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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Field Guide to the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, PART 2

More answers to questions you’ve always wanted to ask
By Will Collette
Planning Commissar Ruth Platner: the most
powerful person in Charlestown

CLICK HERE to read Part 1

If you live in Charlestown, whether you are aware of it or not, you are governed by a secret society, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) whose endorsed candidates control the majority on the Town Council and all of the members of the Planning Commission.

From those two platforms, the CCA controls Town Hall and all of the levers of power that matter in Charlestown.

In Part 1, I described how this secret group is structured and did my best to describe how they make decisions – something that can only be done by indirect observation, since their meetings, indeed all their internal processes, are secret and closed.

In this installment, I’ll cover other important questions about the CCA, starting off with one pretty obvious one….

How can I join? 

Groucho Marx, and later Woody Allen, said, "I wouldn't want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member."

With the CCA, Groucho and Woody would not have that problem. The CCA has no method for people to join. 

In its early days, CCA was more open. You could join. You could go to CCA meetings, including their “annual meeting.” But after their civil war (2009-2010), they went into a shell of secrecy. The last CCA “annual” meeting was in 2008. At least, that was their last open meeting. Some of those reports of strange drumming, chanting and lights in the deep woods might very well be the CCA holding one of its meetings.

You can get your name on their e-bleat list (unless you’re black-listed). You can even submit a comment for their e-bleats or in the comment section of their web site. But you can’t join.

I suspect there might be some exceptions made. For instance, if you were overheard in the Mini-Super yakking about how much you hate casinos, affordable housing, wind turbines, beach toilets, casinos, outsiders, the Narragansetts, casinos, conservation development, casinos, children, the elderly or cats (and casinos), you may get spotted as new member material.

I can picture such a person being grabbed while coming out of Rippy’s some night. Bound and gagged with a bag over the head, the prospect gets thrown in the back of one of Tom Gentz’s Porsches. Then, he or she is whisked to one of CCA’s hidey-holes around town. While hanging from the ceiling, the CCA conscript is beaten with braided reeds and quizzed on their views about the traditional village concept, casinos, wind turbines, Federal dominion over Ninigret Park, shingles, casinos and outdoor lighting.

Ann Onymous, one of the powers behind the CCA
If you pass the test, you are inducted into the CCA, take the oath of secrecy and sing their anthem “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It.”

But after seeing the CCA’s 2012 Steering Committee roster, apparently you can’t join even if you suck up to them shamelessly. 

The evidence: no Steering Committee propeller beanie and decoder ring for Mike and Donna Chambers or Ron and Maureen Areglado, despite their steadfast service to the CCA agenda over the past year. None of the Planning Commission members have been admitted to the CCA inner sanctum, although Platner hardly needs such permission. Not even a honorary membership for Charlie Vandemoer.

What does it take to be a good CCA leader?

Would you like to be stuck on one of Charlestown's 
three elevators with this guy? 
A complete, unflinching devotion to expanding the amount of open space in Charlestown. A thorough distaste for children, families with children, working families with children and small business. A yearning to replace all of these with open space.

Extreme loyalty to Charlestown’s landed gentry, whether they are native or millionaire visitors. Who else is going to fund your campaigns?

The willingness to believe what other CCA leaders tell you, all evidence to the contrary. The ability to make up your own facts and to believe they are true, even though you made them up.

No sense of humor. If you smile, it should be a Dan Slattery sort of smile - part smirk, part leer, part snarl like a predator about to pounce on its prey. 

If you laugh, it should be a Tom Gentz sort of guffaw, learned through years of experience of interjecting forced jocularity into otherwise dull and boring meetings.Look in the mirror and go "Ho, ho, ha-ha-ha-hee, ho, gee that was a good conversation" until you get it right 

If you were in one of Charlestown's three elevators, and got trapped, ask yourself who would you want to have trapped with you? 

Bonus points if you can identify the location of two of the three elevators in Charlestown (fire fighters are not eligible). 

Why do the CCA leaders and supporters freak out when they are criticized? 

They can dish it out but can't take it
That’s a good question and I don’t know the answer. While nobody really likes to be criticized, the CCA people seem to be hypersensitive. They almost automatically call criticism "hate" or incivility or divisive. For a group that grew to power and maintained power by trashing and slashing every opponent, they sure don't know how to take it.

I have a theory that they were traumatized by their experience with Jim Mageau. Maybe when they hear criticism, they think somebody is about to shove a camera at them. Except it was one of them that shoved the camera in his face

I recently had a CCA Steering Committee member follow me around a supermarket calling me “Mr. Hate, Mr. Hate, Mr. Hate.” Then he got up in my face, inches away, and tried to provoke a fight. He only went away when I threatened to call the cops. Yep, and I’m the one who’s Mr. Hate.

Too bad this one didn’t simply follow the example of the CCA’s blogmeister Mike Chambers and just write all his frustrations down. All of them. And then publish them on the CCA blog.

As Charlestown’s controlling political party, the CCA should get used to the political reality that with power comes resistance and opposition. As they have pushed their agenda of passing unnecessary and intrusive ordinances whose only saving grace is that they are often unenforceable, they should expect to take some heat. 

It is not a lack of civility that drives criticism of the CCA, either by me or their many other critics. It is bad policy. And it is hypocrisy. If the CCA elected officials believe in openness and transparency, let it start with Deputy Dan Slattery. If they want “civility,” let it also start with Deputy Dan and Boss Gentz who have more than once used the Council podium to mount attacks against Charlestown citizens. Watch the Clerkbase video of Council Boss Gentz tearing into Breachway Grill owner Craig Marr for a prime example.

But hey, this is politics, and small town politics can be more vicious than even the US House of Representatives. If the CCA can’t stand the heat, drop out. Go hiking or biking. Go back to Florida, Connecticut, Massachusetts or Washington, DC. But stop whining.

If the CCA continues its grip on Charlestown, what can we expect?

The CCA will be going into the 2012 election season not so much as the folks who drove Jim Mageau out of public office, but on the record of what they have done to Charlestown since 2008 when they took control of town.

As Ronald Reagan famously asked, “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

Fair question, because as voters, you have the right to hold the CCA accountable for four years of extraordinary turmoil, lack of progress, stifled businesses and increasingly intrusive regulation that reaches into every household in Charlestown. And mistake after mistake after mistake.

The CCA are the people who believe the “Platner Principle” that no Charlestown property owner may do anything with their property unless it is expressly permitted in the town zoning ordinance.

While the legal basis for the Platner Principle is shaky at best, the CCA has political control of the two town power centers – the Planning Commission and Town Council – so even though the Platner Principle may be wrong, it’s just how things are done here.

Based on the actions of their leaders who control the Planning Commission and the Town Council, the CCA agenda is to freeze Charlestown in place like a bug in amber. 

If you look at the record of the CCA’s elected town leaders, you can see they want (a) more open space, (b) more invasive and detailed control over what businesses and homeowners can do with their own property, such as Ordinance #349 that will probably be voted into law by the Town Council next Monday, (c) fewer town businesses and more open space, (d) granting town voting rights to absentee property owners, (e) did I mention more open space?

Do you have any good news about the CCA’s rule over Charlestown?

Brace yourselves for the CCA spam attack
Well, it does look like the CCA plans on doing a lot more e-bleats and reader surveys. In their most recent campaign finance report, their largest expenditure was paid to Constant Contact, an e-mail marketing firm in Waltham, MA.   

According to the company’s website, they handle e-mail communications (like the CCA’s off-and-on e-bleats), e-mail surveys, etc. They say they can get their clients’ e-mails past spam filters. 

The company also say that for one regular fee, they’ll send out as many e-mails as the client wants (and get past spam filters).

There’s something for Charlestown voters to look forward to.