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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Town Council, the instant review

Y-Gate Scandal, Slattery’s War on Ninigret - the nightmares might be almost over
New battles ahead over Platner power grab and CRAC’d recommendations
Edna Mashl, recipient of the Boston Post Cane as
Charlestown's oldest resident (99)
By Will Collette

The Town Council covered an extraordinary number of agenda items at its May 14 regular meeting. They went through the entire agenda of 675 items and will not need to do a second May meeting after all. So if you had May 21st penciled into your calendar for the second round, erase it.

There’s a lot to cover – and I will not try to do it all tonight – but here are some biggies:

  • Y-Gate. The Council ok’d the Town Budget to go to the voters on June 4 minus the $475,000 the Budget Commission had recommended spending from the budget surplus for the Westerly YMCA’s abandoned campground on Watchaug Pond. If the town taxpayers are going to get stuck with the tab for buying this site, it will have to be done by some other method. This is a major setback for the promoters of this outrageous raid on taxpayer money, but I don’t believe anyone has driven a stake through its heart.
  • Deputy Dan Slattery’s war on town management of Ninigret Park. The Council passed a radically altered motion that puts the authority over Ninigret Park with the Parks and Recreation Commission where the Town Charter says it should be. And they got $15,000 to hire consultant services to help them advance the Ninigret Park Master Plan. Even though Deputy Dan got spanked – again –  that’s that, although he tried to get one last dig in at the end – saying he didn’t see any reason why Parks and Rec couldn’t run whatever ideas they have past his much revered stakeholders. Marge Frank, who was once again very much on her game, explained to Deputy Dan that if those stakeholders want a say, they can do what any other citizen should do – go to Parks & Rec meetings. There are still a couple of stray issues left on Deputy Dan’s jihad list, but like Y-Gate, this issue may also be winding down.
The Council voted to order two likely hot button issues advertised for public hearings at the June 11 Council meeting.

Platner’s Planning Power Push. This is Ordinance #349,  which she presented as a totally innocent, simple revision of town ordinances that really should be of no concern to anyone, unless you actually read the Ordinance. If you actually read the Ordinance, you will see that Platner’s appetite for power is insatiable and that this Ordinance would put just about every non-residential property owner directly under her thumb if they ever want to do anything to their property. More details to follow.
CRAC’d CRABs get another day in the sun. It’s now official that there will be a public hearing on June 11 to review the seven Charter Revision Questions drafted for Council approval to send to the voters in November. I reviewed those questions – click here.

And the other stuff

I was only half-joking that the Council agenda had 675 items. It really didn’t but it seemed that way, despite the way they plowed through them all.

The meeting started with a nice little ceremony to present the town’s oldest resident, 99 year old Edna Mashl (see photo at the top of this article) with the Boston Post Cane for being the town’s oldest resident. It was a nice moment and Ms. Mashl seems like a very interesting and lively person.

The Council introduced and welcomed our new Acting Police Chief, force veteran Lt. Michael Paliotta, who will be filling the post until a successor to retiring Police Chief Jack Shippee gets named. Correction: Acting Town Administrator Pat Anderson e-mailed me to say "Lt. Paliotta was the acting chief while Chief Shippee and Lt. McMahon were out of town.  An Acting Chief to replace Chief Shippee when he retires has not been named." I'm busted! Sorry for the error. 

Then it was on with the long, grinding slog through item after item.

"I have a question for you, Peter."
What made the meeting seem to go so slowly, even though the Council completed a nearly impossible agenda, was that virtually every agenda item discussion was marred by procedural errors by Council President Boss Tom Gentz and incessant questions by Councilor Lisa DiBello to Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero for legal opinions, clarifications, double-checking, etc. I lost track after two dozen unforced errors by Gentz and two dozen Solicitor questions by DiBello.

Fortunately for Gentz, either Councilor Marge Frank or Town Clerk Amy Weinreich were there to prevent Gentz’s errors from causing more serious problems. And Ruggiero patiently – and efficiently – dealt with DiBello’s stream of questions.

Nearly every agenda item, including small ones, generated some controversy.

One issue that seemed so minor that it didn’t even make my B-List was the renewal of the Ninigret Park Gatehouse lease. This seemed like a very beneficial arrangement for the town to lease the space to a guy who does work for the town in the Park and is also sprucing up the space. But Lisa DiBello objected, raised several legal questions with Ruggiero, and drew her two Council allies – Boss Gentz and Deputy Dan – into a 3-2 vote to table the issue until Ruggiero can do some exhaustive legal review of the matter. It looked to me like a spite vote, perhaps a backhanded swipe at the Parks and Recreation Commission who recommended the lease be extended. 

Other B-list items included Frank Glista’s proposal to use space in Ninigret to display artifacts from the days when the Park was a Naval Air Field. After sharp questioning from DiBello (and more questions from her to Ruggiero), the Council OK’d allowing Solicitor Ruggiero to draw up a formal legal agreement.

On a 4 to 1 vote, the Council finally OK’d donating the old lights from the closed Town Driving Range to the Chariho Cowboys. More questions from DiBello to Ruggiero who just didn’t like the idea since the town doesn’t have a formal, legal policy on donating surplus or obsolete equipment. Ruggiero said that, absent a policy, the Council could do what it wanted with old stuff. Not good enough for DiBello, the only dissenter.

Skim-boarding may be allowed under very narrowly defined circumstances, with strict time limits, to accommodate a June 23rd skim-boarding competition and a week-long skim-boarding camp. Again, DiBello had legal questions about whether waiving enforcement of the town ordinance against skim-boarding creates a bad precedent. The Council gave its OK to Ruggiero crafting a legal agreement covering this event and bringing it back to the Council on June 11, only 12 days before the event.

Beach Passes. The Council members haggled over a proposal to allow any resident to get a beach pass for any vehicle which is registered in the town and taxed by the town. Slattery cited the usual unnamed parties who complained about the beaches being too crowded as the reason he didn’t like unlimited passes for residents. He amended the proposal to limit the number of passes to three per resident household. The Council approved the amended plan 4-1, with Gregg Avedisian voting no.

DiBello asked to have two items, one of them with two parts, to be removed from the Consent Agenda and put in front of the Council for discussion, apparently so that she could ask yet more legal questions of the Town Solicitor. One of them was the Seafood Festival where she had a question about insurance. Folded into that was the Frosty Drew seafood market fund-raiser. Ruggiero patiently answered DiBello’s questions. 5-0 yes.

She also wanted to ask questions about the replacement of faulty air conditioning at the Police Station. According to a memo from the Department, the A/C has been terrible for years, requiring $20,000 or more in repairs per year, roughly the same amount that it would cost to replace the entire system. The money is in the budget. DiBello wanted to know if the money was really in the budget (it is) and whether there was some way to get the contractor or manufacturer to pay (there isn’t since the warranty and the time limit on suing expired years ago). Council OK’d this 5-0.

There’s more, much more, but the hour is late, my head is banging, this article is getting long, and there’s always tomorrow. There's more to come - parking disputes, parades, red lights, energy, housing and, of course, more Lisa DiBello questions.

If you want to go into Clerkbase and do an actual count of DiBello’s questions to Ruggiero and Gentz’s unforced errors, please send me your tally at