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Monday, August 20, 2012

“We’re on a mission from God”

You could drive a prison bus through the gap between the CCA's high-minded ideals and their actions.

By Linda Felaco

The Charlestown Citizens Alliance, like many organizations, has a mission, and as they were at great pains to tell us when candidates for town offices submitted their declarations in June, the CCA’s Town Council and Planning Commission candidates have all pledged to adhere to that CCA mission. 

First and foremost in the CCA mission statement—and therefore, presumably, the most important part of it to them—is “open, professional and ethical government that is transparent.”

Judging from their actions in office, however, the CCA’s definitions of open, professional, ethical, and transparent” don’t seem to square with the way those terms are commonly understood. 

For example, as we’ve repeatedly shown here on Progressive Charlestown, CCA’s view of “open” and “transparent” seems to be “everyone else had better be open and transparent, but we’re closed up tight as a quahog.” Cf. “Transparency and the Planning Commission,” “Transparency and the Planning Commission, redux,” “CCA promotes dark skies and open space without sunshine or openness,” and “Deputy Dan Slattery and the case of the secret records” for more examples of what I’m talking about than you probably care to read.

And their definition of “ethical” seems to be “anything we do is ethical by definition; anything anyone we don’t like does is not.”

As for professionalism in government, it implies a course of training and certification in public policy and/or related fields, e.g., community planning. Inherent in the concept of professionalism is deferring to professionals. Absent a public policy or planning degree, it is disingenuous at best to claim the mantra of professionalism in government.

So just what does the CCA mean by “professional government”? Do they mean making effective use of town staff? Hiring qualified staff? Or do they mean recruiting know-it-all town leaders—e.g., Deputy Dan Slattery the supersleuth, or Ruth Platner the superplanner, or George Tremblay, the expert on whatever it is he’s talking about?

I would put one of our "Kill Bill" graphics here,
but Michael Chambers doesn't like it; he says
it's too violent
. I think he'll like the
Chamberpot better.
The demeaning treatment of town staff—“Kill Bill,” “Slay Jay,” “Ashley, peel me a grape,” or using the Amy Weinreich defense whenever CCA council members get caught failing to follow proper procedures (see examples here and here)—is not exactly what I’d call professional.

Then there’s current planning commissioner and town council candidate George Tremblay’s shameless and well-documented blackballing of Melina Lodge when she was the only candidate to apply for a job for which she was eminently qualified.

Governments and organizations seek to balance the powers of professional staff and elected or volunteer leadership. Here in Charlestown, we’re notorious cheapskates and rely very heavily—some might say too heavily—on volunteers rather than paid staff. Which is all fine and good when qualified, experienced people volunteer their skills and expertise but becomes a problem when people “volunteer” because they have axes to grind like (need I say it?) the CRAC-ers, whose sloppy, unprofessional lawsuit in the Whalerock case was just sent back by the judge for a do-over.

How “professional” is it to, say, propose that the town spend half a million dollars to acquire limited access rights to a piece of property without giving due consideration to how exactly the public and in particular handicapped members of the public will even access said property? Or to suggest that the major demolition work that would be required to even use the property the way that was being proposed could be accomplished by volunteers. Or for that matter, to berate the superintendent of schools about an unavoidable increase in the school budget triggered by increased enrollment and then vote later in the same meeting to give away an equivalent amount of money to acquire said limited access rights as if tax dollars were candy?

Or to go before the Town Council with an ordinance that you expect them to vote on when you can’t even explain the rationale behind certain passages and just throw up your hands and say “I got that from another town’s ordinance” like Planning Commissar Ruth Platner did more than once with various aspects of the lighting ordinance, which resulted in the ordinance being voted on with an issue yet to be resolved, namely the inexplicable and unjustifiable 15-foot light pole height restriction? In fact, according to the lighting expert from Musco Sports Lighting who gave a presentation at the December council meeting of the ill-fated plan for sports lighting in Ninigret, paradoxically, for reasons of geometry, dark-sky lighting in fact has to be mounted on taller poles than customary so that more of the light is directed toward the intended area rather than spread along the ground.

Or claiming that turning lights off at night somehow enhances security, but when asked for an explanation, vaguely saying you read it somewhere.

Or serving on the Planning Commission and telling an applicant that a model of the building would help because it’s hard to read architectural drawings.

"Why does it have to be so big?" "Does it have to be brick?"
"Can't we build it out of soda bottles like I read about
on the interwebs?"
Or suggesting that rather than build a new fire station that’s large enough to hold the trucks and equipment, there should be a number of small buildings each holding one piece of equipment. Or that the building could be made out of recycled soda bottles. (I’m not joking about this. I wish I were.) Or in the same meeting saying the new building had better not raise taxes and then suggesting that the roof be covered with solar cells to be green.

Or demanding details about buildings and critiquing them, when it is not in your power to do so, like the Planning Commission’s last-minute attempt to delay the opening of the new beach pavilions by requiring that the Blue Shutters pavilion have blue shingles.

Bet Craig Marr feels he was treated
very professionally by the
Town Council.
Or repeatedly talking about “two documents” that are vitally important to the town’s management of Ninigret Park, but only one of them is ever presented to the public and the other is never mentioned again, as if it never existed. Or approving the agenda item for a vote on a Memorandum of Understanding between the town and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a stakeholder in Ninigret Park and then, at the council meeting, playing the “Blame Amy” game again, saying the item was placed on the agenda by mistake and a needed meeting to discuss and review the wording hasn’t even been scheduled yet.

We’ll be looking at these sterling examples of CCA “professionalism” in more depth—plus dissecting the new ones they will surely present us with if the past is any guide—during the countdown to Election Day.