expressly permitted in the town zoning ordinance.

While the legal basis for the Platner Principle is shaky at best, the CCA has political control of the two town power centers – the Planning Commission and Town Council – so even though the Platner Principle may be wrong, it’s just how things are done here.

Based on the actions of their leaders who control the Planning Commission and the Town Council, the CCA agenda is to freeze Charlestown in place like a bug in amber.

Some, like Cliff Vanover and Ruth Platner and her minions on the Planning Commission, want to reverse the clock, perhaps to some point in the 1600s. Reduce the town’s population (especially children and senior citizens). Convert more land into open space. I’m not sure when we will have enough open space or a small enough population to satisfy the CCA. Maybe a dozen or so people. Maybe nobody if all the CCA leaders succeed at establishing Florida or other out-of-state residency.


The CCA also seems to be testing the waters for a renewal of its early support for granting town voting rights to absentee property owners. One of CCA's founders and Steering Committee members, Tom DePatie, has been pushing the idea. In general, the CCA town leadership are very big on protecting the interests of rich non-resident landowners

It’s hard to gauge the CCA’s ultimate intentions toward our neighbors in the Narragansett Tribe. The CCA has consistently opposed any project, plan or aspiration of the tribe’s since the CCA came into being. Whatever it is, they’re against it, since it might turn out to be a casino.