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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Charlestown chunks

1. Tax bills
2. Sandy money maybe
3. Mageau loses
4. RISC implodes
5. Cooks cook up cookbook blog
By Will Collette

Property Tax Bills Come Due

If it’s August, that means that mosquitoes start carrying West Nile Virus and Charlestown property tax bills become due. Well, I don’t mind paying my fair share of taxes. As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.

However, I must again register my disappointment with the CCA Party-dominated Town Council and Budget Commission for enacting, for the sixth year in a row, an increase to our property tax rate even though we carry substantial excess surplus funds. The rate you pay on this year’s tax bill is sixteen cents per $1000 in property value higher because the town decided to pay off the loan on the Police Station early, rather than use some of the excess surplus to keep the tax rate steady.

For six years running, the CCA Party has been promising to “save” Charlestown taxpayers money by using excess surplus funds on capital projects while raising the tax rate. Yes, in the sweet by and by, we’ll save a little on interest payments, but Geez, after six years, where the Hell are those savings? 

Oh, wait a minute….let me guess. This isn’t an election year, but hey, next year is. Let’s see if our cynical, win-at-any-cost CCA Party hacks finally give taxpayers a break just in time to save their jobs.

Charlestown might get federal Hurricane Sandy relief funds

The Westerly Sun recently reported that local towns were in line to receive federal funding for projects related to Hurricane Sandy recovery and future storm preparation. The Sun said Charlestown was “approved” to get $300,000.

Before reporting this, I wanted to double-check the information and learned that the Sun article didn't quite get it right.

It’s true that some of Charlestown’s list of priorities made the initial cut. The initial list was the product of a grueling and somewhat oddball Town Council process that including outing Town Council Boss Tom Gentz (CCA Party) as an animal hater. Click here for those projects that made it through the first round. 

Now the town must  submit a full and formal proposal to the state and to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Charlestown’s projects on the list total $279,000 so the Sun’s reported number was in the ballpark.

Ashley before the Town Council
Town Planner Ashley Hahn told me it was no sure bet that Charlestown will get all the projects – or for that matter, any of the projects – approved and funded by HUD. 

As an example, Ashley said that she had received an e-mail notifying her that HUD had pulled all the proposed electrical generators off the list. That pretty much decimates Charlestown’s priorities. Ashley said the state is appealing HUD’s decision.

The application is due at the end of August. The Planning Commission will discuss it on August 7 and the Town Council will hold a public hearing on it on August 13 (the usual Monday Council date is Rhode Island’s unique celebration of VJ-Day as a state holiday).

Mageau loses lawsuit

Cliff Vanover - succeeded in
goading Mageau
It’s not big news that there’s a lawsuit where former Town Council President Jim Mageau is suing the Town, nor is it big news that he has lost a lawsuit. However, this latest one has got to sting because it hits him in the pocketbook. Mageau had filed suit against Charlestown demanding $20,000 in costs and damages arising from the town’s duty to “indemnify” him for criminal defense legal costs that he said he incurred as part of his official duties.

“Indemnification” is the sensible legal notion that if an elected or appointed town official gets into a legal jam while performing his or her duties, the town promises to cover them. Without indemnification, it would be hard to get people to run for office or take a town job in a society where everybody sues everybody for everything.

Mageau’s claim arises from his 2008 arrest and 2009 conviction then settlement agreement for assault, when Mageau was goaded by CCA leader Cliff Vanover into shoving Vanover’s camera back into his face. 

The incident occurred in the corridor outside the Council chambers after a scheduled Town Council meeting had to be cancelled due to the boycott of two other CCA leaders, Council members Kate Waterman and Harriet Allen.

Hard to win a lawsuit when you promised not to file it
Mageau fought the misdemeanor charges all the way and ultimately arrived at a settlement where the case was set aside for a year pending Mageau’s good conduct. Mageau also signed a waiver saying he wouldn't bring a civil suit against the town “for the presentation of this case.”

Despite that waiver, Mageau filed suit on August 11, 2011. However, on July 12, Mageau’s hopes came to a crashing end when his lawyer and the attorneys for the town signed a Stipulation of Dismissal that declares the case “dismissed with prejudice against the plaintiff.” This means that the court rules that Mageau’s case lacked merit, is dismissed and Mageau is prohibited from bringing the lawsuit back. 

Since Mageau’s lawyer signed the stipulation, there is no appeal and the judgment is final.

The filing does say that neither side will seek attorney’s fees from the other, saving Mageau from having to reimburse the town for the costs of this case. Click here to read the stipulation.

Charlestown-born RI Taxpayers, a.k.a. RI Statewide Coalition, a.k.a. RI Shoreline Coalition – circling the drain?

Head of "Blockheads for Block"
One of the precursors of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance Party is the old RI Shoreline Coalition, founded by Harry Staley, several of his Shelter Harbor buddies and a number of Charlestown’s landed gentry. 

It later became the RI Statewide Coalition (RISC) but stayed close to its roots here in Charlestown, where it maintained its office and fought for the interests of non-resident property owners and against any and all things the Narragansett Indian Tribe wanted to do.

RISC moved out of town last year after Harry and his daughter Harriet Lloyd took a backseat role and made way for the hiring of a new Executive Director, Donna Perry, a Republican PR flak and sister of WPRO shock-jerk John DiPetro. Perry and her brother are poster kids for OPD (“Obnoxious Personality Disorder”).

More longer Harry Staley’s family business, RISC morphed again by recruiting “Moderate” Party founder Ken Block as President, and Tea Party leader Lisa Blais as one of its main spokespeople and changed its name to RI Taxpayers.

For a while, it looked like a new hard-right political machine was emerging out of the de facto merger of Block’s so-called Moderates, the Tea Party wing nuts, and RISC’s shoreline bluebloods’ who brought with them lots of out-of-staters’ campaign money.

But instead of using this new right-wing machine as the vehicle, Block dropped out, deciding to focus instead on figuring out how to position himself for another run at the Governor’s office, either as a “Moderate” or whatever third party candidate, or re-registering and running as a Republican.

As events have shown, the Moderate Party is really just Block. In Charlestown, the Moderate base consists of CCA Party stalwarts Dan Slattery and John Goodman.
Good riddance

Now, Donna Perry is out as Executive Director, issuing the usual B.S. exit statement that she felt the time was right to pursue other directions (such as unemployment or worse, consulting) and that she remains “very supportive of the taxpayer watchdog role that the organization has played over the years.” 

Tellingly, she doesn't say much that’s very supportive of the organization itself which has apparently shown her the door.

According to GoLocalProv, which had been pretty much a house organ for RISC, “Perry says it’s her understanding that RI Taxpayers is undertaking a review on ways to restructure the organization and designate new leadership.” Right after their going-out-of-business yard sale.

New Blog in the area

Authors of Rhode Island Recipes
Two Westerly women, Lydia Walshin and Jennifer Leal, have started a new blog called Rhode Island Recipes to celebrate Rhode Island cooking and Rhode Island-produced foods. Though they are mainly using this blog to promote their recipe book of the same name, there are lots of interesting Rhode Island recipes accessible through the blog. 

Some are not so authentic, such as baked clam cakes (“heresy” says my colleague Linda Felaco). Linda also notes that they seem to limit themselves to RI products that market nationally, perhaps in keeping with their national book sales ambitions.

But I’m a sucker for recipes, especially ones with new takes on old favorites, so I wish them lots of luck with the book and the blog which I check out regularly.

While we’re talking about local blogs, I’d like to give another nod to my second-favorite Charlestown blog, 33Bridges  A labor of love by Megan Moynihan and Damara Ortolani Sisti of Charlestown’s eco-friendly architectural firm, Oyster Works, 33Bridges features interesting and beautiful objects and ideas that happen to catch their eye. No cartoons, no snark, no political exposes – just good taste.