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Friday, April 6, 2012

Preview of totally insane Town Council meeting on Monday, April 9

Council has incredible number of controversial subjects
By Will Collette

The supporting documents for the Town Council’s April 9 (Monday) meeting just went up on Clerkbase this morning for an agenda that is loaded with an extraordinary number of complex and controversial issues.

Charlestown voters are just not going to have much time to look at these documents and digest them, especially on a holiday weekend. Fortunately, your trusty Progressive Charlestown crew have been tracking these issues and will provide you with a tip sheet (and over the weekend, we’ll give you our analysis and opinion of key documents).

The Council will begin its evening on Monday night with a closed-door Executive session. In that session, they will discuss the various lawsuits, contracts and other sensitive matters that are exempt from immediate public disclosure.

They will also have a “Personnel” discussion with and about Town Administrator William DiLibero, the target of the CCA’s “Kill Bill”campaign, and his implacable enemies, Councilors Deputy Dan Slattery and Lisa DiBello

DiBello is the swing vote - unless she recuses herself
as she should
It is a toss-up whether DiLibero will walk out of that meeting with his job. It depends on whether DiBello risks committing an obvious conflict of interest (she is suing DiLibero in DiBello v. Charlestown) or recuses herself as the law requires.

The Council session will start off with a series of frothy, ceremonial happy bits, like handing out commendations and congratulations. There are a lot of these scheduled for the front of the meeting, and among the honorees are the Chariho track and football teams. If the kids show up, and they usually do, this will mean a standing-room-only situation until these ceremonies, which are usually lengthy, are over. Come early if you want a seat – although the room will be half-empty once the fluffy stuff is over.

Deputy Dan is getting his teeth sharpened for Monday
The front end of the Council meeting will also include a discussion about procedures for the town to submit grant applications, renew programs and solicit donations for town projects. This will be a sore subject between Administrator DiLibero and Deputy Dan Slattery. If DiLibero emerges from the Executive Session, this may be the first skirmish of the evening.

This will be followed by a presentation of a tentative Town Budget of $26,338,451 by the Budget Commission for the Council’s first approval. This will take a lot of time.

The budget is an increase of $733,604 (2.87%) from last year. The Budget Commission is presently recommending a property tax increase of 2.95%.

There may be some audience members who stand up and argue we should cut the town staff, take away employee pensions and insurance, cut the budget and repeal Obamacare.

RHOTAP - a 21st century version of Queen for a Day
There is an odd item that might be controversial. Item 8.h. is called the “Resident Home Owner Tax Assistance Program” or RHOTAP. I can tell you what RHOTAP is not, and that’s the proposal by Charlestown Democrats for a $1000 Homestead Property Tax Credit. The Town Council majority, led by Deputy Dan Slattery, have already determined that a Homestead Tax Credit might upset our non-resident property owners and, besides, we really don’t have many “truly needy” homeowners anyway. He thinks.

According to the RHOTAP write-up, this will be a relief program for severely distressed homeowners. They will have to file an application, which will include an essay on why they are broke, and then go before a five-member panel who will judge whether they are truly deserving. I think there might also be a swimsuit competition. This is definitely NOT the Democrats' proposed Homestead Tax Credit by a long shot.

Another possibly controversial item is a request by the Chariho Cowboys Pop Warner football team for the old lighting no longer used at the town’s closed Driving Range on Route One. The kids on the team were counting on being able to play six hours a week after dark at the football field in Ninigret Park.

But Town Council Boss Tom Gentz has decreed that there will be NO SPORTS LIGHTING in Ninigret Park because it might upset the US Fish and Wildlife Service. So the kids want the old lights, presumably to use somewhere else. I am predicting that some jerk, probably from the Planning Commission, will say they can’t have the lights unless they promise to put them in Cranston because these old lights are not “dark-sky friendly.” I’m thinking the odds are about 60% that there will be a fuss over this.

Those are just the preliminary items that were moved out of their assigned places on the agenda to be at the front. I figure these items will take at least an hour and a half of the allotted three hours for the meeting.

Then the heavy stuff begins.

Maureen Areglado
Leading off will be three “Persons Wishing to Be Heard.” The first is Maureen Areglado, one of the Ill Winders, who is very pissed off at Bill DiLibero. I think the odds are about 95% that the theme of her remarks will be “Kill Bill.”

She will be followed by former Town Council President Deb Carney and Parks and Recreation Commission Vice Chair Cheryl Dowdell. Both will be addressing the controversy over the town’s use of Ninigret Park.

These presentations will be followed by the series of Deputy Dan Slattery motions that, taken as a whole, essentially (a) scrap the Ninigret Park Master Plan, which took years of hard work to produce, and (b) replace it with a new Park management structure that gives the power over events at the Park to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the non-profit Frosty Drew Observatory, and the local neighbors. These motions not only terminate the town’s Master Plan for the Park, but also relegate the town Parks and Recreation Commission to irrelevancy – totally contrary to the Town Charter – while giving the feds, the astronomers and Arnolda control over the Park. These motions might be a little controversial.

As if these topics weren’t controversial enough, the Council will also haggle over policy for posting documents and content on the town website and Clerkbase.

Here's Frank Glista with some of the Ninigret air
field artifacts
They will also discuss a proposal for a display of artifacts from the old Navy air base in the unused house near the Ninigret Park entrance. I think there’s a good chance that some Councilors will object to this, just out of spite.

The controversial dark-sky lighting ordinance is technically on the agenda, but all that will happen is an announcement that the greatly re-written ordinance will probably be on the May agenda.

The hyper-controversial Y-Gate caper is also on the agenda, but is there, as Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero put it, as a “place-holder” in case the Council arrives at some decision about whether to try to go ahead with the gift of $475,000 of your tax dollars to the Charlestown Land Trust and the Westerly YMCA. This decision is currently the subject of a lawsuit by Dr. John Donoghue, who has sued to block the transfer of town funds. I don’t expect anything to happen on this item.

The Council will discuss a cluster of permit applications for events in Ninigret Park by various groups. According to the documents that Deputy Dan Slattery considers to be the absolute binding LAW for Charlestown, any third-party group that wants to conduct a recreational activity at Ninigret Park MUST have a signed authorization for the activity from the US Secretary of Interior.

Here's the relevant section from the deed:

The town hasn’t paid any attention to this part of the land transfer agreement in the past, but since Deputy Dan wants the town to consider this document to be the gospel, I would EXPECT them to require the Fourth Graders at Chariho Elementary to crack out their authorization letter from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar before they can hold their picnic.
This Council meeting is going
to be the Deputy Dan Show

Sorry, kids, it’s THE LAW and Deputy Dan says NO EXCEPTIONS.

I’m kidding, of course. Deputy Dan and his CCA colleagues only believe in enforcing those parts of the law that advance their agenda. Unless one of those fourth graders has a parent who is a Democrat, they should be fine.

And (I’m getting tired just typing all this crap) the Council will discuss an ordinance regarding the new price schedule for beach passes.

And there will be a discussion (this should happen around 4 AM) of a large new parcel of land on Biscuit Road, currently enjoying a tax break under the Farm, Forest and Open Space tax abatement program, that might be offered to the town for purchase as open space. The property is near Ruth Platner’s house, so I’m going to take a wild guess that she might favor this idea.

I’m predicting it’s 90% likely the Council will not get anywhere near to completely through this agenda. At their April 4 planning meeting, the Councilors said they should expect to stop at or around 10 PM and announce a date (probably April 23) for a second, wrap-up meeting later this month.

Deputy Dan was against setting a date now – he wants to try to get through the whole thing. I think the odds are 75% likely that Deputy Dan thinks he has the Council votes to declare martial law midway through the meeting and then just make decisions by decree.