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Monday, December 22, 2014

Charlestown Tapas

Sixteen tasty news nuggets
By Will Collette

Suicide squirrel cripples Charlestown this morning.

Creepy Eyes animated GIFJust before 10:30 AM today (Monday), the lights went out for 3,149 Charlestown National Grid customers, businesses and residents alike, as National Grid suffered an outage that knocked out power for nearly the entire town, except for those with back-up generators or a green energy source (except that's not encouraged in Charlestown which effectively BANS wind power).

The Providence Journal reports that it was a suicide squirrel that shorted out the system. My favorite humorist Dave Barry really hates squirrels (click here for recent example) and would almost certainly accuse the now-deceased squirrel of an act of terrorism.

Richard Hosp passes away at Age 72

Former Town Council and Budget Commission member Richard Hosp has died. You can read his official obituary in the Westerly Sun by clicking here. Since he and his wife Martha retired to Charlestown in 1999, Mr. Hosp had been a dedicated community servant.

I admired him for standing up to the CCA Party, even though he ran on their first slate in 2008. I found him to be an intelligent, thoughtful and honorable man. While I didn’t always agree with him, I always took his counsel to heart. Our condolences to his family and friends.

Animosity between Tribe and Charlestown marks third day of court hearings 

Just a few days ago, I reported on signs that the long-running cold war between Charlestown town government and the Narragansett Tribe is heating up. I noted that a minor misdemeanor case was turning into a showdown between the sharp differences in how Charlestown town leaders and Tribal leaders view the core issue of sovereignty. At the December 18 hearing during the third day of testimony, those differences became quite stark.

CPD officer Evan Speck pursued two Narragansetts suspected of riding a dirt-bike and firing a gun deep into tribal land where he confronted to two young men as a crowd gathered. Officer Speck put out a general call for help, and officers from Charlestown and the Tribe responded. Speck described a situation that he feared would get out of control, but Tribal Officer Samuel Fry contradicted most of Officer Speck’s testimony. Testimony also revealed that no gun was found.

Then Charlestown’s hired Indian fighter, attorney Joe Larisa, argued that tribal police don’t actually have any jurisdiction even over their own land. According to the Westerly Sun, Larisa said that “By law, tribal police have no power” and “There is no special jurisdiction on tribal land.”

A video of the incident was played in court where Charlestown Police Sergeant Jamie Quatromanni is heard saying, “I’m sick of this reservation [expletive], this is Charlestown.”

The court recessed and will continue hearing this case on January 8.

Then there’s this…

In that same article about rising tensions between the Narragansett Tribe and Charlestown town leadership, I opined that a new US Justice Department decision to allow Tribes to grow and sell marijuana according to the laws of the state could really push things over the edge.

It might not even take marijuana to do it. Cultivation of non-psychoactive hemp, a traditional Native American commodity, might do it. A feature article in the national journal Indian Country Today says the DOJ’s recent move may lead to a rebirth of hemp growing and production of hemp products on tribal lands across the US.

Despite hemp’s lack of intoxicating power, it was made a banned substance in 1970.

Hemp was once an important cash crop in the US, used in more than 25,000 products. Today, we know hemp is an environmentally friendly crop that still has an abundance of commercial uses. For Native Americans, hemp also has cultural significance.

For a generation, Alex White Plume, a Lakota living on the Pine Ridge Reservation, has been campaigning to allow Native Americans to legally grow hemp. He is heartened by the DOJ policy shift. “The way I see it, this could replace casinos. I’m tired of being over-regulated. I think tribes should accept this opportunity and let the people decide how to use it.”

The Goat still lives….so far

Gävle, Sweden is best known as the headquarters for Sweden’s Gevalia coffee. But regular Progressive Charlestown readers will remember that we have tracked the odd custom of the Gävle Goat (the Gävlebocken) for the past several years. The goat is a 40-foot tall sculpture of sticks and straw erected in town square in Gävle during the holidays.

Almost from the start, an unofficial rivalry among town residents ensued where some percentage of the towns folk try to burn down the goat while the town officials and some percentage of the rest of the population try to save it. More often than not, the goat burns. Last year, it lasted until December 21 as this video shows. 


This year, the town tried surrounding the town square and the goat with a taxi stand, thinking that the presence of more people will deter the annual goat roasting ritual. So far, it has worked. But the Goat noted on its blog (yes, the Gävle Goat has its own blog and a webcam and a Twitter account), that a miniature goat often erected nearly had been trashed by vandals.

The Stankiewicz Reports

Town Administrator Stankiewicz stands guard to make sure the public
doesn't know too much that it might be problematic for his CCA masters
Town Manager Mark Stankiewicz no longer responds to questions from Progressive Charlestown even for basic information and treats each question as if it was an open records request. He only answers with a document and only if there is a document dealing with the question. 

So to get basic information from him about things happening in town, you have to look at his monthly reports to the Town Council. These reports are not presented orally at the Council meetings. Links to the reports are posted on Clerkbase after the Town Council meetings, as if to try to avoid public attention. 

Nevertheless, I often find newsworthy bits in his reports even though these reports are relentlessly upbeat when there's good news and cryptic when the news is less so.

For example, in his November report, Stankiewicz briefly describes a tense meeting Quonochontaug residents had with DEM over increasing levels of nitrate in their drinking water. This is one of several critical fronts in Charlestown’s rapidly developing water war

Stankiewicz also noted the town was looking to hire a consultant for a mysterious police study that’s been generating lots of rumors, but few hard facts to date about issues inside the CPD.

Stankiewicz’s November report puts him and notorious Frank Glista at one of the many meetings Statewide Planning has held on the controversial paranoid’s delight, RhodeMap RI. And the November report also details the big neighborhood hassle up in Carolina over traffic control rumble strips installed near Charlestown Elementary. Read the whole November report here.

In December, Stankiewicz reported that Charlestown will be receiving a CRS Rating of 7 from FEMA which happens to be really big news. Town Building officer Joe Warner undertook a special training program to qualify as a flood manager so Charlestown could apply to FEMA for recognition of its weather-disaster prevention program. The result was a very respectable rating that means that most coastal property owners will qualify for a 15% insurance discount!

Stankiewicz also reported a meeting with the parents of Colin Foote whose tragic homicide by a red-light runner gave the impetus to Charlestown’s contract with Sensys USA for red-light camerasthat are STILL not operational because, in my opinion, the town hired the wrong contractor – at West Beach Road where Colin was killed and also at East Beach. In related news, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of camera use in that state which had been a hotbed of resistance to red-light and speed cameras.

Stankiewicz also went to meetings on aquaculture where CCA Party Aqua-NIMBYs are trying to impede the expansion of oyster farming in our salt ponds, even though oystering is good for water quality. The Aqua-NIMBYs objections are coached as concerns over private recreation, as if they were in favor of anyone, other than themselves, using the ponds.

Stankiewicz also noted the up-coming next phase of Council chamber renovations. One question Stankiewicz refused to answer was my June 22 question about whether the renovations will put Charlestown in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. I noted that it is hard for elderly and disabled persons to follow Council rules and walk across the Council chambers to the podium and then stand there while speaking. 

This is an ADA lawsuit waiting to happen, but Stankiewicz would not respond to this question. Click here for his December report.

Open Records complaint filed against Charlestown Police

ACCESS-RI, a statewide coalition of non-profit and good government groups, journalists and others have filed complaints against several local police departments, including Charlestown's for failing to properly set up a system to respond to requests for public records under the state's Access to Public Records Act (APRA). Click here to see the complaint. ACCESS-RI filed a similar complaint against the Town of Charlestown last summer.
Due to Donna's defeat, the Historical Society won't be
getting one of these again for a long time

Charlestown Historical Society gets help

Rhode Island’s Champlin Foundation awarded the Charlestown Historical Society with a grant of $21,280 to do needed maintenance work on the old schoolhouse on Route 1A, Old Post Road.


Charlestown’s official unemployment rate rose sharply again, going up by 1.2% from October to November from 4.5% to 5.7%. 

Looking behind those numbers, our official workforce increased slightly to 4,487 Charlestown adults working or looking for work – not exactly the idyllic retirement colony the CCA Party caters to. 

Unemployment claims jumped by more than 25% to 254. So, with that said, here are local jobs I spotted in such sources as RI Community Jobs, the daily job posting service by Brown University’s Swearer Center (click here to sign up).

The YMCA of Providence is looking to hire an Aquatics Director for South County. Get more details here and apply here.

South County Hospital wants to hire a Practice Manager/Lean Analyst. They actually have a lot of jobs posted on their website (click here), 104 when I last checked.

Mystic Seaport is looking for an Educator Specialist and, according to Patch, they also want to hire a Director for Visitor Services.

The RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is taking applications now for seasonal jobs in 2015, generally for the summer season between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Details here and the application form is here.

Patch also lists the following area jobs:
                                   We could see this coming

It was only a matter of time before the volatile mix of crazies Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton have elected to the Chariho School Committee got into a public fight. It happened at the December 16 meeting and the Sun’s Cynthia Drummond caught the whole blow-by-blow.

GoLocalProv reports that Chariho Superintendent Barry Ricci has the
11th highest salary among his peers in Rhode Island
Committee veteran and resident fire-bomb thrower Georgia Ure of Hopkinton triggered the altercation by sending the committee’s outside auditor a list of questions that essentially raised questions about the school administration’s honesty.

Superintendent Barry Ricci took sharp exception to both the content and method Ure used.

This sparked outrage from Charlestown’s Guru of Civility Ron Areglado (CCA Party), who was quoted by Cynthia Drummond as labeling Ure’s actions: “That is terribly, terribly unethical”.  And of course Areglado’s CCA Party sidekick Donna Chambers added her Amen: “I have a real issue with that as well….I would definitely think that we would all be privy to that information and that it would be brought up at a public meeting.”

Apparently, the jousting between Ure, Areglado and Chambers continued even after the meeting’s adjournment. Plus, the issue of Ure’s letter to the auditor and how it was handled is on the agenda for the Committee’s next meeting. Bring popcorn.

South County foreclosures up compared to last year

HousingWorksRI, the organization formerly headed by our Secretary of State-Elect Nellie Gorbea, just issued its new report on housing foreclosures in Rhode Island. Generally, Rhode Island is doing a whole lot better than it did when we were much deeper into the Recession, but we’re not out of the woods yet.

On average across Rhode Island, the number of foreclosures is up by only 2% compared to 2013. However, most of South County did a lot worse. For example, the new data shows the number of Charlestown’s foreclosures is 75% higher than 2013. In Westerly, foreclosures in 2014 jumped by 173%. Exeter is up by 200%. South Kingstown, Richmond, Hopkinton, and North Kingstown all saw foreclosures increase many times more than the statewide average.

Rhode Island OD death toll up to 212 for the year

Despite efforts by local police departments to equip officers and EMTs with life-saving Narcan, an antidote to opioid overdoses, the state has had more than 200 people die from overdoses this year. More than 1500 doses of Narcan have been administered this year. Otherwise, the number of dead would be far higher. Nonetheless, the state Health Department finds these statistics alarming and see the epidemic of overdoses as “far from over.”

Charlestown young Democrat completes internship with Rep. Langevin

Congressman Langevin’s sent us a nice photo of the Congressman and Nick Bottai of Charlestown. Nick is a member of the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee and almost, but not quite, ran as a Town Council candidate in 2014. Nick had to withdraw his candidacy when it became clear that the requirements of his studies and working to pay his tuition would not allow him to run a viable campaign.

Nick interned at Rep. Langevin’s District office here in Rhode Island.

Skating with Clay and Michelle

Cathy and I had the pleasure of being the guests of Clay Pell and Michelle Kwan at a holiday skating party they hosted. Both seem to have recovered well from the travails of the long and ultimately unsuccessful primary battle for the Democratic nomination for Governor, ultimately won by Governor-elect Gina Raimondo. Both seem to be in great spirits and still determined to serve the state.

Michelle has been named to Providence Mayor-Elect Hector Elorza’s transition committee and both she and Clay have been helping Elorza. They both intend to stay in Rhode Island and figure out a suitable path to serve the people.

I was hoping Michelle would really show off on the ice – I have watched her on TV for years, but never saw her skate in person. Mainly, Michelle played with the youngest of the skaters and posed for pictures with fans. But for a brief moment, I spotted her making some of her classic moves and snapped off a couple of shots that captured not only her graceful form on the ice, but her joy in skating.

DEM offers grants to promote local food production

DEM has a new offering of almost a quarter million dollars in Local Agriculture and Seafood Act (LASA) grants of up to $20,000 with no requirement for matching funds. This round of grants comes with some very specific criteria which you can read about HERE. The deadline is February 17. DEM will hold a workshop for potential applicants from South County on Saturday, January 24, from 4-5 pm at the Kingston Free Library - Potter Hall (2605 Kingstown Road, Kingston).

Travel Notes

If you have friends or family visiting, there are two recent heartening reports. One is that ranked T.F. Green Airport as the fifth most affordable airport in the US, better than the rest in New England. Conde Nast also ranked TF Green among the nation’s best airports.

And Conde Nast rates the local Watch Hill Inn as one of the best hotels in the world (to my surprise, they top Ocean House). Only one other New England establishment, Hidden Pond in Kennebunkport, Maine, made the list.