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Monday, September 24, 2012

Whose interest does the CCA serve?

In 2010, the CCA promised to “create a government that serves the people’s interest.” But which people are they serving?


Part 1: Actions speak louder than platforms
Part 2: “We have met the enemy and he is us”
Part 3: CCA family values

By Linda Felaco

It’s not always easy for public officials to divine the will of the people, and elections can serve as a wake-up call in this regard. Sure, some folks write or call their legislators to let them know where they stand on specific issues, but they are a tiny minority within the electorate. And government would come to a standstill if a public hearing or a referendum had to be held on every single issue that came up.

Though if you’re proposing sweeping changes that would affect key areas of town, calling a public hearing with the barest legal minimum amount of advance notice is not a good way to take an accurate reading of the will of the people either.

And if you campaign for office on a specific issue and are then elected, seems a pretty safe bet that the will of the people is that you keep your promise.

In the 2010 campaign, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance promised[1] to “create a government that serves the people’s interest,” “listen[s] to you,” and “follow[s] your lead.” This is one area where I can speak personally about whether they’ve lived up to those promises.

It’s also an area where I can say with absolute confidence that the Democratic candidates will do what the CCA only promised to do. The CCA puts out a lot of lofty rhetoric about what they think we should want, because ultimately the CCA doesn’t trust us to make good decisions and prefers to tell us what they think is best for all of us.

Just look at how they handled the Y-gate deal: Instead of putting it to a referendum or giving us the cost-benefit analysis they promised every proposal would get, they met behind closed doors to put together a sweetheart deal to benefit the Westerly YMCA and the Charlestown Land Trust.

And when they banned wind energy, it certainly wasn’t in response to the mother who spoke to the Town Council on behalf of her young daughter, who was appalled to think that anyone would ban renewable energy. But then we’ve already seen how much the CCA cares about families, haven’t we.

Yet in their 2010 campaign flyer, the current CCA Council members lambasted the 2008 councilors the CCA had elected for failing to put a different land deal to a vote. There was little difference between the land deal the current CCA Councilors condemned their predecessors for and the land deal they almost got away with forcing onto town taxpayers just short weeks ago.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have been canvassing voters to find out what they think should be done in the next council session.

Now, I’ve always been active in political issues, but only recently did I start becoming involved in party politics. I was an independent until 2006, when I registered as a Democrat in order to be able to vote in the Maryland primaries[2] to unseat my then-state senator because she was completely unresponsive to constituents and never responded anytime I wrote to her. And in fact after 32 years in office, she was thoroughly trounced in the primary.

So as you can imagine, upon moving to a small town, I had every expectation that the town councilors would answer me when I wrote to them.

Boy was I in for a surprise.

Of the five members of the current Town Council, I’ve only ever gotten replies from two of them—and one of them is not one of the two CCA candidates who promised in 2010 to listen to us and follow our lead on issues. Or, well, she was CCA in the 2008-10 council, meaning she was one of the people the 2010 CCA candidates were so “disappointed” in for “not serving the people.”

Now, some readers might be thinking, “They know you didn’t vote for them because you’re a Democrat, so why would they answer you?” But that wasn’t what the CCA councilors promised. They promised to be responsive to the people, not just the people who voted for them. And anyway, there were no Democratic candidates in 2010, so they couldn’t necessarily assume I hadn’t voted for them either. Or was I supposed to sit out the last election because there were no Democrats?

And in fact, to give credit where it’s due, the one other councilor who has responded to my e-mails is the CCA’s own Dan Slattery. Granted, he doesn’t always answer the actual question I ask—but he does show the professionalism and courtesy to reply.

And lest you be thinking Lisa DiBello should be given a pass for not responding to us evil nasty bloggers, she didn’t respond to me before Will started reporting on his investigation of the beach concessions, either. So much for “Because I care.” Apparently, she cares more about spending my tax dollars to change the sign on the Blue Shutters beach pavilion to honor a taxpayer who’s been dead for decades than responding to one who’s alive now and registered to vote in the November election.

And what’s Tom Gentz’s excuse? Too busy buffing his Porsche, I guess. Whoops, is that another sexual reference?

Yeah, I know, answering e-mail is a pain in the ass. And Town Council is a part-time gig and they don’t really get paid for it. Perhaps we do get the town councilors we deserve.

But how hard is it to set up an auto-reply? “Thank you for your message. I will consider your views.” Canned, but at least an acknowledgment.

The moral of the story is, Don’t promise things you don’t plan to deliver.

[1] Read their 2010 campaign flyer here, here, here, and here.
[2] And of course I kept the Democratic registration when I moved back to RI because here the real voting takes place in the primaries.