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Monday, September 24, 2012

TONIGHT: CCA Surprise!

Promises of consultation broken
Planning Commission and Town Council pop short-notice workshop
By Will Collette

You just can’t beat the CCA-controlled Town Council and Planning Commission for their “open, transparent, professional and civil” approach to town government.

With the barest, minimum legal notice, no fanfare and no supporting documents posted on Clerkbase, the Town Council and Planning Commission have sprung a special “workshop” to discuss forming a “Historic District Committee” on Monday night. There’s not even a CCA e-bleat.

The last time this issue was discussed was at the July 9 Town Council meeting, raised by Marge Frank as an issue that should be considered. Planning Commissar Ruth Platner immediately stepped up to the podium to argue against having a Historic District Commission because, she said, it could apply very strict rules to historic areas. Click here to listen to the discussion.


Throughout the discussion at this meeting the terms committee or commission were used at various times. There is an important distinction – a Historic District Commission would have to be set up under RI General Laws and would have real power granted to them by law, whereas a committee would not.  

In their agenda, they are talking about setting up a "committee." Now the question is whether their real intention is to form a committee or if they are misusing the word and really mean a "commission." Until the discussion takes place on Monday there is no way of knowing since there was no advance consultation and there are no backup documents on Clerkbase.

Not said was that for all practical purposes, Platner and her plucky planners have already seized the de facto powers of a historic district commission without actually saying so.

Their powers were cemented when Platner and her Town Council allies enacted Ordinance #349, which gives the Planning Commission extraordinary power, as Evelyn Smith pointed out at the July 9 Town Council meeting until she was cut off by Council Boss Tom Gentz (CCA).

Another tangled Planning web
If Charlestown decided to set up one or more formal historic district commissions as authorized under the RI General Laws, the members would have to be appointed. This would mean the Planning Commission – which is elected – could not also be the Historic District Commission. Platner would then have to cede the power she has already seized to dictate what happens in important parts of town such as Cross Mills/Old Post Road, Shannock and Carolina.

Suffice to say that this is a complex issue with distinct pros and cons to each option and really does need a thoughtful approach with broad involvement by Charlestown citizens. If that's what you were hoping for, this upcoming meeting isn't it.

The July 9 Town Council meeting discussion ended on a motion by Deputy Dan Slattery, seconded by Gregg Avedisian, and passed unanimously that there be more research and at some point in the future, that there be a workshop on this topic. 

The Council members also directed the Planning Office to set up the meeting after consulting with key players – town commissions, the Historical Society, Shannock and Carolina residents – for their views and to coordinate schedules.

None of that consultation or coordination took place. 

Art by Lin Collette
My sources say the Planning Office was not involved, and instead, the Planning Commission took it over. Since discussion of a historic district commission or committee does not show up on any Planning Commission agenda since the July 9 Town Council meeting, it seems pretty clear that Monday’s meeting is a Ruth Platner product.

Using her standard practice of consulting with no one except her own allies, we now have this surprise meeting with no documents and an opaque, vague agenda on a subject that could have a major impact on Charlestown.

The announcement will appear in the Westerly Sun on Saturday, the last legally possible day.

Belatedly, after an inquiry to the Town Clerk on Friday, the town was going to e-mail our town commissions, the Historical Society and other key groups to give them notice of the Monday session. In our CCA-controlled town government, last-minute notice is how they keep the promise of extensive and timely consultation.

This breach of “open, transparent, professional and civil” governance adds another example of the secretive, amateurish and insulting governing styles of CCA candidates for reelection Tom Gentz, Dan Slattery and Ruth Platner.

Here’s the Monday agenda as posted on Clerkbase:

TOWN OF CHARLESTOWN
JOINT WORKSHOP OF THE TOWN COUNCIL,
AND PLANNING COMMISSION
September 24, 2012 at 7:00 p.m.
Town Hall, 4540 South County Trail, Charlestown
Agenda

The Charlestown Town Council and Planning Commission will hold a joint workshop on September 24, 2012 at 7:00 p.m. at the Town Hall, 4540 South County Trail,
Charlestown. The Agenda is as follows:

1.   Call to Order by the Town Council President
2.   Discussion of a Historic District Committee
3.   Adjournment

The public is welcome to any meeting of the Town Council. If communication assistance (readers/interpreters/captions) is needed or any other accommodation to ensure equal participation, please call 711-364-1240 at least three (3) business days prior to the meeting.

EDITOR'S NOTE: this late notice of the meeting makes it impossible for handicapped persons to request federally mandated reasonable accommodation, such as a table and microphone for those unable to stand at the podium at length.