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Monday, January 23, 2017

The honeymoon is over (with bonus video)

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
By Will Collette
Image result for CCA secret clubhouse
The orders are still coming from the CCA Party's secret clubhouse
Fool that I am, I really thought the new leadership of the Charlestown Town Council might be open to ideas other than those emanating from the secret clubhouse of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party) or their non-resident financial backers.

I even made a number of suggestions where there might be ways to build a broad base of support for initiatives to make life better for all of us who call Charlestown our home.

Silly me.

But the first major barb that burst the bubble did not come from me. Instead, it came from the most unlikely of sources – a January 13 Westerly Sun editorial entitled “Hypocrisy back on the agenda for Charlestown.”

Here’s how the Sun editorial started:
The club atmosphere that has become Charlestown government in recent years got a little more blatant last week when the Town Council — in a Trumpian move — named one of its own to fill a vacancy on the Parks and Recreation Board after the board had vetted other candidates and made a recommendation for appointment.
The Sun followed up by putting the Charlestown Town Council meeting at the top of its weekly “Highs and Lows” editorial on January 15:
What a show in Charlestown last week. The Town Council picked a new member to serve on the Parks and Recreation Commission without the standard practice of letting the Parks and Recreation Commission first interview the candidate. Another candidate, who had been vetted by the commission and who has attended meetings as an interested member of the public and happens to be familiar with the workings of town government as a former town councilor, was ignored by the council. The new member selected is also a member of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, a political action committee to which all five council members also belong. The council claimed it knew better and that its choice was the superior choice. That sounds like rule by decree, not democracy.
This is not the first time the Sun has written an editorial critical of Charlestown’s CCA-controlled government, but such editorials have been rare and generally far more temperate.

This editorial (and its follow-up) was remarkable not just for its cutting language, but also because it may be the first time a new town council in the Sun’s reading area was so excoriated so early in its term.

So what was this all about?


The Trumpian trigger

Faith LaBossiere
For whatever reason, the Westerly Sun editorials did not name names, though they laid out many of the pertinent facts.

The person rejected by the CCA Party-controlled Council is former Town Council President Deb Carney. Instead, the Council picked Faith LaBossiere, a CCA Party founder and donor.

Carney had been endorsed by the Parks and Recreation Commission. LaBossiere didn’t even bother to meet with the P&R Commission and instead, in a highly irregular move, applied directly to the CCA-controlled Council.

Carney has a long history of dedicated service to the town. She also scares the bejeezus out of the CCA Party leadership because as one of my colleagues put it, "She can make any of them look foolish in 25 words or less" using her encyclopedic knowledge of town policy and politics, as well as her logic and personal credibility.

LaBossiere has served on a number of boards and commissions that aligned with her self-interest, but spends three months in Florida every year. While she was a member of the Affordable Housing Commission, she was given a waiver of the rule that if you miss three meetings in a row, you lose your seat.

Although I believe this is the opening shot in a far bigger struggle, this latest particular row has its roots in LaBossiere’s crusade to promote bike paths all over Charlestown. Her prior efforts to expropriate residents’ frontages along Charlestown Beach Road and to get RIDOT to designate one of the lanes of Route One for bikes-only failed.

So she turned her sights on the $1 million that Charlestown voters approved for recreation over the objections of the CCA-controlled Town Council and negative campaigning by the CCA Party.

Rather than allow the money to be used for actual recreation priorities set by the town’s official Parks and Recreation Commission, the CCA Party started to dip into the fund for projects that bore no resemblance to town priorities. You won't find this project in the town-approved Ninigret Park Master Plan, its 2014 Revisions or the priority list former Town Council Boss Tom Gentz asked Parks and Recreation to create, which he then ignored. 

Many see it as a blatant “screw you” to Parks and Recreation and the people who fought for the bond, by just doing things to waste the money...for spite.

So far, the CCA Party-controlled Town Council has spent three-quarters of the bond, primarily on things that were not Parks and Recreation priorities, ignoring such glaring needs as a new entrance to the Park.
Image result for Ninigret Park entrance
Replacing and widening this dangerous choke point was a P&R priority

Replacing that entrance as been a top P&R priority not just for aesthetics, but for safety's sake.

The entrance is currently too narrow to allow emergency equipment to enter the park during the entirely foreseeable case of a serious problem occurring during a major public event.

Imagine fire trucks or rescue squads trying to enter while panicked people are streaming out.

But that kind of prudent expenditure is far less of a priority, in the eyes of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance than this....
Faith's Folly

Just over 6 feet wide and a mile and a quarter long, "Faith's Folly" adds more pavement to an already over-paved Ninigret Park. I took this photo on Sunday at 2 PM when the clouds broke and the temperture hit 54 degrees. There were lots of people enjoying the day in Ninigret Park. But there was NO ONE using this white elephant except for me and I was, as the saying goes ROFLMAO. BUT, the jokes on all of us taxpayers because we will pay for this ridiculous waste of money. 
The ultimate raid on the Recreation Bond was staged by LaBossiere herself, insisting that despite miles of paved and semi-paved surfaces in Ninigret Park, the town needed this brand-new, paved bike path.

Rather than have to go through the less than pliant Parks and Recreation Commission, ex-Town Council Boss Tom Gentz gave LaBossiere her own Bike Path Ad Hoc Committee. This committee came up with the plan for a 1.3 mile supposedly multi-purpose stretch of pavement.

It was only supposed to cost $7000, which seemed like a relatively harmless way to placate LaBossiere. Check out Faith's Powerpoint presentation to the Council showing the $7,000 cost projection that turned out to be only off by 3800%.

Image result for faith labossiere
"Here , Faith, take whatever you want"
The low bid, from Cardi Corp, totaled $266,927. Now normally, when a bid comes in at almost 40 times the budgeted amount, this would cause you to re-think the project or seek new bids.

Nah-uh. For the scions of the CCA Party, spending almost forty times the initial estimate - a $260,000 cost overrun - is nothing. Especially since nothing’s too good for Faith LaBossiere.

To his credit, former CCA Party Council member George Tremblay stuck to his fiscal conservative principles enough to raise objections to the deal:
“This must seem so obvious, I must be missing a point here, but is there a possibility that you could integrate the multi-use bike path with the larger trails?”
Then Council Boss Tom Gentz, backed by current Council Boss Virginia Lee told the Ad Hoc Bike group and the Parks and Recreation Commission to get together and work out a compromise.

Why, you might ask, does the Park and Recreation Commission, the town body duly authorized to make decisions about, uh, parks and recreation have to negotiate a deal with a rump group like Faith’s bike committee?

Because Boss Gentz said so, that’s why.

This is asphalt, the material used to build "Faith's Folly." Yes, asphalt.
A nice thick layer of it, like there's not enough pavement in Ninigret.

Anyone going before the Planning Commission for a project that includes 
asphalt is welcome to use this photo to respond to Ruth Platner's 
inevitable whining about the use of asphalt. (Photo by Will Collette)
So negotiate they did with the predictable result: no compromise. So naturally the CCA-controlled Council voted to approve the Cardi contract.

The vote was 4-1. Tremblay stuck to his guns and voted no. Three of the current CCA Council members – Boss Lee, Denise Rhodes and Bonnie Van Slyke - voted yes to this bloated bike project whose cost had grown from $7,000 to $267,000 (plus interest, since this will be paid for through the bond issue).

Planning Commissar Ruth Platner has a reputation as an implacable foe of every added square inch of asphalt in Charlestown but raised no objection to her CCA Party colleague LaBossiere’s vanity project.

As usual, political favoritism trumps principle every time.

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” 

Having tasted the sweet nectar of patronage, LaBossiere’s next demand was a seat on the Parks and Recreation Commission. 

After all, there’s still money left in the $1 million voter-approved recreation bond funds.

In fact, the exact fund balance from what was once $1 million is $259,012.06. To see the list of expenditures and this balance, CLICK HERE and go to "Packet Page 18."

Image result for fuck you shrubberyThat could buy a lot of shrubbery, another of LaBossiere’s great passions. 

In 2013, LaBossiere worked with Ruth Platner on a Grand Campaign for Shrubbery and Mulch

The resulting Ordinance 359 was a remarkable piece of anti-business micro-management emblematic of the CCA Party’s general animus toward small business.

But there may be bigger things afoot. For most of the time the CCA Party has run Charlestown town government, they have given deference to those town bodies they control such as the Budget Commission.

Conversely, they have either ignored or disrespected those commissions they don’t control such as Conservation or Economic Improvement.

However, the greatest amount of rancor has been between the CCA Party Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission. It really came out into the open during the horrific 2012 Battle for Ninigret Park where the CCA came close to nullifying the Commission, the Ninigret Park Master Plan and even considered giving Ninigret Park back to the federal government.

I wondered then when the CCA Party would make their move to take control of Parks and Recreation and whether they would use tactics similar to their 2014 coup to take control of the Zoning Board of Review. That was when they forced out members to install their own CCA Party loyalists like Cliff Vanover, Mike Chambers and Joe Quadrato.

As my favorite Yogi (Yogi Berra) would say, it’s like déjà vu all over again.

Four members have terms that expire at the end of this month. All four have sought reappointment. Normally, the Town Council respects such requests and re-appoints commissioners before their terms end.
Related image
New Town Council Boss Virginia Lee welcomes in the more frosty
relationships for those on the CCA Party's naughty list

But under new Town Council Boss Virginia Lee, action to renew those members did not appear on the agenda. And may never appear.

When Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jodi Frank attempted to raise the issue, she was gaveled down by Boss Lee who ruled the matter could not be discussed because it was not on the agenda.

Well, duh, the fact that it wasn't on the agenda was precisely what P&R commissioner Frank wanted to discuss. 

And Ms. Frank asked her question at precisely the right time - in the agenda slot for Public Comments for matters that are not on the agenda.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that Jodi Frank's father Richard was among the Zoning Board members ousted during the 2014 CCA Party purge of the Zoning Board of Review.

Word around town is that the Charlestown Citizens Alliance has indeed decided to take over the Parks and Recreation Commission and may do so by simply replacing P&R Commissioners whose terms expire with people from Faith's Bike Committee.

The ultimate goal appears to be choking off human activity in Ninigret Park and particularly to end the major festivals. For example, Joe Quadrato, one of the CCA Party's major fund-raisers and holder of a patronage seat on the Zoning Board, is particularly keen to end the Seafood Festival, according to reliable sources.

The Arnolda neighborhood, represented by Bonnie Van Slyke on the Town Council, has long campaigned against events such as Rhythm and Roots. Van Slyke is also the Town Council "liaison" on the Parks and Recreation Commission, although she doesn't do much liasing with anyone except ex-Boss Tom Gentz.

So much for my high hopes that the new Council under Virginia Lee’s new leadership would be any different than previous CCA Party administrations.

I should have listened:

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