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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Tom Gentz in Wonderland, Part 2

Did Gentz do ANY due diligence at all on the Y-Gate deal?
By Will Collette

In Part One of this two-part analysis of an extraordinary letter to the Westerly Sun penned by Charlestown Town Council Boss Tom Gentz, I showed you how Gentz’s view of what happened during Charlestown’s Y-Gate Scandal had almost no basis in fact.

In his Sun letter, Gentz claimed there was no deception, no false representations, no withheld information, no secret meetings and no backroom deals. In Gentz’s fantasy, there were only diligent and selfless volunteers trying to do a nice thing for the town by lining up a deal for Charlestown taxpayers to pay $475,000 for limited rights to walk around in a rural junkyard.

The records show that Gentz is either deluded or deceptive. You be the judge, today and on November 6, since Gentz seems determined to run for re-election as the champion of Y-Gate.

In this installment, we’ll look at Gentz’s basic failure to exercise the kind of prudent judgment and minimum standard of care we have the right to expect from a person in his position.

Did Gentz fail to notice the many signs that Y-Gate was a rotten deal? Did he even read any of the documents placed before him? Did he ask the right questions? Did he simply do what Planning Commissar Ruth Platner told him to do? Did he even write the Westerly Sun letter, or did Ruth write it for him? Or was Gentz part of the Y-Gate scam from the beginning?

The Y-Gate records show that, from the beginning,  Gentz was ready to give away your tax dollars without due diligence.

Gentz accepted the Charlestown Land Trust’s bogus now-discredited appraisal. This appraisal pegged the value of the campground at $730,000 based on the false assumptions that the land was zoned residential when it’s really zoned open space/recreational and that all the old buildings and assorted crap that littered the site doesn’t exist.

Gentz never asked for an appraisal of the “conservation easement” he voted to spend $475,000 of town taxpayer money to buy – the same kind of easement that the Charlestown Land Trust reported to IRS as worth less than zero.

Gentz never questioned the Land Trust’s claims that the land would be accessible dawn-to-dusk, 365 days a year. He accepted the Land Trust’s word that open access was guaranteed in the “management plan” that was never put into the public record. If you check Clerkbase for February 13, May 7, May 14, June 25 and July 9 – all occasions when the Town Council discussed this easement – you will find that this management plan is absent from the Council documents. It was not included in the documents package for the crucial February 13 Council meeting.

90% of the land on the Watchaug Pond shoreline is already protected.
This map was produced by the Town of Charlestown
(click to enlarge)
Gentz also accepts the Charlestown Land Trust’s bogus claims that the land is unique, pristine wilderness, instead of a derelict, abandoned kids' camp. 

If you listen to the Land Trust – and Gentz – you would think that this site is the only possible way that people could ever have access to Watchaug Pond, a claim that is pure fantasy, given that almost 90% of the shoreline is owned by federal, state or nonprofit agencies, or is zoned open space/recreation. Don’t believe me – look at the town’s own map for yourself.

Earlier in the same February 13 Council meeting where Gentz voted for the $475,000 Y-Gate deal, Gentz embarrassed himself, the town and Charlestown’s Chariho School Committee representatives by publicly browbeating Chariho Schools Superintendent Barry Ricci. Click here to watch for yourself.

Gentz wanted Barry Ricci to come up with budget reductions that would lower Charlestown’s share of Chariho’s costs by roughly the same amount Gentz voted to blow on Y-Gate later in the meeting.

Ricci and Chariho Committee reps Deb Carney and Andrew McQuaide tried to patiently explain to Gentz that the Chariho budget had already been thoroughly squeezed of savings, and that the cuts Gentz wanted would have to come out of student education and programs. They asked Gentz if he had any specific suggestions for making cuts. Gentz didn’t have a clue. Instead, he just kept repeating his demand that Chariho cut its budget.

So much for “open, accountable, ethical, and fiscally responsible.” So much for “civil.”

Naming Names?

At the July 9 Town Council meeting, Gentz used “Councilor Comments” to launch into a personal attack against me in particular and called for a boycott of Progressive Charlestown[1] for the crime of “naming names.” The irony of his use of my name in his attack escaped him. So did Council Rule 9.a., which bars Council members from using the Council dais for personal attacks.

But Gentz just can’t help himself. In his August 5 letter to the Sun, he … wait for it … names names. He singles out Dr. Jack Donoghue, whose lawsuit saved Charlestown taxpayers $475,000 by exposing Gentz’s Open Meetings Act violation. He also singles out Jim Mageau, David Mars and Joe Dolock for joining with Donoghue in launching a petition drive to put the direct purchase of the abandoned Y camp on the ballot.

He accuses the four of making “specious” claims, false charges and simply engaging in “political posturing.”

Gentz not only violated his “don’t name names” policy, but he also weaves blatant deceptions into the narrative. In his letter, Gentz writes, “this proposal [the direct purchase petition by Donoghue, Mageau et al.] added a $200,000 commitment of town funds and failed to acknowledge, as the Town Council and Land Trust did, that the Y land property had buildings that need to be demolished for an estimated cost of $48,000. Their petition had taxpayers assuming nearly double the price that a partnership with the CLT would have cost taxpayers.”

Comparing apples and oranges

In fact, Gentz’s own motion – to buy the dubious conservation easement – called for an expenditure of $398,000 in town funds, plus another $206,000 from the state to allow the Charlestown Land Trust to buy the property from the Westerly YMCA – for $600,000! And this would have been done without a vote by taxpayers.

The Donoghue petition called for a taxpayer referendum to authorize up to $600,000 for the town to actually take ownership of the land to use for active recreation. Further, under the Donoghue petition plan for active recreational use, all those rundown buildings might not even have to be torn down, but might have been fixable for reuse.

Gentz also misrepresents the Charlestown Land Trust's ridiculous $48,000 pie-in-the-sky estimate for demolition. As Forrester Safford, a construction professional and former Town Council member, told Gentz at the Town Council meeting, it will take more than $48,000 just to remove the chain link fence that surrounds the campground. 

Expensive demolition and cleanup would have been a necessary part of converting the abandoned camp into open space for passive recreationthe proposal Gentz championed. But the proposal to use the camp for active recreation would present an entirely different way of dealing with all the stuff the YMCA has left behind on the site. While I favored neither proposal, I thought that if we had to use taxpayer money on Y-Gate, we should at least OWN the land.

Gentz’s proposal guaranteed taxpayers – state and town – would pay $600,000 and only get a dubious conservation easement and uncertain access to the site for passive recreation.

Tom, if you’re going to name names, make sure to get your facts straight.

In this one troubling letter, we see our Town Council President violating every value he claims to hold dear. He tries to defend the indefensible. He names names. And he flat-out lies. On top of it all, he seems to think that no one will fact-check his claims or dispute his declarations.

Is the Y-Gate zombie really dead?

You will notice that I have not mentioned the news that the YMCA has decided to sell to another buyer and that just maybe, Y-Gate is dead. The apparent death of the deal was in fact the reason Gentz wrote his odd letter to the Sun.

But throughout the months, the Y-Gate deal has died and then re-animated itself like a zombie so many times that I hesitate to believe it’s truly over. Given town leaders like Tom Gentz who are so determined to make this deal happen that they will break all the rules, tell any tale, and do any dirty deed, it ain’t over till it’s over.

[1] Resulting in an almost immediate surge in readership.