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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Deputy Dan Slattery and the case of the secret records

“No openness and transparency for you,” says Deputy Dan
By Will Collette

On March 7, at the Town Council’s monthly agenda-planning meeting, CCA Town Council Vice-President Deputy Dan Slattery pointedly demanded that he be allowed to place a series of motions on the agenda for the March 12 Regular Town Council meeting.

These motions all dealt with Charlestown’s use of Ninigret Park. In those motions, Deputy Dan implied that the town, and the Town Administrator in particular, was guilty of shirking its “legal, ethical and moral obligations.” He asserted that Charlestown was violating the terms of the transaction that created Ninigret Park out of the old, decommissioned Navy airfield that once occupied all of what we now know as Ninigret Park and the federal Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge. 

And, he claimed, he had the records to prove it.



The first of Deputy Dan’s resolutions called for the town to post on its website copies of two documents dating back to the time of the land transfer from the feds to the town in 1979. 

Slattery did not provide his Council colleagues with copies of those two documents. This did not seem to bother Slattery’s allies, Council Boss Tom Gentz and Councilor Lisa DiBello, but it did concern Councilor Gregg Avedisian, who asked why the Council members couldn’t see the documents first before voting.

"Don't try to blame me, Deputy Dan!"
Slattery did not directly answer Avedisian’s question, either at the agenda meeting or at the March 12 regular meeting. Instead, Slattery attempted to once again point the finger at Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero and claimed that Ruggiero had told him not to distribute copies of the documents.

Ruggiero told the audience at the Council meeting that what he told Slattery was that the Council should vote before posting materials on the town website. He said he never told Slattery not to distribute the documents. 

I think a lot of us want to know what is in these documents. Based on Slattery’s description of those documents in his motion (below), it seems pretty clear that these are official documents that should be subject to disclosure under the open-records laws.

So I filed a request with Town Clerk Amy Weinreich for both documents, citing the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act (APRA). At first, Amy could not provide either document, but on March 16th, she was able to send me an electronic copy of the first document, referred to as a “50 page historical record” in Deputy Dan’s motion.

"This is very interesting reading - too bad you can't see it."
However, the second document, described by Deputy Dan as “the 1979 Land Transfer Agreement that the Town of Charlestown agreed to should be taken from hard copy format and placed in an electronic record format so that it can be posted on Clerkbase and made available to the citizens of Charlestown,is apparently being held back by Deputy Dan.

Under the law, the town has no more than ten business days to either produce a requested record or say why it can’t or won’t. Of course, the town could reply more quickly than ten days, but recent practice has been to wait until the last day of the ten-day period.

Since the CCA Town Council majority dictates town policy and also micromanages Town Hall staff, I have to wonder whether it’s their idea to restrict access to information. Certainly Deputy Dan’s failure to practice what he preaches about open and transparent government reflects a lack of regard for the public’s right to know.

On March 22nd, the tenth day and the deadline for compliance, Amy e-mailed me to say that she still had not gotten the second record from Deputy Dan.

On March 23rd, I followed the procedure set out in the APRA and filed an appeal of this denial of information with Town Administrator William DiLibero.

He sent me this reply:


I don’t know if Mr. DiLibero actually knows what that second document is. His memo’s description of what he thinks that second document contains doesn’t seem to match Deputy Dan’s description of the document. I doubt that Deputy Dan was much help to DiLibero in responding to my appeal, since Deputy Dan is trying to get Town Administrator DiLibero fired. He doesn't like me much, either.

Though I appreciate Administrator DiLibero’s effort to be helpful in suggesting that I file a Freedom of Information Act request with the feds, that does not discharge the town – and in particular Deputy Dan Slattery – from its duty to release public records under state law.

Besides, a FOIA request to the feds will take a lot longer to fulfill than it would for Deputy Dan to simply do what a responsible town leader ought to have done in the first place – and that is to turn in the damned records!

Always on the look-out for
evil-doers
This is the second time Deputy Dan has refused to disclose public records under state open-records law. The first time was his refusal to disclose the results of his “investigation” into a complaint of wrongdoing by Friends of Ninigret Park and town hall staff. In that case, Deputy Dan claimed the requested records were his personal notes and that he collected them completely without town approval, so the records were not official town records. 

But if you read Deputy Dan’s motion, and Administrator DiLibero’s memo where he speculated about the nature of the documents, we are clearly dealing with documents that are town records in this case. I saw Administrator DiLibero’s comment that perhaps Deputy Dan borrowed the documents from our federal overseer, Charlie Vandemoer of the Interior Department. But it’s hard to believe these records aren’t also in the town’s records.

And I want them. Deputy Dan has launched a vicious attack on town administration of Ninigret Park. He has implied that the town is engaging in illegal, unethical and immoral conduct based on these public records he has kept secret. He is seeking extreme personal sanctions against town staff based on records he has kept to himself.

As I’ve reported in Progressive Charlestown, Council Vice-President Dan Slattery has repeatedly used his position as a platform to conduct his own private, and often bizarre, crusades against many foes, real and imagined. As a posse of one, he has ridden roughshod over much of Charlestown, looking for evildoers, though rarely finding them.

When he was president of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, he stood at the podium during Town Council meetings and railed against the leadership of two successive Town Councils for failing to meet his standards for open and transparent good government.

Even in the matter of these old Ninigret records, Deputy Dan says on the one hand that he wants everyone to see them. On the other, he keeps them hidden in the hollow of an old tree on one of the town's phantom properties.

These records need to surface. Indeed, they never should have been tucked away in Deputy Dan’s lair to begin with. 

How is the town supposed to have an intelligent debate about the future of Ninigret Park while Deputy Dan makes himself the SOLE custodian of public records?

But I doubt that Deputy Dan is much interested in intelligent debate. He has shown no respect for the public interest, only his own political agenda.

While it is my right to take this issue to the Attorney General – again – and I have every confidence that the Attorney General would rule against Deputy Dan’s outrageous conduct, I don’t want to put the town in the position of having to defend the indefensible.

Deputy Dan Slattery is a hypocrite, a demagogue and a dangerous loose cannon. He needs to stop using this town as the way he works out his frustrations and gratifies his ego.




10 comments:

  1. I thought the document copies could have been scanned in - easy peasy - and made available for reference for Charlestown citizens on the town's web page - prior to the meeting. If any document is going to mentioned in Town Council for consideration by Council members, it should also concurrently made available to town citizens or the matter should not be brought up until the information is readily accessible. To what purpose is anything being Demanded by anyone? Public service by the Town Council cannot be accomplished without full disclosure, civil discourse and far more respect for basic information sharing and processing than the council as a whole has so far managed for each other or town citizens. Charlestown Town Council is perpetuating the perception, and perhaps actual fact, that public representation and government service is anything but public or representational or service. Awake! Judi Howell

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    Replies
    1. Slattery's claim was that the document could not be placed on the town website without a vote by the Council. (So now we need to determine which things can and cannot be placed on the website. Does announcement of the Easter Egg hunt require a Council vote? How about the documents on oiling goose eggs? It is not at all clear to me where the dividing line sits.) It was not provided to the other Council members (well ... we suppose Gentz may have seen a copy...) so evidently they were expected to vote sight unseen.

      Odd that it requires a vote because the description of the document makes it sound like something in the Land Evidence Records, which would make it public already.

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    2. Indeed. And so if Amy is unable to put her hands on the town's copy of the document to provide it to the public, it's hard to escape the conclusion that someone has absconded with the town's copy.

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    3. Perhaps Section 10.2 of Section 10 Agenda
      of Charlestown's Council Rules and Procedures
      reading "The Town Council may choose not to act on any agenda item if the backup material is not submitted to the Town Council by noon on the Friday before the Town Council meeting." needs to be amended to read May Not Act, rather May Choose Not to Act? Must we actually restrict the Council because they continue to not understand or choose to ignore, that the people of Charlestown expect all adequate and accurate information about an issue being considered by the Council to be provided in working sessions of the Town Council, which session are open to the public, and we want that back-up information to Be available and BE considered Before decisions and actions are taken by the Town Council.
      Charlestown's citizens want to be able to easily access and read the same back-up information prior to the Town Council working session so we can be assured that the Town Council is considering all aspects of the issue using all complete and accurate information and that the issue being considered is correctly described. Judi Howell

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    4. Where/what Are the guidelines for what can be be published on the Town's website and who is the person charged with the responsibility for deciding if a subject fits the guidelines? Where does the website actually reside and who is the author/editor?
      Who are the 'We' mentioned on the town's website section labeled Online Services that we are to contact if we have difficulty finding information we would expect to be on the site or difficulty navigating the site? It doesn't seem to be apparent on the website; if I missed it, would someone please inform? Does the town need volunteers to expand the site? Judi Howell

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    5. Linda, I do not expect that the Clerk went searching through town records for a document matching Slattery's description ("1979 Land Transfer Agreement"). The usual approach, when someone says they have a document, is to ask that person.

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    6. Land evidence records are kinda important, they're not just any old document. It shouldn't require an exhaustive search of town hall to locate them, IMO.

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  2. To Judi Howell - there are lots of layers to the case of Deputy Dan's secret Ninigret papers.
    1. He introduced a motion to have the records placed on the town's website, but he would not let his Council colleagues see the documents in question.
    2. Based on his description of the documents, they are already public records and should already be town property.
    3. However, the town doesn't have, can't identify or can't locate one of them.
    4. Slattery won't give the document up, even though it belongs to the town and is subject to disclosure under the open records law.
    5. Slattery is blaming the Town Solicitor. He says the Town Solicitor told him not to disclose the documents until the Council approves his motion.
    6. The Town Solicitor denies he said that.
    7. Slattery's Council members don't want to vote on something, sight unseen.
    8. Slattery won his Council seat on his campaign pledges of open and transparent government.

    And all while this is going on, Slattery and his CCA cronies are trying to get the Town Administrator fired for not distributing a letter that was, when it was written, a moot point.

    If this seems ridiculous, it is. If Slattery seems like a hypocrite to you, he is. If we put up with him and his incessant antics, we deserve what we get.

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  3. Judi - a couple more points. You asked who is responsible for the town website. The Town Clerk is designated under the Town Charter as the person responsible for managing the town's records and for seeing to it that they are available to the public. Under Amy's predecessor and mentor, former Clerk Jodi LaCroix, the town made major technological leaps forward - with Clerkbase and other innovations.

    But the decisions about what gets posted have become highly politicized like everything else in Charlestown. The town staff are fearful of doing ANYTHING that might antagonize the Council majority.

    Any town staff person who shows any kind of initiative is likely to pay a heavy price for it because somebody isn't going to like it. Ask Bill DiLibero. Or Jay Primiano.

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  4. I wonder if the Town Clerk agreed to Deputy Dan's request to obtain at the least, a copy of these documents. I can understand that occurence, with the proper standards of transmission being utilized. The question is : Where is the original?

    Sounds like the missing pages of Nixon's era....

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