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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Chambers appointment to Zoning Board may be illegal

Violates the actual Town Charter and REALLY violates the Charter change he and his wife wanted the Town to adopt
By Will Collette

On Monday night, chief CCA Party blogger Mike Chambers received an honor he has sought for the past couple of years, a Town Council appointment to the Zoning Board of Review (ZBR). 

Chambers, who calls himself “Soxman” in his many comments posted on-line with local media, is a man on a mission to convince the world that he has all the answers.

He is a stickler for the rules. He and his wife Donna not only campaigned against Whalerock but also against transgressions he felt were committed by our former Town Administrator, Town Council members past and present whom he doesn't like, town Democrats, Progressive Charlestown (me, especially) and a host of others.

When his CCA Party colleagues voted him in to to fill a newly created vacancy on the Zoning Board for one of three alternate positions, his dream was fulfilled. 

Or maybe it's just a step toward his real goal of getting the five-year term of William Meyers who was ousted as a ZBR member Monday night by Town Council Boss Tom Gentz (CCA Party). Gentz's unusual move to publicly bounce a sitting town commission member was done with support from his CCA Party colleagues Deputy Dan Slattery and George Tremblay and opposition from Lisa DiBello and Paula Andersen (D). 

Or maybe not, since his appointment seems to be in conflict with the Charlestown Home Rule Charter, and certainly conflicts with a principle that he and Donna fought bitterly to have Charlestown enact.

Let’s look at the facts.

Last month, ZBR alternate Scott Northrup, whose term had actually expired, turned in his resignation rather than seek reappointment. His resignation was accepted and the vacancy his resignation created was announced at the Town Council meeting on September 9 by Boss Gentz.

According to the Town Charter, this is what is supposed to happen:

     D. Request for candidates to fill vacancies on commissions, boards and committees shall be announced at a Council meeting not less than one month prior to an appointment being made.

However, that’s not what happened. Chambers was voted onto the ZBR on October 7, less than one month after the announcement of the vacancy. The Town Council held its October meeting one week earlier than usual, citing Columbus Day and a scheduling conflict. They may have put themselves in violation of the Charter when they made the patronage appointment of Chambers to the ZBR.

Picky, picky, picky.

Yes, damn straight, I’m being picky.

Even though Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero may argue that technically this is not a violation because technically it depends on how you define “month,” a month is either 30 or 31 days, except in February. If this is not the case, you could call it a "month" if you announce a vacancy on September 30 and make the appointment on October 1. 

The last time our Town Solicitor tried to thread a rhetorical needle like this was when he tried to get the Town off the hook on an open records complaint (by me) by saying that he is technically exempt from the state open records law because technically he is not a town employee. It didn’t work then, and I doubt it will work now.

Chambers demanded a TWO month interval between announcing a vacancy and filling it

But more important than the question of what is a month and whether the Council once again violated the law is the fact that both Mike and Donna Chambers demanded and indeed fought a bloody battle to prevent the Town Council from doing exactly what they did in Mike’s case.

As one of the loudest, if not leading, voices on Charlestown’s Charter Revision AdvisoryCommittee (CRAC), Donna Chambers fought for several Charter changes aimed specifically at the Zoning Board of Review including a push to term limit its members. 

Mike Chambers was a regular presence in the audience at CRAC meetings, usually as the only member of the public at the poorly publicized and recorded meetings. For all practical purposes, he behaved like a de facto CRACer.

He frequently and vehemently spoke on the need to curb the Zoning Board through such measures as CRAC’s Question #7.

Here’s what Question #7 said:

Both Donna and Mike Chambers argued for at least a two month period before any vacancy on any town committee, board or committee could be filed. 

They also wanted the Town Council to agree to add a requirement that every commission volunteer applicant be carefully scrutinized, vetted and interviewed before their name could be put up for a Council vote.

This, plus the term limits proposal, was seen for what it was – payback to the Zoning Board for voting for the Whalerock wind project.

The term limits proposal died a pretty decisive and well-deserved death. The push for a slow-down in making commission appointments was watered down. It changed from being Question 7 to Question 6 after the term limits proposal died. Here’s the revised proposal:

This proposal also failed by a slim margin, with the two CCA Party Councilors (Boss Tom Gentz and Deputy Dan Slattery) voting YES and Councilors Marge Frank, Gregg Avedisian and Lisa DiBello voting NO at the June 25, 2012 Town Council meeting.

The CCA Party was livid with outrage when this
happened. In August 2008, William Meyer 
unanimously approved to fill Dr. Krantz's 
vacancy. That term expired in July. And the
wheels keep turning.
So the Town Charter provision on appointments stayed the way it was, despite Mike and Donna Chambers’ best effort to stretch out the time it takes to make appointments.

So, yes, if ever there was a subject where being picky is warranted, this is it. 

That’s because, Mike, you can’t have it both ways. You can't expect to make red-faced arguments for go-slow appointments accompanied by exhaustive background checks and Star Chamber interviews, and then just breeze into Zoning Board appointment without a mention of your past, vociferously expressed principles. The rules have to apply to you, too.

Not the first time this Council has made an appointment illegally

Donna Chambers
However, it’s hardly surprising that Mike Chambers’ patronage appointment would be done illegally.

When wife Donna received her patronage appointment to the Chariho School Committee, the Town Council also broke the law. In her case, at the urging of CCA Party Councilor Deputy Dan Slattery, the Council used what Slattery called an “Australian Ballot,” a form of secret ballot.

The problem is that a public body like the Charlestown Town Council cannot use a secret ballot at a public meeting, and certainly not to make an appointment to a public office.

Former Town Council President Deborah Carney filed a formal complaint against the Council for this breach of the state Open Meetings Act. The Attorney General’s Office ruled in Deb’s favor, holding that the Council did in fact violate the Open Meetings Act by holding a secret ballot during a public meeting.

When the Attorney General held his annual state conference on Open Government on August 2, this case, now known as Carney v. Charlestown, was used as a teaching example of what a public body like a Town Council cannot do.

The fix for the illegal appointment of Donna Chambers was a do-over. And the proper remedy for the illegal appointment of Mike Chambers is pretty much the same.

Otherwise, the CCA Party-led Council has once again exposed Charlestown to unnecessary legal trouble because they don’t like to play by the rules that they expect everyone else to follow.

There’s no subtle way to point out the irony in all this. Charlestown is ruled by the CCA Party who claim to be the paragons of honest, open, transparent and efficient government, only to trip themselves up time after time.

Pay to Play

Ill Winders and CCA Party backers Ron Areglado and Donna Chambers
both received CCA patronage appointments to the Chariho School
So far, for those of you keeping score, the CCA Party Council majority has gifted favors large and small to its friends, campaign contributors and supporters at nearly every meeting since they were re-elected. 

The Ill Wind NIMBY group, which raised and gave the CCA Party lots of money, not only got the town to spend $2.1 million to resolve their dispute with Larry LeBlanc, but also won coveted appointments for its members Ron Areglado, Peter Herstein, Donna Chambers and now Mike Chambers.

It pays to pay.

Maybe the criticisms of the CCA Party being anti-business are unfair, because it sure looks to me like these guys are very much open for business.