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Thursday, October 25, 2012

CCA can dish it out, but can't take it

CCA candidates seem more disturbed by the spotlight than the alleged lies
By Will Collette (a version of this letter to the editor ran in the Westerly Sun)

In her October 11 op-ed, Ruth Platner, a Charlestown Citizens Alliance candidate for reelection to the Charlestown Planning Commission, has joined her fellow CCA candidates Tom Gentz and Ron Areglado in attacking the news, opinion and local events online journal Progressive Charlestown and me, personally. 

They do not like what they see reported on Progressive Charlestown, and they do not like the way I write.

I guess it’s easier to attack me than actually run on their records, or respond to the specific, documented information we publish on Progressive Charlestown.

But, for the record, I’m not running for office. Platner, Gentz, Areglado and the rest of the CCA slate are.

The leaders of the CCA slate, clockwise, Tom Gentz,
Ruth Platner, Dan Slattery and George Tremblay
Platner accuses me of misinformation (despite my extensive documentation and sourcing), but, wow, look who’s talking! Platner is the webmaster for the CCA’s website and blog, and e-mails. For the past six years, the e-mails and website has been chockfull full of anonymous attack comments and unsourced columns. The CCA really doesn’t like to have anyone call them out on their six-year run of character assassination on their own website. But they especially do not like public criticism of the town officials who were promoted by the CCA to run Charlestown government.

For example, under Ruth Platner’s leadership, the Planning Commission has manufactured bad town ordinances imposing regulations with no scientific basis, which are then rubber-stamped by the CCA-controlled Town Council, and bogus research such as the recent one by CCA Council candidate George Tremblay on affordable housing.

The Sun actually ran a letter from Tremblay on October 16th containing the whopper that there are billionaires living in luxury condos in Manhattan getting affordable housing tax breaks. According to CNBC, Tremblay’s own source, a New York developer had applied for, but has NOT received, affordable housing tax credits from a program unique to New York. Yet Tremblay not only misrepresents the facts, but then make the leap of illogic to suggest voters reject Rhode Island Question 7 that would fund more affordable housing.

Ruth Platner neglects to mention that she was the architect behind the CCA-backed “Y-Gate Scandal,” which almost cost the town $475,000 to buy a worthless easement on an overpriced piece of land whose value was based on an appraisal that the appraiser himself admitted was based on fictional conditions. The purchase was blocked by a lawsuit filed over Open Meetings violations in connection with the Town Council vote to approve the purchase, one count of which has already been upheld and the second count is still before the court awaiting a ruling.

Platner also does not address the role the CCA played, indeed that she herself played, in the Battle of Ninigret Park, where CCA Council members almost turned over control of Ninigret Park to the federal government rather than allow the town’s Parks and Recreation Commission to move forward with carrying out the Ninigret Park Master Plan voted on by Charlestown residents.

Platner’s leadership has also been central to the CCA’s campaign to defy, if not overturn, the state’s affordable housing law. There already exist workable solutions under Charlestown’s control that would prevent overdevelopment and would be in keeping with the town’s Comprehensive Plan. However, Ms. Platner has consistently advocated defiance of the law that requires every RI city and town to provide the opportunity for low- and moderate-income people to secure affordable housing.

She chafed when I likened her resistance to the housing law to that of late Alabama Governor George Wallace. Yet she doesn’t say why that comparison is inappropriate.

Then there’s the CCA’s campaign of character assassination, The “Kill Bill” campaign, where the CCA-controlled Town Council, for reasons known only to themselves, ousted Town Administrator Bill DiLibero just months after it praised DiLibero to the heavens for his valor during Hurricane Irene and gave him a raise.

Ruth Platner is absolutely correct that Progressive Charlestown has written many articles about the conduct of the CCA’s elected officials. And she is absolutely correct that I wrote the majority of them. What she does not note is that every article is documented and sourced, largely with links to the town’s own website and minutes and video of Town Council and Planning Commission meetings.

She also does not acknowledge that each time I have made an error, and yes, given the volume of reporting I have done, I have made errors, I have corrected the errors in a timely fashion as any responsible journalist does.

For example, I am correcting the reference to her own low property tax rate. I will note that, technically, the reason she pays tax based on an incredibly low per-acre tax assessment ($8,836) is due to a deed restriction on a portion of her land requiring that it be used for farming and not, as I reported, due to the “FFOS” (“Farm, Forest and Open Space”) program. I will make that change because it clearly bothers her, even though it is a distinction without a difference.

Ironically, that reference appears in an article I wrote last November that features Platner’s own false statement where she justified her resistance to affordable housing by claiming that Charlestown’s median income is much lower than the median income for the state. 

For some reason, Platner felt that this statistic – even though it was false – somehow justified the CCA’s opposition to affordable housing. But in fact, Charlestown’s median income at that time was $73,857 compared to the state’s median of $55,567. She was not only wrong, but wrong by a lot – $18,290 or 33%.

FAIR TAXES - on the Shelter Harbor Golf Club!
Ms. Platner also does not explain why the CCA opposed the Charlestown Democrats recommendation that we should at least study  whether Charlestown taxes are fairly applied, whether there should be a middle-class tax cut or whether it’s right to allow rich institutions, such as the Shelter Harbor Golf Club, to get tax breaks normally not granted to commercial businesses.

The Charlestown portion of Shelter Harbor’s establishment is assessed as “open space” at a bargain rate. The portion of the golf club that lies in Westerly is assessed and taxed as commercial property.
Platner is clearly angry at my report that her husband acted up during the lottery drawing for ballot position held at Town Hall. I stand by that description of events based on several eyewitness reports.

I believe Ruth Platner and her colleagues are more disturbed that they no longer have the free run of Charlestown. They can no longer do whatever they want to do without being called on it. She had 16 years to do just that, minus the 21 months during which she claims we have harried her.

Let’s face it: the complaints by the CCA candidates Ruth Platner, Ron Areglado and Tom Gentz against Progressive Charlestown are really complaints that now, for the first time, they are being subjected to rigorous fact-checking.

Ms. Platner, as well as Council President Tom Gentz, Councilor Lisa DiBello and CCA Council candidate Ron Areglado, all think I am behaving badly because I not only report and comment on the news but I name names. 

Coming from the CCA with its six-year history of character assassination against anyone who opposes them, this is more than ironic and completely hypocritical. But it’s also illogical. How else do you talk about politics and public affairs without naming names? How else are voters supposed to hold politicians accountable unless there are names connected with those actions?

How can any reporter for any medium, including the Westerly Sun, report on town government without naming the names of the people who make the decisions and take the actions? I guess the only answer is the one that the CCA really seeks – that they prefer their actions to be excluded from the bright light of public scrutiny.

Will Collette, co-editor of Progressive Charlestown