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Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Fateful Fifty-six Days

Kill Bill, Part Seven: when not even hindsight is 20/20

By Will Collette

Deputy Dan is stocking up on the charcoal as Town Administrator William DiLibero is due for yet another grilling by the Town Council majority today, Thursday, April 19, at the Council’s special agenda-setting meeting. The meeting starts at 5:30 PM.

The Charlestown Citizens Alliance wants DiLibero fired, even though they once loved and praised him, because he no longer fits their agenda. Indeed, it helps the CCA to use DiLibero as a target because it distracts public attention away from the major foul-ups by the CCA’s Town Council majority and Planning Commission. Nothing captures the attention of the masses more than a public execution.

April 19, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.
Charlestown Town Hall, 4540 South County Trail, Charlestown

The Town Council will hold a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. on April 19, 2012 at the Town Hall, 4540 South County Trail, Charlestown.  The agenda is as follows:

1.   Call to Order and Roll Call
2.   The Town Council may vote to move into Executive Session pursuant to RIGL §42-46-4&5(a) (1) Personnel (Town Administrator-Performance Evaluation)
3.   Potential action, announcement and/or vote(s) from Executive Session concerning Town Administrator’s performance evaluation which may involve discipline, resignation and/or termination
4.   Adjournment

Exhibits A and B in the CCA attack on DiLibero are both, coincidentally, letters from Elyse LaForest, an official in the Interior Department’s Boston Regional office who runs this region’s federal Lands to Parks Program.

The CCA has trumpeted these two letters as evidence that DiLibero is a bad Town Administrator. Yet if withholding records was sufficient cause to terminate a town official, then the leader of the “Kill Bill” campaign, CCA Councilor Deputy Dan Slattery, would have been gone a long time ago. But the CCA does not feel bound by the same standards it insists that everyone else live up to.

A critical 56-day period lies at the heart of the CCA’s case against Administrator DiLibero. The 56 days start with Elyse LaForest’s January 18, 2011, letter to DiLibero saying “no” to his request to site three federally-funded municipal wind turbines on the 172.4 acres of town land in Ninigret that had been deeded to the town by the federal government. The 56 days end with the death of the municipal wind turbine project, which occurred on March 14, 2011, when the Town Council extended its ban on wind energy in Charlestown.

Some key background facts:
In 2009 and 2010, the former Town Council, all of whom were CCA-endorsed candidates, embraced the idea of bringing major wind energy projects to Charlestown.

They approved Whalerock, an industrial wind farm proposal by developer Larry LeBlanc that would have placed large turbines along the moraine on the north rim of Route One. They approved a second, separate project to place three smaller turbines on town land in Ninigret Park to supply power for municipal buildings, including Charlestown Elementary School.

Whalerock stirred up a firestorm of NIMBY opposition that sources tell me was instigated by none other than Deputy Dan Slattery, who was, at the time, president of the CCA.

Ironically, the CCA had conducted and released a poll in November 2009 showing overwhelming town support for wind energy. But Deputy Dan knows how to play both sides.

While Whalerock provoked vocal NIMBY opposition, by contrast, opposition to the municipal wind project, which came mainly from the Arnolda neighborhood, was much quieter and discrete, but no less deadly.

By early 2010, a major rift developed within the CCA. Part of CCA supported the five sitting Council members they had elected, who were staunch supporters of wind power.

Another part of CCA stood with Ruth Platner and the Planning Commission, which opposed the wind power projects largely because they oppose the construction of anything and everything.

And there was the Deputy Dan factor. He stirred up the Ill Wind RI NIMBY group, and slowly but surely, the Whalerock NIMBYs became players within the CCA.

The CCA “excommunicated” the five seated Town Council members and vowed allegiance to the anti-wind-power NIMBYs. They ran a new CCA slate (Dan Slattery, Tom Gentz and Cliff Vanover) to oppose the now-excommunicated old CCA slate. For an unofficial “Guide to the Charlestown Citizens Alliance” that includes this history and more, click here

By cheating on state election laws, the CCA managed to win seats for Gentz and Slattery (Vanover lost). Only two of the four old CCA excommunicants who chose to run made it through the election – Marge Frank and Gregg Avedisian.

Even though the new CCA Council members, Gentz and Slattery, with their new partner Lisa DiBello, were anti-Whalerock (at this point, everybody was against Whalerock), they still felt like the municipal turbine project was worthwhile, largely because Tom Gentz was a huge fan of wind energy, though he would deny it now.

At their first Town Council meeting on November 15, 2010, they slapped a moratorium on wind energy in general, but on a unanimous vote, gave DiLibero the green light to continue working on the municipal wind project. Indeed, Council President Gentz pushed hard for the municipal wind project.

Two days later, according to a November 17, 2010, phone record written by Ms. LaForest, DiLibero called LaForest to see if Interior was open to the idea of the municipal turbines being sited on the 172.4 acres of town land under Interior jurisdiction, rather than the town-owned 55 acres in Ninigret Park. LaForest said no.

Nineteen days later, on December 6, 2010, DiLibero once again asked for Interior permission to consider siting the municipal turbines on the 172.4 acres. 

This triggered the infamous January 18, 2011, letter from LaForest, which decisively said no to placing the turbines on the 172.4 acres. 

Our sources tell us that DiLibero was caught between rising opposition from Arnolda against putting the wind project on the town's 55 acres, which abuts their neighborhood, and Council President Gentz's enthusiasm for the project. Trying to get Interior's approval for siting on the 172.4 acres was DiLibero's best response to the squeeze.

DiLibero asked for permission, twice, and was denied permission, twice. According to a March 15 letter by Jeff Broadhead, director of the Washington County Regional Planning Council (WCRPC), who secured the federal funding for the municipal wind turbine project, the municipal turbines would have been “located on a 55-acre tract that is owned free and clear by the town, and is not subject to recreational or park use restrictions as are the other parcels. The Town of Charlestown has been corresponding with the National Park Service and the RI delegation to see if other parts of the park could be used as well.”

Jeff Broadhead tells the Council the municipal wind
project is dead
Broadhead’s March 15 letter notified the RI Office of Energy Resources that the WCRPC and the Town of Charlestown were refusing the federal grant they had been awarded based on the decision of the Town Council on March 14, 2011, to extend its blanket moratorium on wind power for another six months.

As Broadhead explained in his letter, that extended six-month ban would make it impossible for Charlestown to meet the deadline for completion required by the federal grant. That Council resolution, 56 days after the infamous LaForest letter, marked the end of the municipal wind turbine project.

One month later, on April 20, 2011, Broadhead appeared before the Charlestown Town Council to tell them the municipal wind turbine project was dead. If you read the minutes of that meeting, you will see that most of the details of the municipal wind project, such as the exact site and the exact heights of the towers, were still not locked in place and were still subject to discussion and negotiations with stakeholders and, of course, final Town Council action. During those 56 days, DiLibero was trying to at least finalize the siting.

For 56 days, DiLibero worked with Broadhead, met with our local federal Interior Department overseer Charlie Vandemoer at least twice and, as Broadhead’s letter details, tried to keep the project going, as he was mandated to do at the November 15, 2010, Town Council meeting.

Broadhead also states that he and DiLibero met with Interior’s Charlie Vandemoer – the Westerly Sun reports that Boss Gentz and Councilor Avedisian were also at the meeting – and, according to Broadhead, Vandemoer “was clearly impressed with the work we’ve done, both in our studies and in the mitigation measures we are including that directly address both bird and bat mortality.” Vandemoer told the Sun that he remembers the meeting but doesn’t remember if the letters (actually there was only one letter at the time) came up in the discussion.

As Broadhead said in his March 15, 2011, letter, the Town Council had affirmed its support of the project three times in the six months prior to killing the project.

My sources tell me that right up until the municipal wind turbine project was killed at the March 14, 2011, Town Council meeting, Town Council Boss Tom Gentz was still pushing for a least one small wind turbine in the Park, perhaps accompanied by an educational information kiosk on alternative energy. Gentz was told that, given the growing opposition, not even a small turbine was likely to happen.

Now, the CCA looks at those 56 days and they see a Town Administrator who is acting with cunning and deception to push his own personal agenda, although they don’t seem to know what that agenda is or what he gains from it. And, as the evidence shows, their position has no basis in reality.

They forget that their own Uncle Fluffy, Council Boss Tom Gentz, was still plugging to construct at least one wind turbine in Ninigret Park – though now he wants to throw DiLibero under the bus.

They forget that the CCA was once a staunch supporter of wind energy and that their survey results showing overwhelming support for wind energy was presented to the Town Council on December 14, 2009, by none other than Boss Gentz. 

They forget that Deputy Dan himself testified before the Town Council on October 13, 2009, that he favored wind energy, though he opposed Whalerock purely for procedural reasons. Later, Deputy Dan said that based on "extensive research" that he has never shared with anyone, he believes wind energy is a health hazard. My sources tell me his support for wind energy was never honest about his position – that he was one of the prime agitators of the anti-wind NIMBY movement in town while claiming to support wind energy.

They forget that their new Council majority had broken the pattern and retained DiLibero as Town Administrator, even though Charlestown had established a pattern of firing Administrators after every election.

DiLibero thought he had a Council mandate, based on their November 15, 2010, vote, to go forward with the municipal wind power project. He thought there was a council “consensus,” as it was described in the November 17, 2010, minutes to let him do his job without micromanagement.

DiLibero was mistaken to think he had a Town Council mandate, or their confidence, or their pledge that they wouldn’t micromanage. He was mistaken to trust the Town Council majority to have any decency or integrity. Those are the mistakes that may cost him his job.