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Monday, February 28, 2011

Ides of March (-1): Will it match the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?

Will the CCA-owned Planning Commission do to renewable energy on the day before the Ides of March what they did to affordable housing on Valentine’s Day?
Just to set the dates, March 15th is the
Ides of March, the day famous for the assassination of Julius Caesar by his friends.

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre was the infamous 1929 mass killing of rival gangsters in 1929 by Al Capone.
At last month’s Valentine’s Day Town Council meeting, CCA founding member and town planning commissar Ruth Platner presented a new affordable housing strategy that hinges on local homeowners building Income Restricted Accessory Dwelling Units (I-RADUs) in their back yards.
The Town Council, also controlled by the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, approved Platner’s I-RADU plan.

Platner will be back in front of the Council on March 14th with a new ordinance that effectively kills any new commercial wind energy proposal. Under section (4)(c) of the draft ordinance, commercial wind turbines would be prohibited in all zones – including industrial - except under two circumstances.

One is if the turbine owner proves the turbine will only replace other forms of energy used on the property and NOT generate any excess power. In normal communities, turbines feed extra power back into the grid (“net metering”) but under Platner's plan, that’s BAD in Charlestown. The second allowable use for a large turbine is to provide municipal power. Both allowable uses must also meet the more than a dozen pages of specifications in the ordinance.

In other words, faggedaboudit!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mageau's lecture on "intellectual dishonesty"

Did you read Jim Mageau’s 700-word rant in yesterday’s Westerly Sun (2/26/11, p. 4)? The Sun’s pay wall doesn’t allow me to give you a link to his op-ed so I’ll describe what I think he said. He repeatedly called the Town Council guilty of “intellectual dishonesty.”

I’m not sure why. Mageau seems to think the Council was dishonest for asking the state Ethics Commission to rule whether Counselor Lisa DiBello can participate in matters where her charges of discrimination and wrongful discharge against town administrator William DiLibero and the town might cause a conflict of interest.
Regardless of the merits, it looked pretty bad when DiLibero fired her last spring. DiLibero seemed to have lost his temper and threw proper procedure out the window. He could very well have opened up the town to liability, as Mageau has claimed. But there are specific legal remedies to address her issues.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sheldon Whitehouse - Senate's #1 liberal

In the National Journal's annual poll, our own Senator Sheldon Whitehouse ranked #1 most liberal (though he's in a 9-way tie with other notables like Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Barbara Mikulski of Maryland and Chuck Shumer of NY) for the second year in a row.

That's pretty good news as he runs for reelection in 2012 because another poll, this time by Gallup, shows Rhode Island is the 3rd most liberal state in the Union, following the District of Columbia and Vermont. And DC isn't a state. It's no surprise that Mississippi, Idaho and Alabama scored 1st , 2nd and 3rd most conservative, respectively.

While there has been lots of buzz that Whitehouse will be challenged by former Guv Don Carcieri (unless he's already changed his voting address to Florida) or John Robitaille. Both would lose by double digits according to poll numbers released yesterday.

But another potential Republican challenger has emerged - Hasbro's Alan G. Hassenfeld. He was quoted in yesterday's ProJo political blog as considering a run.

Though, maybe Hassenfeld might also be considering running from Florida. Last month, Hassenfeld acted as the front guy for the now discredited OSPRI report that Rhode Island's taxes are making the rich bail out for Florida.

Well, if Kerry King can run for State Treasurer from a Florida address, why can't Alan Hassenfeld. After all, there are different rules for the rich.

SIDE NOTE: In Rhode Island, where everyone is connected to everyone, Kerry King serves on the board of the RI Statewide Coalition along with fellow Floridian CCA President Kallie Jurgens,

Author: Will Collette

Moving the Peas Around on the Plate?

Saw the article in the ProJo today about TD Bank getting tax breaks from the Economic Development Corporation for creating jobs by opening offices in RI. I was surprised. First reaction was that we have lots of banks and success by TD Bank will only reduce deposits and business at existing competitors. So TD Bank hires and the others lay off.

(Disclosure – I have seen a couple bank booms and busts and the resulting empty buildings at the end of the cycle. And wondered about the market for slightly used bank vaults.)

Then I read in the article that there is a history of giving tax breaks for opening bank retail branches.

Certainly I appreciate the benefits of competition but do we want to give (pretty large) financial incentives for something that is likely “moving the peas around on the plate”?

I guess this caution would apply to many or most cases of “retail” jobs. I could imagine some procedure to have the incentives be based on net new jobs in the state in those cases. But I wouldn’t want to be the person required to compute it and give a convincing explanation that my numbers are right.

I can’t blame TD Bank for asking for the money but I wonder at the wisdom of this. At least one of the new EDC board members, Stanley Weiss, agreed with my thoughts. That didn’t stop them awarding the money, however.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Charlestown's need for affordable housing

Over the coming months, we're going to talking about affordable housing a lot.

Charlestown needs NEW affordable housing - we need to add 283 units to comply with the state's mandate. But we also need affordable housing because it's the right thing to do.

Without new affordable housing, grown children will have to leave. Downsizing retirees will have to leave. Town workers will not be able to live here. And Charlestown will continue to be a closed, insulated little community.

To debate the issue intelligently, we all need to face the facts, so here they are:

Charlestown at a Glance:The town of Charlestown covers 59.3 square miles, 22.5 of which is water.

Housing Facts: 2009Typical monthly housing payment* for a $288,000 house - $1,815
Household income required to afford a $288,000 house - $72,618
Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment - $1,170
Household income required for that rent to be affordable - $46,800
Average private-sector wage for jobs in Charlestown - $32,916

Housing Units in CharlestownNumber of year-round housing units - 3,318
Housing units that quality as affordable - 49
Affordable housing units reserved for the elderly - 0
Affordable housing units reserved for families - 9
Affordable housing units reserved for persons with special needs - 40
Homes funded through Building Homes Rhode Island - 1

How much housing is needed?Additional housing units necessary to meet the 10% threshold established by the State's Low and Moderate Income Housing Act of 2004 - 283

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nice turn-out at Wisconsin solidarity rally

There was a nice turn-out of union members from both the public and private sector at the State House rotunda this afternoon.

The State House interior was awash in the various union colors and alive with signs of solidarity and support for embattled state workers in Wisconsin.

AFSCME, the union that took the lead in organizing this rally, was out in force. Lead speaker was Charlestown's own, Mike Downey, who is the President of AFSCME statewide.

Solidarity Rally Today at State House

Later today, February 22nd, at 4:30 PM, there will be a rally in front of the State House in solidarity with embattled state workers in Wisconsin. In keeping with labor's long-time rallying cry, "an injury to one is an injury to all," Rhode Island's labor movement and its allies will join dozens of other such events around the country to show our support for the stand state workers in Wisconsin are taking against Republican efforts to strip them of the fundamental right to organize. MORE INFORMATION HERE. Several of us from Charlestown are going.Despite the First Amendment right of free association, trade union membership was considered a crime until the 1930s. Before the passage of the Wagner Act that made union membership legal, courts frequently convicted labor union activists on the charge of "criminal syndicalism." Some labor activists were executed, including labor legend Joe Hill, under laws designed to squelch workers who wanted to organize unions for better wages, an end to child labor and decent working conditions. But the Wagner Act did not grant the right to organize to all. It left out many large labor groups, among the largest being government workers. Government workers had to fight an on-going and separate battle for the right to organize and that is what the Wisconsin battle is all about.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Class War in Charlestown, Part One

In her Jan. 16th letter published in the Westerly Sun, CCA President Kallie Jurgens scolded Deb Carney of the Charlestown Democratic Town Committee for stirring up “class warfare” in Charlestown, and for relegating rich, out-of-state property owners to “second class citizenship.”

What Jurgens neglects to note is that class warfare has been a fact of life in Charlestown for many years - and it wasn’t Charlestown Democrats who started it. If you asked the Narragansett Tribe, you might get 1675 as the start date for Charlestown’s class war, but let’s fast-forward 300+ years.

Around 2003, while still living in Connecticut, Kallie Jurgens and some like minded people – many of them wealthy out-of-state land-owners in Shelter Harbor – decided they didn’t want to pay ocean view taxes for homes they only used part-time. To that end, they formed the RI Shoreline Coalition to increase the power – and prosperity – of coastal absentee landowners. According to the Providence Journal (6/2/03) the Shoreline Coalition’s main goals were winning the vote for out-of-state land owners and fighting the Narragansetts over gaming. Jurgens still serves on the RISC board under its new name, the RI Statewide Coalition.

Kallie not only was an early class warrior, but she also made it a North versus South issue, as she told the Providence Journal (September 18, 2005):

"I pay twice the taxes of someone north of Route 1," said Kallie Jurgens, a Stonington, Conn., resident who, with her husband, owns an ocean-view house in Charlestown that's assessed at $679,600. One year ago, the assessment was $352,600. [Fact Check: Jurgens bought their Shady Harbor house for $128,000 in 2000.] Still, Jurgens' $4,621 tax bill is only $182 higher than last year's, thanks, in part, to larger increases for owners with property right on the water.

A senior marketing and sales consultant for IBM, Jurgens said she plans to move to Charlestown full-time when she retires. [Fact check: the Jurgens bought their Stuart FL condo in 2009 and use it as their permanent address].
"That's why it means so much to me, because I'll be on a fixed income," she said.

Friday, February 18, 2011

CCA's plan for affordable housing -DIY!

The Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) showed us how they plan to resolve the town's dire shortage of affordable rental housing. Thanks to Planning Commission head Ruth Platner (one of CCA's founders) and the CCA-controlled Town Council, we will take a DIY ("Do It Yourself") approach to the issue. To that end, the Council passed two ordinances at its February 14th meeting.

Under one ordinance, approved unanimously, every single-family Charlestown home owner could (theoretically) build an affordable housing unit in their backyard.

With 4,079 single family homes in town, we'll meet our state affordable mandate in no time. After all, who wouldn't want to build a new "Income-Restricted Accessory Dwelling Unit" (I-RADU) in their backyard?

Before you begin digging up your lawn, bear in mind that there are some minor details. You must conform to the Planning Commission's concept of what a building should look like, satisfy DEM limits on water and septic, keep it under 850 square feet, and for 30 years, you will restrict rental of the apartment to qualified low-income individuals found and screened for you by a Rhode Island Housing-approved contractor. If you do all this, at some undetermined point in the future, you might even get a property tax abatement.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Befuddled - or Not

I attended part of the Town Council meeting last night and one topic surprised and perplexed me. Here is the email received by the Town Council from the Washington County Regional Planning Council (WCRPC).

Before I continue I must make it clear that I have considerable sympathy with the people who live near the proposed Whalerock wind project. I also have a lot of skepticism about whether a place can be found in Charlestown for a commercial-scale wind project that will be accepted by the citizens. This post is not really about that – it’s about how the Town Council dealt with this request, or not.

Because of the conflict over a proposed wind project in North Kingston, NK has requested that the state put a moratorium on all wind projects. If the state did that it would delay a wind turbine project in Ninigret Park enough so that the grant money would run out and the project would be cancelled. This project has not been controversial since it is relatively far from housing and is a small tower. Nonetheless, it would be an important symbol of green energy and an important field test of how effective wind power can be here.

Ok, so the Executive Director of the WCRPC that is sponsoring this project and another in New Shoreham, Jeff Broadhead, becomes alarmed and sends out an email asking for help to get these projects exempted from a moratorium. So it comes up on our Town Council agenda and here is what happens…

Councilor Gentz brings up the topic of “not supporting a statewide moratorium on wind generators”. The rest of the Councilors seem confused and there is no motion at first. I guess they didn't read the email in advance. Then Councilor Avedisian makes a motion “that the Council adopt a resolution not supporting the statewide moratorium on wind energy.” Gentz states that “by not supporting the moratorium we've made the same statement and we don’t need a motion to do that”. After some confusing talk the motion died for lack of a second. Councilor Frank started asking “we do nothing..” and Gentz said “if we do nothing we're not supporting the moratorium.” You can listen to the discussion here. (You will need to rewind a little if you want to hear the beginning of this topic.)

But here is the meat of the request – “I’ve written to Mike Embury about it, and urge you to do the same.” Mr. Broadhead is not asking the TC to do nothing; he's asking for active help in getting these projects exempted!

By not acting, our Town Council has helped doom our ability to use these grant funds to build a wind power demonstration in Ninigret Park. Or perhaps that was the objective?

author: Tom Ferrio

Monday, February 14, 2011

UPDATE: OSPRI report on the rich and taxes deemed FALSE

Last month, the Ocean State Policy Research Institute (OSPRI) issued a bombshell report claiming that rich Rhode Islanders were leaving in droves, mostly for Florida, and it was RI's taxes, especially the estate tax, to blame. I talked about that report in the first posting in this blog.

Polifacts analyzed OSPRI's report and what little supporting evidence that was cited in the report and
determined that the report was FALSE. That's a polite way of saying it was a lie.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Despite what some people would like you to think, our local and state governments do some good things for us. Would you really like to be assigned your own share of Route 1 to shovel out each time it snows so you can have “minimal government”?

Face it, services in a town such as Charlestown are funded by the taxes paid to the town and to the state.

Taxes to the town are primarily property taxes. Taxes to the state are largely income tax and sales taxes.  Expenditures by the state greatly benefit the owners of property, either through services that are used or by infrastructure that adds value to property in the town.

Some examples are:
             State road construction and maintenance.
             Construction, maintenance and operation of state beaches, parks, and recreational areas.
             Activities of DEM, DNR, State Police and the Emergency Management Agency.
             Rhode Island colleges and universities, especially our nearby URI.
             State funds that go to our school district and town.
             State health department
             State services for the elderly, veterans, handicapped and low-income families.
             Supporting economic development, energy efficiency and affordable housing.
             Support for the unemployed.
             Support for medical services.

Non-resident property owners make little or no contribution to state funding while benefiting from the services provided by the state.

We know that many property owners in Rhode Island plan their living arrangements to avoid state income tax. Many state services must be sized for the property served, whether occupied or not, or for the peak summer load. The year-round owners, willing to pay their share of taxes, have to pick up the government funding load for those who enjoy part of the year here but legally avoid funding the government activities that support their property value.

The non-resident property owners are happy to have their condo in Florida where they claim their residency and enjoy their home in Charlestown without contributing to the state funding they benefit from. I call them freeloaders!

Author: Tom Ferrio

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Charlestown Through the Looking Glass

On Monday night, Valentine's Day, the Charlestown Town Council meeting will feature the announcement of a new ad hoc committee on alternative energy and the first reading of an ordinance to pretty much stiffle wind energy.

So what an attractive offer - join a committee to study new technologies that the CCA-controlled majority on the Town Council seems determined to strangle at birth.

And we're all supposed to play along and pretend this is how good, transparent government works.

No doubt, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance has polled, measured and analyzed the voice of the people through its mysterious e-mail system. At the properly orchestrated moment, they will produce reams of anonymous citizen input supporting their guiding principle that Charlestown doesn't need anything new built in town, ever.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sound and Fury at the State House

Despite our budget woes, intolerable unemployment, runaway fuel oil costs and deteriorating infrastructure, it's great to see our lawmakers in Providence have their priorities straight.

The right-wing of the General Assembly spent much of this week flailing away at two of their favorite bogeymen -
gay marriage and illegal immigration. Can you imagine how hysterical they would be if they discovered there were illegal immigrants who wanted the right to same sex marriage?
totally bogus statistic that illegal immigration costs Rhode Island $400 million a year. Even Rep. Donna Walsh's opponent jumped on the bandwagon and spouted that figure.

I'm surprised that Bill Felkner of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute didn't use that fictional statistic in his own equally fictional account of how
Rhode Island policies are scaring the rich into moving away to Florida. In fact, the rich ARE NOT moving away, but as they used to say about Ronald Reagan, "don't let the facts get in the way of a good story."

Speaking of Ronald Reagan, House Republicans are thrilled that their resolution to memorialized a fictionalized version of Ronald Reagan on his 100th centennial
passed unanimously, 61-0. Rep. Doreen Costa (R-Tea Bag) scores again!

Rep. Daniel Gordon (R-Portsmouth) also struck a blow for the Tea Party agenda with his
bill to allow Rhode Islanders to "opt out" of federal Health Care Reform. Gordon cited a favorite right-wing shibboleth, the Tenth Amendment, as the basis for his resolution.

In fairness, I should also note the noble efforts of two South County Democrats who also have their priorities straight. Take Rep. Donald Lally (D-Narragansett) who introduced
a bill to make Halloween the last Saturday of October, regardless of the actual date. He said he introduced the bill on behalf of a constituent and, even though it didn't think the bill was a great idea, would put it up for a hearing anyway. I'm sure that constituent, whoever that is, is really happy with Lally over that.

And Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy (D-Hopkinton)
introduced legislation to create a special Red Sox affinity license plate. This bill does have some merit, as the revenues from the sale of the plates would go for cancer research at the Dana Farber Institute.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

It's Truck Day and I'm Sad

It's Truck Day, one of the most important days of the year, and we have no joy in Rhode Island.

Rep. Doreen Costa (R-NO Kingtown) thinks I wasn't serious when I asked her to introduce a resolution memorializing this day, when all Red Sox fans begin to glow with anticipation of springtime. Today is the day that the trucks load up at Fenway to take the team's gear down to Florida for spring training.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Happy Birthday, Ronnie!

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of President Ronald Reagan. And across the country, conservatives are celebrating the centennial of the Man that Never Existed. Sure there was a real Ronald Reagan who did serve as President. But that man and the one conservatives celebrate are two different beings.

Republican members of the Rhode Island House introduced their own surreal version of the Reagan myth, putting a resolution forward to celebrate Reagan as a "union leader" among other things, as well as a leader who shrunk the size of the federal government, annual deficits, the national debt and taxes. None of these claims are true: under Reagan, the size of the federal government and its workforce grew substantially, as did deficits and the national debt. While Reagan greatly reduced taxes on the wealthy in his first year in office, he signed tax increases on the middle class and working families each other year he was in office.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Prediction

Watch for the CCA-controlled Charlestown Town Council to do something truly remarkable to one-up North Kingstown.

Charlestown and NO Kingstown have been running neck and neck to see who can be the most anti-green energy. Both have mounted pitched battles against proposed wind turbine projects and both have slapped a moratorium on accepting any new wind turbine proposals.

But now NO Kingstown has edged into the lead by demanding the state impose a STATEWIDE moratorium on all wind turbine projects. Read about it here. And the “NO” is not a typo – it’s what local NIMBYs like to call the town.

Yes, NO Kingstown has definitely shown that it can not only be ignorant about one of the most promising alternative energy technologies on the market, but that it can have the arrogance to try to impose its retrograde attitudes on the entire state.

Now, I know it’s a challenge, but I have no doubt that the CCA clubhouse is buzzing with plans to take back the lead in the battle against progress. There’s even a rumor afoot that CCA President Kallie Jurgens made a special trip up from her home in Florida to lead the planning.

So, what can CCA come up with to top NO Kingstown? How about a Constitution Convention to make it part of the state Constitution that no new construction project, no matter how meritorious, may be permitted if there is one person within 25 miles who objects? Or a state law banning any wind-energy project that uses technology newer than 17th Dutch-style windmills.

Please help out, here. Send us your ideas for ways that Charlestown can show NO Kingstown who’s better at blowing off wind power by posting your comments.