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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sign thieves, Copar court win, Election Jobs, Larisa dodges a bullet, and things to do.

Charlestown Tapas - the news in tasty bites
By Will Collette

Political sign thieves on the prowl

There seems to be a lot more theft of campaign signs this year than most election years. Donna Walsh has had many of her signs stolen but strangely, no one seems to have touched the signs touting her opponent, radical secessionist Blake Filippi. Charlestown Democrats also report lots of sign thefts and tell me they plan to cover several of their signs with the little mini-cams used to observe wildlife. 

They plan to place a notice on the back of their signs reading: “SMILE FOR THE CAMERA…The latest wildlife cams are really small and effective.”

Nearly all Democratic signs were taken down from Route One - but not
by RI DOT. Plenty of these kinds of signs remained untouched.
All of my political signs were taken down, though I had a feeling this was coming. DOT claims the right to remove signs that are placed on what it claims for a state highway right-of-way and that’s the case with my Route One frontage. Except these signs were not found at either Charlestown or Hope Valley DOT, which is what DOT does when it removes signs. And DOT says it has not been removing signs from Route One. 

Police reports have been filed and Dems are on the look-out for CCA and Filippi sign thugs. When caught, they will be prosecuted.

Copar victims score important court win

The victims of the Bradford Copar quarry haven’t had a whole lot to celebrate in their effort to get some relief from the constant noise and dust coming from the site. Three families have mounted an on-going legal effort to stop the quarry without much success and have also had to contend with a legal counter-attack from Copar (also called Armetta LLC) and its landlord Westerly Granite which is owned by the Comolli family.

Last June, Westerly Granite filed a legal action seeking to block the three victim families from continuing to file administrative complaints against the quarry as well as continue to litigate the matter in Superior Court. Westerly Granite also charged the families were trying to ruin the quarry’s reputation and hurt its business.

This action was one step too far for Judge Brian Stern who threw out Westerly Granite’s claim, citing Rhode Island’s Anti-SLAPP law. A “SLAPP” is a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” a term coined by two Colorado legal activists, George Pring and Penelope Canan in the 1980s. 

Generally, SLAPP suits are lawsuits by polluting companies aimed at stifling public opposition. I dealt with a lot of those in the 1980s in the South and Midwest.

RI’s anti-SLAPP is pretty much the one single reason why the CCA Party hasn’t tried to shut Progressive Charlestown down.

Many states, including Rhode Island, adopted state laws outlawing SLAPP suits and it’s great to see Judge Stern rule that “The Anti-SLAPP statute grants conditional immunity from vexatious claims to citizens exercising their First Amendment rights of free speech and legal petitioning.” Stern has ordered Westerly Granite to pay the victims’ legal costs. Click here for details from the Sun’s Dale Faulkner.

Unfortunately, Copar continues to operate. I am not a big fan of lawsuits in fights with polluters like Copar. In my 40 years of experience in hundreds of these fights, I can’t remember ever seeing a lawsuit stop a polluter from polluting. But getting the ruling on the SLAPP portion of the case is nonetheless a great thing. It’s just going to take organized action to stop Copar once and for all.

Internships Available: Apply before October 31

Mystic Aquarium is looking for college students interested in getting an internship in a variety of occupational settings - working with animals, marketing, education, IT, AV and other areas. Click here for details.

Campaign Jobs available NOW through Election Day

The Rhode Island Democratic Party wants to hire field staff and canvassers to work on Democratic campaigns. Jobs pay $50 for each four-hour shift. Click here for details.

Charlestown’s Indian Fighter cleared of one ethics violation

Former East Providence Mayor Joe Larisa, who is paid $24,600 by Charlestown to watch and fight the Narragansett Indian Tribe, won a small piece of personal vindication. Larisa has frequently played very close to the edge of ethics law, but a 2010 ethics charge and subsequent 2011 RI Ethics Commission ruling and fine against him cost him his Mayor’s seat in East Providence.

Larisa took that Ethics Commission finding of violation to Superior Court and, in early October Superior Court Judge Susan E. McGuirl reversed the Ethics Commission, ruling that there was inadequate evidence that Larisa had knowingly and willfully violated the law and dismissed the $1000 fine.

In Charlestown, we know too well how hard it is to prove knowledge and intent as we’ve seen in so many of the rulings against the CCA Party town leadership on violations of state open government laws. Click here for an example.

The Ethics Commission’s 2008 ruling against Larisa still stands.

Bob Craven had domestic assault arrests expunged

Another one of Charlestown's assistant Solicitors, Bob Craven, is running for re-election for state Representative in House District 32 which is primarily in North Kingstown where he lives. He is in a tough race with conservative Republican Sharon Gamba who is capitalizing on a GoLocalProv article that reports that Craven was arrested on domestic assault charges in 2001 and 2002.

Click here for the case records. In an e-mail, Craven told GoLocal:
"It was not a marital problem and was not my wife. Someone brought the records to my attention about three or four years ago. I had to file a Motion to Expunge and the expungement took place before I contemplated running for public office....I will reiterate the alleged victim withdrew the allegations and indicated that they were not true to both the prosecutor and the Court."
Barrington loses

Around Rhode Island, Barrington and Charlestown have the reputation for being the two towns most hostile to affordable housing. Charlestown is well known as a town hostile to working families, especially families with children, due the CCA Party lobbying campaign that saw Boss Tom Gentz, Planning Commissar Ruth Platner and Councilor George Tremblay lobbying for the repeal of the state’s affordable housing law – an effort that didn’t pass the laugh test.

Charlestown’s only ally has been Barrington which has mounted its own epic battle to keep the riffraff out. But Barrington’s ethnic cleansing campaign was dealt a severe setback when Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini ruled against challengers to the Palmer Pointe affordable housing project and upheld the state law and the Barrington Planning Board’s decision to approve the project.
Judge Procaccini quoted Maya Angelou in his decision: “The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not to be questioned.”

HousingWorksRI has released its 2014 factbook on affordable housing in Rhode Island and once again shows Charlestown as woefully short of the mandates of the law that at least 10% of the town’s housing stock qualify as affordable housing. We are 279 units short of meeting the 10% mandate. 

Even with the welcome addition of the Churchwoods affordable rental units for low-income seniors, we’ll stay be over 270 units short.

We’ll address that report and Charlestown’s affordable housing record in a separate article, but as Barrington goes, so eventually will Charlestown.

Maybe there’s a tie in

It’s not unusual for us to get poor scores in the multitudes of national rankings for various attributes, but several recent ones caught my eye. For example, I was said to see the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s ranking for charitable giving and seeing Providence and Hartford ranked at the bottom. Rhode Island, as a whole, was the worst in New England and at #40 nationwide.

I thought we were better than that.

But two other rankings may shed some light on our poor showing on charity and volunteerism. One is a ranking by WalletHub that rates Rhode Island as close to the worst in the country when it comes to student debt and that’s coupled with the nation’s highest unemployment rate for young adults aged 24 to 34. That puts quite a crimp into their discretionary spending, but...

Then there’s a rating by the real estate website that rates Rhode Island men as the most immature in the nation. They base this rating on the popularity of porn, fantasy football and “Family Guy” among Rhode Island guys. Sigh.

Good idea

In an article I wrote on things Charlestown can do, on its own, to improve the town’s economy and reduce unemployment, I listed the creative use of our power to levy property taxes as one of them. Tax policy is and always has been a key tool in enforcing social policy, but one rarely used by Charlestown, except to aid veterans, the disabled, low-income seniors and promote open space. But not to promote an improved economy.

Richmond has just changed its taxing ordinance to grant the Town Council the power to award tax breaks for land used for renewable energy, in particular solar energy. This change was spurred by the approval by the Richmond Planning Board of a 600 kilowatt, 4.4 acre solar panel project.

While Charlestown generally does not have the same level of tolerance as its neighbors for anything big and man-made, Charlestown could nonetheless use its taxing authority to encourage small scale solar and geo-thermal installations for homes and small businesses. Yes, I know – wind power is effectively banned in Charlestown. But why not follow Richmond’s example and promote solar?