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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Cracks in the CRAC?

CRACer Donna Chambers lashes out
By Will Collette

Charlestown town government is spending a LOT of taxpayer money lately advertising all the items that will be on next Monday’s Town Council meeting. Lots of full page, paid legal advertising, required by law, containing the text of ordinances coming up for public hearings on June 11, as well as the seven proposed changes to the Charlestown Town Charter being recommended by the Charlestown Charter Revision Advisory Committee (CRAC).

I reviewed these Charter proposals – read the most recent review by clicking here – and have concluded that Questions 1 through 6 do not deserve the Town Council’s authorization on June 11 to be sent to the voters for their ultimate approval in November.

The new Question #7 they added is pretty good, however. This proposed Charter change would create an ad hoc committee that would conduct an on-going review of town ordinances to see which are outdated, redundant, ineffective or unenforceable, and thus need to be changed or repealed.

For a more detailed run-down of the Charter questions that will be put before a public hearing at the June 11 Council meeting, click here and also here for modifications they made to the wording of some proposals.

But before the CRACers completed their deliberations, there was some high drama as the committee started to come unglued.

At the April 26 CRAC meeting, CRACer Donna Chambers decided that she really had it with colleague Bob Yarnall and insisted on reading the following denunciation into the record. Here is Chambers’ statement in its entirety:

“As a member of the Charter Revision Advisory Committee, I am offended and appalled by public statements made by Bob Yarnall, a member of this committee, criticizing the group after the hard work our members have put into this activity. After the public hearing on February 27, Mr. Yarnall stated our meeting to be an unmitigated disaster and a public embarrassment.  He stated that he and a majority of his colleagues were mortified.  I ask Mr. Yarnall, who is this majority?  I attended this meeting and did not think it was a disaster.  In his writing Mr. Yarnall accused the members of this committee as being biased in considering term limits for Zoning Board of Review.  In fact, Mr. Yarnall encouraged us to not consider term limits for all appointed committees, but just the Zoning Board.  He seemed to be the one targeting the Zoning Board, which he now admits.   I, as one committee member, can honestly state that I was not biased toward the Zoning Board, but believe that all appointed committees should have term limits and the process for reappointment be tightened.  Ruth Platner did not criticize our position with respect to term limits as Mr. Yarnall claimed, but rather disagreed with our position on the topic. 

Mr. Will Collette and Mr. Tom Ferrio write for the Progressive Charlestown Blog and much of what they write is inappropriate, disrespectful, misleading and/or misinformed.  It is common for these gentlemen to criticize people’s hard work. This seems to be their modus operandi.  Mr. Yarnall stated that Mr. Collette and Mr. Ferrio’s stinging analysis of the work of the Charter Revision Advisory Committee was on target.  Does this mean that he agrees that we, the members of the Charter Review Advisory Committee did not read the Charter, that we had a narrow agenda with little else on our mind except revenge against the Zoning Board and, that we are clearly “over our heads” in reviewing the Charter. 

This is what I read to be the “stinging analysis of what Mr. Collette and Mr. Ferrio wrote.  On the other hand, Mr. Collette said that most of what we are proposing for change is unnecessary and some may be downright destructive.  He offers no explanation for this opinion and has nothing positive to suggest.

Does Mr. Yarnall really agree with this non-constructive criticism?

Our committee was assembled to work as a team on the town charter and when the public criticism was leveled at our group and the work of Peter Ruggiero, Mr. Yarnall broke ranks.  Mr. Yarnall exhibited the least admirable qualities of a co-worker and team member.  I can categorically state that I did not join this committee with a bias against any group or person and I would like to believe my committee colleagues can also make such a statement.  I fear our continued deliberations will be adversely affected by Mr. Yarnall’s actions.   I cannot feel free to speak on a subject if Mr. Yarnall’s propensity to publicly criticize the Charter Revision Advisory Committee’s decisions persists.”
Respectfully submitted for the record,

Donna Chambers

Yarnall wrote his own reply, which appears next, but since Chambers mentions my name, I say this:

Two dozen Progressive Charlestown articles pretty much
cover it, don't you think?
(1) I sharply criticized the CRAC in depth and in detail, documenting each point and offering suggestions for ways they could have approached their task differently.

(2) I noted how the Charter revision process had been high-jacked by Chambers and the other members of Ill Wind, the town’s anti-wind NIMBY group, for their own agenda and not the town’s best interests. Again, I detailed those charges and documented them.

(3) Far from, as Ms. Chambers put it, “offering no explanation” for my criticisms that their proposals (except Question 7) were either “unnecessary” or “downright destructive,” all you have to do is read what I wrote. As for offering no positive suggestions, I offered many. Indeed, I wrote one whole article devoted solely to positive suggestions. And the CRAC actually put one of my suggestions into their new Question #7 which calls for on-going review of town ordinances.

All told, we published two dozen articles on the CRAC in Progressive Charlestown. We did our homework.

Read my series of articles for yourself and then compare what you read with what Chambers wrote in her attack on Yarnall. Click on this article and this article and follow the links to the articles that preceded them to get the whole picture. Or click here to see them all in reverse chronological order.

CRAC Secretary Maureen Areglado - no time
for minutes
The draft minutes for the April 30th CRAC meeting have not been entered into the record. CRAC Secretary Maureen Areglado was supposed to write them and distribute them to her colleagues, but more than a month later, they have not materialized.

I had heard that Bob Yarnall had written a response to Donna Chambers and, since the minutes for that last meeting have not been produced, I asked him for a copy of what he submitted for that missing record. This is what he provided me:

April 30, 2012

With respect to Mrs. Donna Chambers’ attachment to the minutes of the April  26, 2012 Charter Review Commission meeting regarding myself, I hereby submit the following counterpoint rebuttal.

I and my commission colleagues were offended and appalled by Mrs. Chambers’ boorish and dismissive comments to Charlestown Zoning Board Chair Michael Rzewuski at the Charter Review Advisory Board’s February public hearing. My commentary to that effect was posted on the CCA  website as part of a series of blog exchanges with Mr. Michael Chambers, who I felt was attempting to minimize or rationalize his wife’s behavior that particular evening.  I stand by my comments. No amount of backpedaling, obfuscation, or revisionism by the Chambers can change what happened. Anyone who was there knows the ugly reality of that moment.

My shift in opinion and position with respect to term limits for zoning board members is fully known to both Mr. Rzewuski Vice-chair Mr. Dreczko. I have spoken with both gentlemen and I am confident they will attest to my forthrightness.  I recognized my culpability in the inherent bias built into the term limits proposal and I proposed the motion to withdraw the amendment question. The amendment was withdrawn by a majority vote. Mrs. Chambers dissented and remains unwilling to recognize or accept any bias on her part.

Mrs. Chambers’ statement, that  “Ruth Platner did not criticize our position with respect to term limits as Mr. Yarnall claimed, but rather disagreed with our position on the topic” can best be described as a weak,  failed nuance.

I stand by my comments with respect to the Progressive Charlestown blog.  Mr. Collette’s  and Mr. Ferrio’s commentary and suggestions, rooted in basic cost-benefit analysis strategies and pragmatic overviews of the daily operations of small  town government, seem to be appropriate to the tasks expected of a charter revision committee. Mrs. Chambers’ contention that Mr. Collette “...offers no explanation for his opinions and has nothing positive to suggest...” indicates to me that she either did not read the full series of articles that Progressive Charlestown ran on the work of the Charter Review Commission or that the practicality of the blog’s suggestions are beyond her frame of reference.

Mrs. Chambers’ attempt to stand the moral high ground by declaring that my blogging entries “...exhibited the least admirable qualities of a co-worker and team member” stands in stark  contrast to her dismissive confrontation of Zoning Board members Michael Rzewuski and Raymond Dreczko at the public hearing.  A defining characteristic of bias is that those guilty of it fail to recognize it.  I disagree with Mrs. Chambers’ assessment, that “breaking ranks” constitutes  “the least admirable qualities of a co-worker or team member”  and counter with the reality that bias supplants all other vices as the destructive element that undermines the integrity of a government board or commission.

Unlike Mrs. Chambers, I do not fear that commission members’ work will be limited or modified in any way by my blogging entries, or those of anyone else. If  Mrs. Chambers feels that the blogosphere constrains her propensity to engage in heated exchanges with citizens who volunteer their time and efforts to town government, then I believe that my online submissions may have had an unintended positive outcome. If Mrs. Chambers is uncomfortable with the reality of 21st century communication networks, a.k.a. the blogosphere, simply don’t go there.

Respectfully Submitted,

Robert Yarnall