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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Charlie Vandemoer: Dupe or Duplicitous, Part 2

The Battle for Ninigret Park begins
By Will Collette

Read: "Searching for a Home for the 'Ninigret Bomb'" by clicking here.
Read Part 1 by clicking here.

Part 1 was published Monday morning just after midnight. Later that same day, through one of those coincidences you just can't plan, a letter to the editor by none other than Charlie Vandemoer ran in the Westerly Sun. That letter is a remarkable example of Charlie Vandemoer's choice to inject himself into Charlestown politics, to the detriment of Charlestown. Read it yourself by clicking here, then please read Part 2 of this series.

In Part 1, I used records received from the US Department of Interior to show how our local federal overseer, Ninigret Wildlife Refuge manager Charlie Vandemoer of the US Fish and Wildlife Service was at the heart of one of Charlestown’s most divisive political battles of the past year.

He triggered the series of events by writing a letter to the state Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) to block sports lighting funds the Parks and Recreation Commission had been seeking.

Based on the record, Deputy Dan apparently wasn’t bothered that Vandemoer killed the town’s funding proposal to RIDEM with no record of any attempt to discuss the issue in a civil manner before stabbing the town in the back.

Instead, Deputy Dan felt the need to treat Vandemoer as the injured party to be assuaged with a new, formal document establishing the rules of the relationship – the MOU (“Memorandum of Understanding”) that gave Vandemoer sweeping power that he simply has no right to have under the law..

"Here's a little MOU I'd like you to sign..."
To my surprise, the records from the Interior Department show that it was Charlie Vandemoer who wrote the first draft. Click here to read it.

Vandemoer proposed an agreement that pledged the Fish and Wildlife Service to “resolve differences and attempt to gain consensus at the lowest organizational level possible” and to “provide timely feedback on any proposed Park management activities.” That’s the opposite of the way Vandemoer handled the sports lighting funding proposal.

Vandemoer’s draft MOU also pledged Charlestown to do the same before undertaking any new activity on its lands in Ninigret Park, regardless of whether the activity is to take place on the restricted 172 acres or the unrestricted 55 acres.

But the same problems listed above still remain: the town owns its 55 acres free and clear, so why should we cede power over that land to Vandemoer? Furthermore, Vandemoer has no jurisdiction over the 172 acres – that power belongs to the National Park Service, an entirely different agency. And what business does Charlie Vandemoer have drafting policy for the town of Charlestown?

I guess this is a case of a person having as much power as they can get away with.

Throughout these early e-mails, both Vandemoer and Slattery make references to the “Land Transfer Document.” This appears to be the mysterious “Document #2” that Slattery had included in his motion to post all the documents involved in the Charlestown NAAF decommissioning online at the town’s website.

Deputy Dan's original motion for the March 12 Town Council meeting - "Document #2" never materialized and Deputy Dan dropped all reference to it. Did it ever exist or was it covered up?
But as I’ve written in previous articles, Slattery never provided this “Document #2” to the Town Clerk. After he was challenged to produce the document, the reference to “Document #2” disappeared as though this document never existed, which may be the case. 

In the end, the only documents Slattery had posted were those contained in the “50-page historical document” that Vandemoer had given him at the beginning of their discussions.

Slattery never explained what happened to his “Document #2.” More importantly, Slattery never apologized for creating the story that somehow Charlestown was failing to honor its “moral, ethical and legal obligations” that he claimed were clearly set out in a document that he never produced and indeed may never have existed.

On March 3, Slattery wrote an e-mail to Vandemoer that began, “Attached is my motion to do a new Master Plan for the Park and my stakeholder list.” Later, at the April Town Council meeting, Deputy Dan publicly denied that his motion called for a new Ninigret Park Master Plan and for a hand-picked group of stakeholders to usurp the authority Town Ordinances grant only to the Parks and Recreation Commission. 

Here is that motion, and as you read it, bear in mind that one month later, Deputy Dan denied this motion says what it says.

This is the Deputy Dan motion that Deputy Dan says doesn't actually say what it says. I am reminded of the old politician joke, "How can you tell when a politician is lying? His lips are moving."

Slattery went into the March 12 Town Council meeting loaded up with mis-information and bizarre opinions he had gotten from Charlie Vandemoer and began the weeks-long controversies that led to the firing of Town Administrator Bill DiLibero. It also led to a surprising (and satisfying) public rebuke of Deputy Dan Slattery for his deception and misrepresentations.

Charlie Vandemoer attended the Council meeting on April 9. Prior to the meeting, in executive session, the Town Council negotiated a separation agreement with Town Administrator Bill DiLibero, who was collateral damage in string of events triggered by Vandemoer’s letter killing the RIDEM sports lighting grant application.

At the regular Council session that followed, Deputy Dan tried to lie his way out of trouble. He claimed all his Ninigret Park MOUs were simply misunderstood. He claimed he never intended to scrap the Ninigret Park Master Plan or replace the Parks and Recreation Commission with his own hand-picked stakeholders (despite his March 2 e-mail to Vandemoer). He claimed he wasn’t going to give up control of Ninigret Park to the feds.

The records say otherwise. Slattery was confronted with the records showing he was not telling the truth by a succession of speakers including Deb Carney, Paula Andersen and Cheryl Dowdell.

During the April 9 Council meeting, unlike the March 12 meeting, Vandemoer was out of uniform (which is unusual) and kept his head low, silently listening to the plans he and Deputy Dan had hatched get destroyed.

The next day, on April 10, Vandemoer wrote an e-mail to Councilors Marge Frank and Gregg Avedisian to ask for a meeting to straighten out “the tremendous amount of concern and misunderstanding” that anyone might have that the federal government planned take back Ninigret Park

For unexplained reasons, Vandemoer apparently felt no need to explain himself to the Council majority of Slattery, Gentz and Lisa DiBello.

However, on March 12, Vandemoer was present, in uniform, and did step up to speak from the podium. However, Vandemoer said nothing and did nothing to contradict the repeated statements by both Deputy Dan and Boss Tom Gentz that unless Charlestown drastically changed its management practices at Ninigret Park, the feds were going to take back the Park.

Let's also remember that it's not up to Charlie Vandemoer to decide what happens to Ninigret Park anyway - it's the National Park Service, not Fish & Wildlife, that has that power, and their regional chief for Federal Lands to Parks, Elyse LaForest, dismisses the idea that the federal government would take Ninigret Park back out of hand. 

April 10 was a little late for Vandemoer to be doing damage control. Furthermore, it was his Town Council allies, Slattery and Gentz, who were telling the public about the imminent danger of a federal take-over of Ninigret Park. They got themselves jammed up because they went off half-cocked on Vandemoer's sketchy information and misinterpretations.

There are people in Charlestown who can also read public records and have far more experience with Ninigret Park than Deputy Dan or Boss Gentz. Or Charlie Vandemoer, for that matter.

But Vandemoer did nothing to either fix the mess that he had started. He also have not taken any responsibility for his major role in the Battle for Ninigret Park.

On April 11, Vandemoer asked Town Clerk Amy Weinreich to put him on the agenda under “Persons Wishing to Be Heard” to give a 10-minute talk about Ninigret Park in relation to the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge.” Later, he decided that speaking publicly wasn’t a good idea and he never gave the talk. .

Vandemoer has caused Charlestown months of grief – grief that isn’t over yet – by poking his nose where it doesn’t belong and to neuter the Parks and Recreation Commission.

He worked hand in hand with Deputy Dan Slattery to advance a scheme to rob Charlestown of its property rights. He gave the CCA the fuel they needed to burn Town Administrator Bill DiLibero at the stake.

This Ninigret Park affair is not the first or only time Charlie Vandemoer has intervened in a delicate Charlestown political issue.

In Part 3 of “Charlie Vandemoer: Dupe or Duplicitous?”, we’ll look at the record of numerous other recent interventions by Vandemoer in Charlestown business.