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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
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.