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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

DiBello launches legal action against the town

As expected, Town Council member Lisa DiBello has taken the first formal step toward suing the town over her 2010 firing as Parks and Recreation Director. She filed a 30-page administrative complaint against the Town of Charlestown and 10 former and present town officials on March 11 with the RI Commission on Human Rights and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. DiBello also puts Charlestown on notice of her intent to file charges under other civil rights statutes including the state Whistleblower Protection Act.

In her complaint, DiBello claims she was fired in May 2010 by Town Administrator William DiLibero in retaliation for a December 1, 2005 conversation she overheard (and reported) between former Town Administrator Richard Sartor and present Tax Assessor Ken Swain. According to DiBello’s complaint, Sartor called then Town Council President Deb Carney a “bitch” and Swain made explicit sexual remarks about another unnamed woman.

In the complaint, DiBello claims that when she reported the Sartor and Swain conversation first to Tax Collector Jo Anne Santos and then Deb Carney, she asked that no action be taken. She says she tried to stop the investigation or not cooperate during the investigation. NOTE: under the law, once an employee reports a potential violation like this, the employer is required to investigate and take action. Santos and Carney are not named in DiBello’s complaint.
According to Dibello’s complaint, Council members Greg Avedisian and (now former member) Forrester Safford played major and recurring roles in the alleged retaliation. DiBello charges Avedisian and Safford with threatening her with retaliation and Avedisian is blamed for giving the story to the media.

DiBello reported a lull in the conspiracy against her when Jim Mageau took over the Town Council in 2006, although she claims Safford told her she was responsible for Mageau's win and “this will come back to bite you.”

In 2008, CCA's slate of Council candidates, which included Avedisian and Safford, trounced Mageau. According to DiBello's complaint, Avedisian and Safford re-started the retaliatory campaign, supported by the other Council members.

Then in spring 2009, according to DiBello, former town administrator Sartor went to Hopkinton and met with then Hopkinton town manager DiLibero several times. DiBello claims they made a deal - Sartor would get DiLibero the better-paying Charlestown job in return for DiLibero either by forcing DiBello to quit or by firing her.

The complaint then offers DiBello's view of the string of negative encounters between her and DiLibero that led to her firing on May 19, 2010. 

DiBello brings her complaint against the town of Charlestown, Sartor and DiLibero (as expected), as well as all of the Town Council members who served from 2008-2010, plus Police Chief Shippee and GIS Coordinator Stephen Candless. Ken Swain is not named despite a recurring role in the narrative nor is former Building Inspector John Matuza who was apparently part of the December 2005 conversation.

CORRECTION: The Town and the respondents must respond in detail to this complaint within 20 calendar days of the notice from the RI Human Rights Commission, April 8.

DiBello does not claim specific damages, although she details loss of income and benefits, employability, humiliation and emotional distress. The complaint is not available on-line.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Charlestown Tax Rate Will Rise

Updated - from his vacation in a secret location, my colleague Tom Ferrio (via dial-up!) RE-SET the Progressive Charlestown Magic Tax Calculator to the new tax rate of $8.95. Plug in your old property value and your new number after re-assessment and see how this affects your taxes.

On March 28th, the town Budget Commission presented a new $25 million budget to the Town Council. As we predicted, the tax rate will go up from the present $7.48 per $1000 of valuation to $8.74 just to make up for the decline in property values.

My colleague Tom Ferrio's prediction of $8.75/$1000 was off by a penny. BUT another 21 cent rate hike - for a total of $8.95 - will be tacked on to cover increased costs, including anticipated - and long overdue - raises for town workers who have not had a raise in several years. .

As we've reported, assessments on high-end, million-dollar-plus properties were reduced much more than middle-range properties. The burden of the new tax rates will hit middle-class residents while most millionaire property owners - many of them non-residents - will get a major decrease in their taxes. For example, CCA President and Stuart, Florida resident Kallie Jurgens will still get a reduction of $568 in her taxes under the $8.95 rate. We'll be sure to remind you of that when the new tax bills get mailed out (and maybe a few other times, too).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Confessions of a NIMBY enabler

NIMBY (“Not in my backyard”) is a common term describing people opposed to LULUs (“Locally Undesirable Land Uses”).

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Class War: CCA tries a little misdirection

After a long lay-off, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance is once again sending out its e-bleats with a new, cleaner looking format. Not much change in the content, but at least it's easier on the eye.

Today, they sent out an e-bleat touting an editorial that ran in today's Westerly Sun (subscription required). The editorial repeats prior suggestions about rehabbing vacant and distressed properties to serve as affordable housing rentals. The Sun notes Westerly's downtown is ringed by neighborhoods with lots of multi-family housing. They note Hopkinton has found that half of their 331 rental units are vacant.

The CCA touts all this as "A BETTER Way at Looking At Affordable Housing" presumably for Charlestown.

Have you seen many of these in C-Town?
Doesn't anybody at CCA do their homework? Charlestown doesn't have a stock of three-deckers like Westerly. Charlestown doesn't have 331 rental units like Hopkinton (unless we count the summer rentals - which would be interesting).

Charlestown has a grand total of six apartments and 136 two to five family structures. We have have 52 buildings zoned as a combination of commercial and residential. We have 260 seasonal units (no heat). Check the town's inventory of property for yourself.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Class War in Charlestown: Kallie Gets Her Wish

Kallie Jurgens has been complaining about her tax assessment for a long time. In a September 2005 Providence Journal article, she complained her ocean-view Shady Harbor property was assessed too damned high. Apparently unfamiliar with the real estate concept of “location, location, location,” Kallie complained that "I pay twice the taxes of someone north of Route 1."

To fight back, she and other out-of-state property owners formed the RI Shoreline Coalition, now the RI Statewide Coalition (RISC), to win voting rights for absentee landowners in local elections. Then they could vote against anything that might raise their taxes. Like schools.  

A few full-time, South of One residents, such as Tom DePatie, also were part of forming RISC, presumably because they thought their taxes were too damned high as well.

Kallie, her neighbors Richard and Marge Newton, Tom DePatie and others later formed the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) when Jim Mageau’s brief rise to power created a chance for the South of One Anti-Taxers to coalesce with other anti-Mageau Charlestown residents.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Census data shows Charlestown Anti-Kid Campaign Is Working

When I posted the first 2010 census numbers last night, I speculated we'd see a drop in the number of kids when the more detailed data came out.

I didn't expect the drop to be so big! According to the brand-new census data, Charlestown's under-18 population dropped by 12% between 2000 and 2010, falling from 1,712 to 1,506. We managed to shed 206 of the tax-base eating little buggers. It costs the town around $15,000 each to send them to Chariho.

Now if only Charlestown Planning Commissar Ruth Platner can get rid of 200 more, we won't have to raise the tax rate to make up for valuation losses. One in five of the 1,058 Charlestown Chariho kids have got to go. 

Only a handful of RI communities managed to do a better job of ridding their population of youth (without also shedding a large percentage of their general population). The most efficient child-purger is Glocester which managed to lose 21.2% of its under-18 population while only showing a 2% general population decline.

Author: Will Collette

New Census Data Released: Congratulations, Ruth!

Now that the excitement of International Talk Like William Shatner Day is over, we're back to focusing on dull and boring numbers. Not tax numbers, but the new census data for Rhode Island.

It turns out that Rhode Island is NOT losing population, as the RI Statewide Coalition/OSPRI people have been crying. We actually gained a little.

But the small population gain, which by the way, means that we do not lose a House seat, came about in an interesting way. The state's Latino population grew by almost 40,000 people. If not for that increase, Rhode Island's population would have dropped by 35,587 AND we would have gone from having two Representatives to only one At-Large House member like many other low population states.

I wonder how that's playing within right-wing, anti-immigrant circles? They must be apoplectic over the big jump in the state's Hispanic population but on the other hand, we owe our new Latino neighbors a big thank you for saving a seat in Congress (and BTW, an Electoral vote).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Covering other big issues besides taxes

Happy International Talk Like William Shatner Day! Yes, it's his 80th birthday today and a new holiday is born. Though Tom and I are focusing on the impact of $400 million in vanished real estate equity on Charlestown taxes, we haven't forgotten the other big issues..

Like whether the Town Council took that mighty leap backwards on alternative energy. Whether Charlestown should consider either nuclear power or whale oil as alternative fuels. And whether Ruth Platner hates cats or senior citizens or both.

First, wind turbines. On March 14, as expected, the Town Council approved an ordinance from Ms. Platner and her Planning Commiserators that bans outright all wind turbines except those built for municipal or non-utility use Even those two approved uses would be subject to onerous conditions, such as proving your neighbors won't be bothered by sound or flicker. Plus, you must also have a 3-to-1 fall zone in case the turbine bounces a few times like a pogo stick. If you are applying for a small home wind turbine, the Planning Commission might cut you some slack on these standards. Right.

I wish the Council had just admitted they have caved into the anti-wind hysteria and banned all wind turbines, period, instead of passing a sham ordinance. Also, they should ban propeller beanies.

Taxing Tax Talk

We have written several articles about the new property revaluation and its impact here and here. We also have a suggestion for reducing taxes here, in case you missed it.

You now know that property valuations have gone down – it shouldn't be a surprise unless you haven't read a newspaper or watched the television news for 3 years. But we explained that it doesn’t mean your taxes are going down.


Monday, March 21, 2011

A Modest Proposal to Address Our Shrinking Tax Base

As Tom and I have noted in prior postings, Charlestown's tax base just shrunk by $395.6 million dollars or just under 15%. Using our current tax rate of $7.48 per $1000, we just lost $3 million in tax revenue. This is not unexpected, since the national housing industry melt-down has cut into homeowner equity just about everywhere. Most places have lost a lot more than 15% so by that measure, we should count ourselves lucky.

But we're still $3 million short and the question is how will we make that up? We already run a very lean town government and provide very few municipal services, so cuts are not the answer. We could raise the tax rate, which is what most normal communities do, but that would upset the RI Statewide Coalition and the many RISC members within the Charlestown Citizens Alliance leadership.

So what do we do? I have a Modest Proposal, an update of Jonathan Swift's scholarship. We should banish families with school age children.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Property values fall - what does this mean for our taxes?

Adding to Tom’s comments posted last night, everyone in Charlestown has or will be getting the new assessed value of their property. Most likely the assessed value of your house dropped.

According to town Tax Assessor Ken Swain’s data, the highest and lowest valued properties in town dropped by 19-22% while most mid-value properties (from $200,000 to a million) fell between 13 and 15%.

Properties that lost value outnumbered gainers by 10 to 1. Click here to look yourself up and see your 2009 value versus your new number.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

New Property Valuations Are Available

Unless I missed an announcement somewhere, this is news. The town website says that your new property tax valuation was put in the mail on March 18.

Charlestown, following state law, has our homes and land re-appraised every three years. The last one reflected values at the end of 2007 and this one gives values at the end of 2010. You will be getting a statement in the mail but you can look up your new valuation online. The listing conveniently shows your new valuation compared to the previous one.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Charlestown Class War Comments

Since the start of the series on Class War in Charlestown, we've drawn quite a few comments. Most were thoughtful and interesting; a few not so much - ugly stuff like the kind posted by "Blog Warriors" (paid right-wing commenters who flood progressive blogs with nasty remarks).

I decided to write the series after January 16th remarks by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) Florida-based president Kallie Jurgens. In a letter to the Westerly Sun, Jurgens warned Deb Carney of the Democratic Town Committee not to start a "class war." But the class war has already begun, and Kallie played a large role in starting it as a long-time leader of the RI Statewide (nee Shoreline) Coalition.

Charlestown's class war is a struggle of North vs South (of Route 1), of rich vs. poor, of whites vs. Narragansetts, a struggle to keep outsiders outside, a fight against technology and above all else, a struggle for control.

Class war in Charlestown is often fought through symbols - brick, asphalt, school-age children, cat-loving senior citizens, the evils of wind energy - and through conspiracies, real or imagined. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

New Restaurant Coming Soon!

Update: In a comment, Josh tells us that The Breachway Grill opened on Friday, May 6. Thanks Josh!


I don’t envy people in the restaurant business in Charlestown. The tourist season is all too short for someone thinking about paying rent the year-round. My entire staff and I visit restaurants a lot during the winter and you can often see us at The Cove on Monday nights for the burger and chicken sandwich special. We feel that the restaurants staying open in the winter are doing us a service and we need to try to help them out.

To get back to the subject of this article, a couple of energetic guys are refurbishing the former site of Flip Flops on the corner of Charlestown Beach Road and Matunuck Schoolhouse Road. This location should be great with its proximity to the summer homes near the beach but the recent attempts at a restaurant didn’t survive too long. Perhaps the building needs some feng shui but Flip Flops suffered from a late opening last season.

It will be called The Breachway Grill and should be open by mid-April. Craig Marr and executive chef Andrew Blumin are determined to have the menu fine-tuned and all of the service kinks worked out before the summer season gets rolling.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Bonfire on Amos Green Farm

This is the third year in a row that Carla and Russ Ricci, along with the Charlestown Land Trust, hosted a spring bonfire on the 1750 homestead of Amos Green on Carolina Back Road near the Carter Preserve.

One of a very few pieces of property in Charlestown that has been maintained continuously as cleared land with stone fences, the farm is truly a treasure for our town. It’s a testimony to the work of the Charlestown Land Trust and the generosity of land owners dedicated to conservation.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Class War: Short Takes

Many important stories never make it into the local newspaper or TV News. Not even Fox. So as a public service, here are links to some great pieces you may have missed.

Tom and I have been posting stories on Charlestown’s Class War – the war largely fronted by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance and the RI Statewide Coalition – to block affordable housing, renewable energy and anything the Narragansett Tribe wants to do. Since then, we’ve gotten a number of anonymous posts from people who use charged rhetoric and often bring in issues that have nothing with what we posted. Well, Tom may have found their origin. There’s a company that actually hires “Blog Warriors” to flood progressive blogs with comments in the attempt to drown out the bloggers message. I don’t know how much
Professional Blog Warriors make, but hey, times are tough. So who says Republicans aren’t interested in creating jobs?huge loophole in RI’s corporate tax that permits large, multi-state corporations to hide their profits from state tax.

Cheeky Charlestown Chatter

The joint Town Council and Planning Commission meeting last Wednesday gave us lots of material and I wrote an article summarizing the travails of Mr. Veazey at the hands of the Planning Commission.

With inspiration from my ever-helpful research staff I followed that up with an article containing the surprising, at least to me, information that camps are not all zoned the same. So while there is great angst and gnashing of teeth about permitting residential zoning for the 27-acre YMCA camp there are over 100 acres in two other camps already zoned Residential and not designated as Protected Open Space in the Comprehensive Plan.

Your faithful writer listened to much of the recording of the hearing again to give you some additional food for thought.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Conflicting Camp Confusion

After attending the joint Town Council and Planning Commission meeting reviewing the requested comprehensive plan change for the old YMCA camp, my loyal, tolerant and generally fantastic staff researcher came to me and asked “Do you know that camps don't all have the same comprehensive plan classification and zoning?”

I replied with distain – “Didn’t you watch the recording of the town hall session? We learned that the Comprehensive Plan is a sacred document and perfect in every way! We also learned that any change to this sacred document must be considered extremely carefully and only made after studying the positions of the planets and examining the entrails of ritually-killed feral cats! From listening to the councilors and planning commission members we now know that a change is very serious business, akin to getting sex-change surgery! Surely a document such as this can have no errors and must treat every similar property in the same way!”

Friday, March 11, 2011

Idealism and Reality in Charlestown

The man lives on Watchaug Pond and loves it dearly. His house is next to a fully developed campground with 15 buildings including a year-round caretaker cottage, 4 septic systems, and several wells. The campground hasn’t been used for a few years and it gets listed for sale.


The Open Space
He hears that conservation groups are not interested in purchasing it because it is so developed and he’s concerned that a new owner could make it a very busy campground putting a big load on resources and the lake, and lots of traffic. That would require no significant approvals because it is already a developed campground in “recreational open space” zoning.

Or a new owner could try to get approval for the type of dense cottage development to the south of this property.


He would prefer it be used for low density housing and is thinking about 10 homes on 27 acres and a conservation buffer along the pond. So he contracts to purchase the property even though he has no development experience. Then he comes face-to-face with reality.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Class War in Charlestown, Part Three: Closing the Borders

As Charlestown and shoreline RI became prime places to live, those who have their places in paradise want to close the door behind them. Or as Planning Commissar Ruth Platner puts it, “preserve Charlestown’s rural character.”

Exclusionary zoning is an effective way to “preserve Charlestown’s rural character.” Set minimum house lot sizes, micro-manage what types of structures can be built and severely limit the number of building permits issued each year. Peg residential permits to classroom size in the Chariho school system. Block rental property building permits by any means necessary.

Result:
Charlestown is 96% white, household incomes exceed the state average by 24% and we have 60% less poverty.

Platner and her six CCA-chosen colleagues on the Planning Commission are the defenders of the gate, determined to make sure Charlestown stays white and wealthy.

In addition to existing ordinances, Platner has created her own criteria to ensure that no new affordable housing will be built in town. She doesn’t want any families with kids –
those kids will go to school and cost the town more in Chariho fees.

She doesn’t want renters because they don’t pay property taxes. She doesn’t want senior citizen (+55) housing because older people are more likely to own cats. Cats might run free and if they do, they might eat the birds. Her Planning Commission colleague Linda Fabre wants to give low-income residents vouchers to move to Westerly. In short, if you don’t meet Ms. Platner’s means test for worthiness, get out and stay out.
* White (definitely NOT Narragansett)
* Past child-bearing years or certified sterile
* Not so old that you are a compulsive cat lover
* Able to buy your own home at market rates
* Allergic to asphalt, vinyl and all other man-made building materials. And wind turbines.
* Out-of-state second home buyers, especially from Florida, are welcome! As long as they don’t have cats.
* And finally, no cats.

If Charlestown was in Mississippi, circa 1965, there would be a platoon of US Justice Department civil rights lawyers crawling all over town. Or maybe the ASPCA.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Charlestown is a very liberal - even progressive - town

For the past several election cycles, Charlestown voters generally voted for the most liberal or progressive candidates.

In 2010, Charlestown Democrats supported Patrick Lynch over Frank Caprio for Governor and the late Joe Fernandez over Peter Kilmartin for Attorney General.

In the general election, when Republican John Robitaille swept most of South County, Charlestown went comfortably for Chafee. Charlestown has overwhelming voted for Donna Walsh for state rep over Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA)-backed Matt McHugh in 2008 and the Moderate Party candidate in 2010.

Charlestown’s 16 point margin for Democrat Larry Valencia helped him eke out a razor-thin victory in House District 39. Of course, in 2008, Charlestown went overwhelming for President Obama.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Updates and short takes

Injun Joe Larisa seems to have accomplished his mission of sabotaging the Narragansetts' pitch to buy Twin River for their long-sought casino. Instead of helping the Narragansetts achieve their dream - which could end the fears of many Charlestown residents of a casino in Charlestown - the town's special counsel for Indian issues jumped the Narragansetts' plan like a snarling dog. Within hours, Gov Chafee was spouting Larisa talking points. Based on news reports, Chief Sachem Thomas's meeting today with Chafee did not go well. Though Chafee didn't pull a Carcieri on Chief Thomas, Chafee's non-committal remarks had all the sincerity of those recorded messages that say "Your call is very important to us...." So no fireworks over Ninigret Park to celebrate the end of one major front in Charlestown's on-going class war yet. Thanks to Joe Larisa, the war grinds on.

The state Ethics Commission has told the Town Council that it will not issue an advisory opinion on whether it is ethical for Counselor Lisa DiBello to participate in town personnel matters. Both factions in the council (the CCA faction and the 2008 incumbent faction) had wanted the Ethics Commission to resolve this issue for them. But nuh-uh, the Council will have to deal with it themselves. This puts Slattery and Gentz in an interesting position, since they need Lisa's vote to maintain control of the Council. Turns out Jim Mageau was right that the TC can't ask for an advisory opinion on Lisa's behalf (color me shocked!). Instead, it will take an actual event - i.e. a DiBello action that sparks a live ethics complaint - to resolve this issue. In today's Sun story, DiBello says she will recuse herself from any such conflicts. I still think we're at the point where Lisa must decide whether she is a town council member or a litigant against the town.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Charlestown - A Future Child-Free Zone


Ah, small-town America. A wonderful place to raise a family. Wonderful recreational opportunities. Small schools where your children can learn in a nurturing environment. Neighbors who are true friends. It’s a beautiful place.



Too bad that’s not the Charlestown our leaders want. The non-residents who run our town, behind the scenes and on the Town Council and Family Planning Commission, are actively working to prohibit the types of residences most suitable for young families. They don’t want those Breeders and their evil Spawn in this town!


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Class War in Charlestown, Part Two: the Jihad against the Narragansetts

Today's headline in the Providence Journal "Tribe eyes possibility of buying Twin River" ought to be seen as an opportunity to end the many long years of bitter conflict between the Narragansetts and the white residents of Charlestown.

If the conflict is truly about opposition to a casino in Charlestown, and not general hostility toward the tribe, we should not only celebrate but support the tribe's interest in buying the failing Twin River slot parlor and turning it into a competitive casino.
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