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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

You can't “continue” something you’ve never started

By Linda Felaco

A version of this letter was published in the Westerly Sun. To read the comments of our highly civil CCA neighbors, click here.

In an October 17 letter, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) Town Council candidates wrote that the upcoming election offers residents “a choice to continue with an open, transparent and accountable government.” I’d like to know how they plan to “continue” something they never started.

For the last two election cycles, the CCA has been promising Charlestown voters “open, professional and ethical government that is transparent.” Yet what we’ve witnessed from the CCA candidates elected to office has been anything but.

Indeed, Ron Areglado, a current CCA Town Council candidate and signer of the letter, was a leader in two unsuccessful lawsuits against the town of Charlestown and an unsuccessful complaint to the RI Attorney General alleging violations of the Open Meetings Act (OMA) by the 2008-2010 Town Council. Every single member of the 2008-2010 Town Council, it should be noted, was CCA-endorsed.

Under the 2010-2012 Town Council, headed by CCA Council President Tom Gentz and Vice President Dan Slattery, also signers of the letter, meetings are routinely held without key documents being posted on the town website, meaning that, going into the meeting, only the councilors know the specifics of what will be discussed. The Charter Revision Advisory Committee (CRAC) met for months without posting minutes, until a citizen asked why there were none available. A public hearing on the proposed charter revisions subsequently had to be postponed because CRAC Secretary Maureen Areglado (wife of Town Council candidate Ron Areglado) left the country without filing the minutes for the previous meeting, earning herself a violation of the OMA. And recent months have seen repeated failures of the Clerkbase system during Planning Commission meetings, though mysteriously, it generally seems to work during Town Council meetings. Every single current member of the Planning Commission, by the way, was CCA-endorsed. Is this what “open and transparent” government is supposed to look like?

In addition, the town has been found in violation of the OMA in connection with the failed CCA-backed effort to give nearly half a million taxpayer dollars to the Westerly YMCA and the Charlestown Land Trust for an easement on the abandoned YMCA camp on Watchaug Pond, and a second count regarding the meetings of the committee formed to advise on the purchase, which were never announced and for which minutes were never published, is still being litigated. Although unless the judge agrees with the town’s only defense, that the ad hoc committee somehow isn’t a “public body”—a seemingly difficult proposition to prove given that the committee’s sole purpose was to advise on an expenditure of tax dollars—that count will go against the town, too.

OMA cases are also pending against the current Town Council regarding their decision last year to award a pay increase to then-Town Administrator Bill DiLibero and the council’s later decision earlier this year to grant him severance when they forced him to resign.

And in recent weeks, at the last possible legal moment under the OMA, a joint Town Council-Planning Commission workshop was announced regarding declaring official historic districts, which would affect each and every resident of those districts. Most of the Planning Commission wasn’t even able to attend, much less the general public. The CCA may call this “openness and transparency,” but to me it looks like the proverbial smoke-filled rooms.

Reading the letter by the CCA candidates, you’d never know any of this had taken place. Astonishingly enough, they even manage to take credit for the town’s low poverty rate. Though I suppose when you consider their ongoing efforts to either exempt the town from the state’s affordable housing law or overturn it entirely, their refusal to even consider tax reforms that would benefit low- to moderate-income families, and their attempt to cut the school budget to the point that vital programs would have to be eliminated, they have succeeded in making life pretty unlivable here for those of less exalted means.

Fortunately, on November 6, Charlestown voters can elect people who are not part of the CCA cabal and who will govern according to the will of all of Charlestown’s citizens and not just a select few, namely the Democratic slate of Paula Andersen, Tom Ferrio, and Tim Quillen for Town Council and Melina Lodge, Frank Glista, Michael Breton, and Brandon Cleary for Planning Commission. I urge everyone to go to the polls on November 6 and cast their ballots for the people of Charlestown and not the special interests.