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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Council finishes its July meeting with a 25 minute silly session

Council disdains MOU as well as open, transparent and professional governance
By Will Collette

It was not Tom Gentz's finest half hour
With no Y-Gate Scandal matters on the agenda, the Town Council met and bumbled through 25 minutes of business left over from their July 9 session.

Playing to a largely empty chamber, the meeting began with comments from Councilor Gregg Avedisian that the meeting agenda was incorrectly constructed. It was set up as if it was a regular Council meeting, rather than a continuation of the earlier July 9 meeting. Avedisian noted that using standard agenda boilerplate was inappropriate.

Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero agreed, noting that the Council should have the Town Clerk list only those items necessary to complete the Council’s business for the month.

Council President Tom Gentz, who was clearly caught by surprise for not paying attention to this detail, said it was a matter of Town Clerk Amy Weinreich adding all the regular meeting items to the continuation agenda “out of an abundance of caution.” When in doubt, blame Amy. 

Whatever. The Council noted that they would pay more attention to this detail in the future. Since this Council routinely overloads its agendas, this new resolve should be put to the test soon at their next continuation meeting.

Next the Council tackled the question of whether or not Charlestown should sign an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) to join in clean-up efforts to remove downed trees from the Pawcatuck River. Acting Town Administrator Pat Anderson presented the Council with the objections of Town Public Works Director Alan Arsenault that the MOU created too many obligations on the town and would be difficult to actually carry out.

The Council decided to let the MOU slide and allow the Town Administrator to simply not sign the MOU.

I found this matter puzzling – still do – because Council members Gentz and Dan Slattery have argued that MOUs are simply “gentlemen’s agreements” with no binding legal effect. At least that’s what they say when it comes to signing an MOU to give the US Fish and Wildlife Service rights it does not have under law to scrutinize Charlestown’s uses of Ninigret Park.

Indeed, I think this small piece of Council business opened up a brief window of honesty on the subject of MOUs - that they are indeed contracts that create obligations. That's contrary to the b.s that's been slung by Gentz, Slattery, FWS official Charlie Vandemoer who, we all learned, has very little experience with MOUs, and the "Voice of the CCA," Mike Chambers who says he wrote lots of MOUs without the aid of a lawyer. 

But never let it be said that our CCA Councilors Gentz and Slattery are bound by consistency. 

Last month, the Council decided to conduct a secret ballot straw poll of its initial batch of applicants. 19 people initially applied. They disqualified Charlestown Tax Collector Joann Santos because she is a town employee.

But when they discussed this process at their July 9 meeting, they discovered they had committed several errors. They were told they had improperly disqualified Joann Santos and there was yet another applicant (the town’s notice asking for volunteers failed to list a deadline).

Their secret ballot produced a virtual consensus in favor of six candidates (who received four or five votes) and against six others (who received zero or one vote). That left six from the original group in the middle, plus Santos and the late applicant.

Olympic level flip-flops by Gentz & Slattery
But first, the Council had to address whether the process of using secret ballot was proper. It certainly violates the sacred CCA pledge for “open and transparent” government, since selecting members of town bodies is supposed to be done openly.

But after Solicitor Ruggiero opined that he didn’t see any legal problem with the Council using a secret ballot to create a slate, Councilors Gentz and Slattery pressed on to demand the remaining three slots be filled by…secret ballot.

They did one round of secret voting and came up with another person acceptable to most of the Councilors – CCA Town Council candidate Ron Areglado.

But they got stuck on how to pick the last two names.

You’ll have to watch Clerkbase for yourself to see and hear how comical this process turned out. Gentz tried to yuk his way through the process of pushing for secret ballot. He actually tried to get Councilors to vote on his motion to that effect (which was seconded by Slattery), but the Councilors rejected his motion on a 2-3 vote.

In the end, the Councilors went through several rounds of voting on individuals from that middle group of applicants, and finally picked Sue Ogle and Peter Arnold.

The final list of nine candidates for the ad hoc Town Administrator search committee is largely an assemblage of Charlestown old hands: CCA Treasurer Leo Mainelli, three Budget Commission members (Richard Sartor, David Bailey and Richard Hosp), veterinarian Dr. Larry Dunn, Chris Sheehan, plus Ron Areglado, Sue Ogle and Peter Arnold.

The final vote to approve this list was 4 to 1, with Councilor Lisa DiBello, who had expressed discomfort with the secret ballot process, voting NO.

Twenty-five minutes of CCA leadership on display. In that brief time, Council Boss Gentz made more unforced errors per minute than ever before. If it was an Olympic event, he'd be a shoo-in for gold.

Gentz and Slattery reversed their position on MOUs (but don’t worry, they’ll be back on message when the Ninigret Park MOU comes back before the Council) and flagrantly tossed out their lofty devotion to openness and transparency.

Be sure to read the CCA review of this meeting – I guarantee they’ll give it a four-star rating and call their guys geniuses.