Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

No more Uncle Fluffy

UPDATED: Council President Gentz drops the mask
Goodbye, Uncle Fluffy. Hello, Boss Gentz
By Will Collette

I've been waiting all week to post this article until the video of the March 12 Town Council meeting was posted on Clerkbase. UPDATE: Thanks to my colleague Tom Ferrio, we now have an indexed version so you can navigate through the 4 hours of video and see different discrete segments.

I wanted you to see the video because I want you all to see for yourselves how our formerly jocular and bumbling Town Council President Tom Gentz (CCA) has transformed himself into an autocrat, into "Boss Gentz," if you will.

It's not a pretty picture.

Gentz, when he used to be Uncle Fluffy
For the 17 months Tom Gentz (CCA) has presided over the Charlestown Town Council, he has worked hard to craft his image as “Uncle Fluffy,” the jolly uncle who tells corny jokes, laughs heartily, slaps everybody on the back and slips the nieces and nephews candy bars.

As presiding officer of the Town Council, he has tried to run meetings like they were the local Kiwanis with forced jocularity and goofy but forgivable mistakes.

At the March 12 Town Council meeting, we got to see the Tom Gentz that hides behind the mask. He came out ready to proclaim to the town that Uncle Fluffy has gone off to another place, and we now have, to mix literary metaphors, Mr. Hyde in his place. Or more accurately, Boss Gentz.

It started right at the beginning during the awarding of the town’s second “Hometown Hero” award to Deborah Nigrelli of RI-CAN. Apparently, Ms. Nigrelli came to the session under the impression that the floor would be hers for as long as she wished. She came with a five-page densely typed script and a bevy of volunteers, and launched into an elaborate acceptance speech that would have put an Academy Award winner to shame.

Gentz stood waiting to give her the award and pose for photos while Nigrelli got wound up in her delivery. When she was about 5 minutes into her speech and it looked like she was going to introduce all 75 RI-CAN volunteers one by one for a standing ovation, the Uncle Fluffy mask came off as Gentz abruptly cut her off, handed her the award and did everything but shove her back to her seat.

But that was just the warm-up. Though he got through the first item on the agenda – his cause du jour, oiling Canada Goose eggs to stop the geese from hatching – without biting the head off a goose, it was clear that he was struggling to smile and grin as the audience gave the goose-oiling idea a mixed reception.

Then came the main event of the night, the dark sky ordinance. Gentz led off by stating he had exchanges with the Boston regional Interior Department director and had been told that the feds were asserting their right to challenge, if not outright veto, activities in Ninigret Park that the feds felt were not in keeping with the 1981 Land Transfer agreement the town signed when the Interior Department gave the town its portion of the old Ninigret Naval Air Station.

Gentz said he was told the Interior Department objected to the idea of a lighted football stadium because that crossed the line into a commercial venture, prohibited under the agreement.

Deputy Dan Slattery – in a good mood
Gentz was backed up by his CCA colleague, Council Vice-President Deputy Dan Slattery, who behaved throughout the meeting like a snarling thug.

Gentz then ruled that, on his order, “sports field lighting in Ninigret Park is dead.” As in door nail. No lights. No discussion. No dissent.

He stated that if anyone attempted to speak about sports lighting, they would be ruled out of order (and presumably ejected if they persisted).

He did not ask his fellow Council members for their approval of his Executive Order, even though it was based on an Interior official being given the WRONG INFORMATION.

Instead, he ruled Councilor Marge Frank out of order when she attempted to set the record straight on the true nature of the sports lighting proposal.

Councilor Marge Frank after been shot down
by Boss Gentz
Boss Gentz’s Dictum made no concession to the real proposed use of the park sports fields – for a couple of hours of dark-sky-compliant lighting so the little kids in Pop Warner football could play.

Although the Interior Department seems to think our Parks and Recreation Commission wants to build a clone of Patriots Stadium at Ninigret, Gentz seemed more comfortable issuing a unilateral ban rather than letting people discuss the matter.

Or to let Council members ask questions. Or for P&R to suggest perhaps clearing up the Interior Department’s obvious misinformation. Or taking a vote. Or even ensuring that the public or the other Council members could actually get a copy of the critically important but mysteriously unavailable documents at the heart of this matter.

Nope. Tom Gentz has now taken complete Executive command of Charlestown. He will make these decisions without discussion, dissent or a vote. And he can count on his red-faced henchman Deputy Dan Slattery to back him up.

Remember, all of this was happening as a preamble to the public hearing for the proposed lighting ordinance. The agenda items for Ninigret Park and lighting therein were scheduled for much later on the agenda.

A delegation of coaches from the Chariho Cowboys Pop Warner football team who were there to plead for six hours of lighting a week in the fall for their kids to play walked out of  the meeting, saying that what they had come to discuss had been ruled as prohibited by the chair, so there was no point in staying.

Dr. Lew Johnson, or "Vanna White" as he was called
by Boss Gentz
After this shocking display of arrogance and over-reach, Gentz attempted to re-direct the meeting to the Dark Sky ordinance that was on the agenda.

In a lame effort to return to his Uncle Fluffy persona, Gentz tried to yuk it up with much-respected Dr. Lew Johnson, who demonstrated various ways to inexpensively make lighting dark-sky friendly.

Gentz kept calling Dr. Johnson “Vanna White,” which I guess was supposed to mean that Gentz thought of himself as Pat Sajak. Mr. Gentz, you’re no Pat Sajak, and Dr. Lew Johnson, who is knowledgeable about dark skies and reasonable about ways to protect it, is no Vanna White.

The first speaker was Janice Falcone, who is absolutely a Charlestown institution. She testified as the owner of the General Stanton Inn and as a widow living alone who has reasons to fear the dark. Throughout her testimony, Gentz interrupted with non sequiturs that I’m sure he thought were funny. But since the Uncle Fluffy act was exposed as a fake, Gentz’s cracks sounded more insulting and disrespectful than cute.

Janice Falcone - openly mocked by Boss Gentz
Several more speakers expressed the range of views held in town – businesses opposed to more regulation, average citizens wanting a reasonable approach to preserving the dark sky, and Frosty Drew reps defending the observatory.

Generally, the speakers shared a consensus view that the dark sky deserves protection that is reasonable and effective.

Then Deputy Dan Slattery jumped into the discussion. He launched into his four motions to impede if not end most activity at Ninigret Park – totally out of order, but tolerated by Gentz nonetheless – noting that the whole idea of lighting at Ninigret Park for anything needed to be approached in deference to the Interior Department, Frosty Drew Observatory and the abutting neighborhoods.

Boss Gentz ignored repeated calls for a Point of Order while his henchman abused the rules and continued his rant against town management of Ninigret Park. Councilors Avedisian and Marge Frank objected to Slattery’s interjection of his motions – which were on the agenda for later in the meeting – but again got no help from Boss Gentz as Chair.

Which was not surprising, since Boss Gentz had already decided that he (and I guess the feds) rule what happens in Ninigret Park.

I’m not going to go into detail about the other, non-Ninigret aspects of the Dark Sky ordinance – that will be addressed in separate, focused articles – other than to say there was no resolution other than to kick the ordinance into next month and maybe beyond.

Commissar Platner got to speak as often and as long as she
liked. Other women speakers were treated with disrespect
by Boss Gentz.
Planning Commissar Ruth Platner tried to explain that the Planning Commission is proposing amendments that would result in the ordinance having little or no impact on anybody. Plus, she pointed out, the ordinance will probably be unenforceable to boot (begging the question of why an ordinance that does nothing was needed).

Despite Platner’s repeated attempts to clarify, I think the audience was left more confused, and wondering if there really was anything left to the original audience.

Representatives of Frosty Drew came to the podium on several occasions to speak in favor of protecting the dark sky, but also tried to dispel any impressions that Frosty Drew wanted to inhibit the town’s summer events or local business activity. Those impressions didn’t come from us, by the way.

The “resolution” of this long debate seems to be this:

(a) There will be no sports lighting in Ninigret Park, per order of Boss Gentz;

(b) There will be a ton of re-writes of the ordinance that may essentially render it ineffective; OR

(c) Maybe the Council will be asked to pass a resolution in April that creates a broad-based task force (which is what should have been done before all this started) to try to arrive at a reasonable, consensus-based dark sky ordinance.

Boss Gentz is the new sheriff in town
That will take time, but it’s time we have and, hopefully, we’ll get it right this time. One bright spot, pardon the pun, in the midst of this otherwise dreary Council meeting is a clear consensus even from opponents of the Planning Commission version of the ordinance that the dark sky is valued and should be protected. Now we need to figure out the right way to do that.

The meeting slogged on through the night, four hours that seemed like twelve, as attacks and counter-attacks flew among the Council members and people in the audience. Throughout it all, the former Uncle Fluffy Tom Gentz slung the mud as well as anyone else.

Singled out for special attack was Town Administrator Bill DiLibero. In just a short span of months, DiLibero went from being commended for his hard work during the town’s Hurricane Irene crisis, being glowingly evaluated, having his contract extended and getting a raise to being a guy on the edge of maybe losing his job.

The Town Hall staff went from being highly respected and praised to wondering whether there is a staff purge coming, driven by Town Boss Gentz and Deputy Dan.

Both Gentz and Slattery made a point of noting that the Interior Department had sent the town a letter in January 2011 vetoing the plan to install three municipal wind turbines in Ninigret Park. Both Gentz and Slattery were outraged that they did not have that letter. They said that had they known about the letter, they would probably have stopped construction of the meteorological measuring tower.

DiBello joined in, though given her conflict of interest due to her lawsuit, DiBello v. Charlestown, which names DiLibero as a lead defendant, it was out of line for her to participate in the horse-whipping of DiLibero.

DiLibero tried to explain that when he received the letter from Interior, he contacted the Washington County Regional Planning Commission, the town’s partner in securing an alternative energy grant, and directed that the grant be refused. DiLibero said he decided not to cancel the met tower project because the data is needed to supplement other met tower data collection points along the coast for the general good of the region.

But by this point, Gentz and Slattery, with DiBello in the chorus, had already smeared DiLibero’s reputation.

Deputy Dan will have his way
Deputy Dan Slattery’s insidious proposals to override the Parks and Recreation Commission and to create a new “Stakeholders Commission” to take over the running of the Park was deferred to April.

So were his motions to write and sign agreements with the Interior Department, Frosty Drew Observatory and neighboring abutters that would pretty much give them veto rights over Ninigret Park activities.

The March 12 Town Council meeting was about as bad as it gets. Very little – indeed virtually nothing except the small stuff – was accomplished. Boss Gentz showed his true nature as a sarcastic, insensitive autocrat, and Deputy Dan Slattery is now completely off his leash. Councilor DiBello now feels comfortable flouting ethics rules and common sense – thinking that it is ok to “serve” the town while she is suing the town.

Dissenters are treated with minimal tolerance, if not outright scorn and disrespect.

And the Town Council President has openly seized dictatorial power. In short, this is the worst I've seen it in the past ten years. Oh, Charlestown, what have we done to ourselves?

The question Charlestown now needs to debate is what we are going to do about it.

For further insight into Charlestown's new regime under Boss Gentz, I suggest you study this: