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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

BREAKING: Charlestown does Whalerock damage control

Clarifying the Town Administrator's "clarification"

Note, August 1: it appears that The Westerly Sun has reworked their web site overnight. The link to the clarification article does not work and we can't find that article this morning.

By Will Collette

Apparently, there was a little meeting at Town Hall to do some damage control over yesterday's announcement that the Town Council intended to buy Larry LeBlanc's property, proposed site of the unpopular Whalerock wind turbine project.

The announcement was that the Council would hold a public hearing on August 22nd and then close the deal with LeBlanc on August 27 for $2,114,415.

This announcement rendered the public hearing merely a formality, but more significantly, the Town Council's plan violates past precedent, as well as the language of Charlestown's Home Rule Charter that requires land acquisitions of more than $50,000 to go to the voters.

Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz apparently tried to get a hasty correction into the Westerly Sun. In the Sun's "clarification," they report "Charlestown Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz said Tuesday the Town Council retains the choice of putting the planned purchase of the proposed Whalerock Renewable Energy LLC wind turbine site to a town-wide referendum."

Advice to Stankiewicz: follow the carpenter's rule:
"Measure twice, cut once."
That's a pretty tricky piece of twisted language since there are only five days between the August 22 hearing and the August 27 closing. Not a lot of time for a referendum given there are requirements under state law for preparing and executing a public referendum that take a lot longer than 5 days.

You can't just have Town Council Boss Tom Gentz look out at the audience at the August 22 hearing and say, "OK, everybody in favor, raise your hand."

Stankiewicz may be saying the Council "retains" the option to follow past precedent and the Town Charter, but that's not what the Town's notice of the hearing and legal documents posted on the Town's website say.

Click here for the hearing notice. Click here for the sales agreement. There's a new document posted on the likely tax impact of this deal: 8 cents per $1000 of valuation.

Further, according to the Sun, Stankiewicz says "the council will decide whether to call for a referendum. If the council opts to fund the purchase entirely from the town’s open space bond fund authorization, a referendum would not be necessary."

Except there's this mathematical fact. The sales agreement price is $2,114,415. The Open Space - Recreation Bond fund (click here and here), passed by the voters in 2004 was for $2 million.

Subtract $2 million from $2,114,445 and you're left with a balance of $114,445 that would have to come from some other source - not one that has been approved by the voters. The Town Charter calls for a town vote if the amount is $50,000 or more.

Historical note

When the plans were drawn up for the town's new beach facilities in 2011, the beach committee suggested paying for the project from the Open Space - Recreation bond funds. The CCA Party stalwarts, many of whom opposed the beach project to begin with, went nuts at the idea of using the bond money.

CCA leader Cliff Vanover stood and came within a whisker of calling for revolution if any money from the bond fund was used to fund such an accursed thing as "recreation." He insisted that the only use of the bond money was for open space. Of course, if you read the bond resolution (click here) you'll immediately see that Cliff was wrong. Click here for the Clerkbase video.

As a compromise, and to keep Cliff was having a stroke, the CCA-dominated Council decided to put the issue to a referendum.

That precedent was reinforced in 2012 when the beleaguered CCA-dominated Council tried to salvage the wildly unpopular scheme to finance the purchase of the Westerly YMCA's abandoned camp ground by saying that it would have to go before the voters. They had tried to simply pay for the scam out of the bond fund, but sparked a popular revolt.

Before Y-Gate could go before the voters where it faced certain defeat, the Y found another buyer.

Given the language of the Town Charter and given these recent precedents, why is the CCA-dominated Council trying to avoid bringing this before the voters?

Enough with the clown show

Look, I want Whalerock buy-out deal to go through. I've been pushing this as the only fair and practical solution since 2011. But it must be done properly, under the law and respectful of precedents. Sloppy procedure and muddled misstatements are unnecessary and disrespectful to the community. 

Instead of providing Charlestown with a way to finally unite and get behind the best available solution, Stankiewicz and the Council clown show are causing unnecessary problems - for themselves and for Charlestown.

Knock it off!