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Monday, March 26, 2012

The New England Patriots will NOT be allowed to play at Ninigret Park

The Ninigret Park papers from the Department of Interior
Boss Gentz says he is NOT welcome at
Ninigret Park
By Will Collette

At the March 12 Town Council meeting, Town Council Boss Tom Gentz tossed aside his carefully crafted image as everybody’s jolly Uncle Fluffy to become Charlestown’s latest version of a political boss. Boss Gentz pronounced that based on communications he’s had with the Interior Department’s Boston Regional office, under no circumstances would there be any sports lighting at Ninigret Park.

Gentz further declared that there would be no debate or discussion – and that he would rule any attempt to speak on the subject of sports lighting at Ninigret out of order. There would be no dissent. There would be no vote. He had decided, and that’s that.

This sent some of us scrambling to see where in the Town Charter Boss Gentz found the authority to do that. No luck so far.

However, finally, the actual letter from the Interior Department has emerged.

The March 8 letter is from Elyse LaForest (I wonder if she got the job because of the name), the regional Program Manager for the Interior Department’s Lands to Parks Program.

The letter is addressed to Boss Gentz. Ms. LaForest says the Department will not allow “a lighted football stadium” in Ninigret Park because it is adjacent to the National Wildlife Refuge. She also says a “lighted football stadium” may cross the “line” (her use of quotation marks) toward “commercial use.”

The land that is now Ninigret Park was transferred from the feds to the town on condition that the town’s uses must be recreational and “not inconsistent with” the Refuge. The land is divided into two parts: 55 acres that the town may use for active recreation, pretty much as it sees fit (until now), and the remainder left for passive recreation only to serve as a buffer for the wildlife refuge.

Our stalwart leader, Boss Gentz, took Ms. LaForest's letter to be the Word from on high that there can be no sports lighting of any kind at Ninigret Park. Now others might read that letter as a ban on what Ms. LaForest actually says – a lighted, commercial football stadium – and not a blanket ban on all sports lighting of any type, size, or intensity as Boss Gentz interprets her meaning.

Somebody had apparently given Ms. LaForest the impression that we wanted to build a Patriots Stadium-type venue at Ninigret – as opposed to putting up some dark-sky-friendly lights on a ball field to give peewee football players six hours a week of playing time in the fall. Any guesses who might have fed her the wrong information?

No offense intended, but Ms. LaForest is a pretty low-ranking federal bureaucrat. She is nowhere near Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in the chain of command. And in Charlestown, for entirely different reasons, we have some notoriety higher up the food chain at Interior.

Often mistaken for the Dallas Cowboys
Instead of clarifying Ms. LaForest’s obvious misconceptions about the proposals for the town’s land at Ninigret, and perhaps asking for an opinion from someone higher up the chain of command, our brave Boss Gentz decides to assume dictatorial powers within Charlestown in order to surrender to the feds without a Peep®.

Not only has Boss Gentz decided – without discussion, debate, dissent or a vote – to knuckle under to a mistaken directive from a lower level federal bureaucrat, but he and his henchman Council VP Deputy Dan Slattery are using this letter, and an earlier one from LaForest objecting to municipal wind turbines in Ninigret Park, as the basis for a purge of the Town Administrator and most probably several other town staff.

I just don’t understand this style of leadership. Boss Gentz and Deputy Dan Slattery were elected to represent the interests of the people of Charlestown, not to kowtow to the federal government or to simply pander to the CCA elite political base.

This letter from Elyse LaForest was the spark that turned Uncle Fluffy Tom Gentz into the new, despotic Boss Gentz who apparently believes a goofy letter from a lower level fed trumps the Town Charter.

Read the letter yourself and then decide whether Boss Gentz is protecting your interests or surrendering the town’s rights to the use of Ninigret Park.

The last time the Town of Charlestown had a major dispute with the US Department of Interior, the town took that dispute all the way to the US Supreme Court and won, in the Carcieri v. Salazar decision.

In that case, the town was fighting the Interior Department over how the Narragansett Indian tribe was going to manage the land that the Tribe owned.

The CCA wanted to spare no town taxpayer expense and stop at nothing to fight the case all the way to the top.

In the current instance, a low-level Interior Department official is telling the Town how the Town is going to manage land that IT owns.

Boss Gentz unilaterally declared that we will not expend any town resources or efforts to challenge Ms. LaForest’s misinformed opinion letter. And the CCA cheers that decision.

I eagerly await the CCA’s explanation for why we should only fight the Interior Department when it comes to matters related to the Narragansetts, and not for children who want to play in Ninigret Park.