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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Episode 7

Under the Radar with L-T
By Robert Yarnall

Read the rest of the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot series:
Episode 1 – Getting Ready To Fish

Episode 2 – Watchaug Bites
Episode 3 – Avoiding Car Sickness
Episode 4 – Bait & Switch (Not!)
Episode 5 – Still Baiting, Still Switching…
Episode 6 – Mother Gooser & Friends
Episode 7 – Under the Radar with L-T
Episode 8 – Steering Committee Syndrome Unleashed, The Prelude
Episode 9 – Steering Committee Syndrome Unleashed, The Kiss
Episode 10 – Snagged on the Epilog Epic-Log

Time to stow the fishing gear this week while area ponds are restocked with hungry trout for the autumn season, courtesy of our friends at the Division of Fish & Wildlife. We bass anglers usually take a hiatus as well, stocking up on 2012 Patriots jerseys and wiping down crusty boat hulls with otherwise useless 2012 Red Sox non-memorabilia.

Unbeknown to most folks in Charlestown, neighborhood resistance to developer Larry LeBlanc’s industrial wind energy proposal began a good six months before a pair of congenial front men began pulling fire alarms in the neighborhoods abutting Whalerock.

Soft-spoken former U.S. Army 1st Lt. Joseph S. Dolock, a Vietnam veteran of an actual yearlong live-fire combat tour of duty, had caught wind of a pending town council agenda item that roused his considerable business instincts.

Dolock had spent a major part of his post-military career training organizations and individuals to survive the financial battlefields of both Wall Street and Main Street. As manager of the Westchester branch of New York-based Crosslands Bank & Investor Services, real-world GI Joe assembled, motivated, and supervised a team of young stockbrokers that featured former NFL Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Clarence Sanders and a handful of other accomplished former Division One college athletes.

The idea, of course, was that a squad of high-energy individuals innately familiar with the concept of teamwork would be equally successful competing on the stock exchange trading floor, scoring for both the brokerage firm and its clients.

Later in his financial services career, Dolock was appointed to the position of Senior Auditor with Chemical Bank, the forerunner of today’s JPMorgan Chase. It was during this stint that the former platoon leader combined battlefield survival instincts with business world acumen to unearth financial dirty dealings lurking in the money pits: “Great Deals, Great Steals, Coming Soon To A Location Near You!”

So when Good Citizen Joe Dolock settled into semi-retirement in Charlestown circa 1992, he found that keeping track of town government happenings was much less stressful than deciphering encrypted battlefield communications, analyzing Wall Street IPO’s, or conducting forensic audits.

“It’s actually so easy, so simple, Joe relates. “I just read the agendas for the upcoming meetings. No big deal. Anyone can do it. You learn exactly what questions to ask and who should have the answers. Then it’s up to you to go the meetings and speak up. Really simple.”

The stage was set one brisk April morning, 2010: Dolock, Joseph S. US Army, Ret.; coffee, black, 1 cup, no sugar; newspaper, The Westerly Sun, 1 copy; cigarette, filtered, 1; Golden Retrievers, 2, big, happy.

There it was. Westerly Sun Classifieds, Legal Advertising, Town of Charlestown, Public Notice, Monthly Town Council Meeting…an agenda item relating to wind turbines with a reference to a possible partnership.

Dolock took notice. Partnerships were complex business relationships that carried varied amounts of risk-reward to all parties involved. There were many types of partnerships, each of which was specific to a particular set of circumstances. The mere mention of the term “partnership” required that the term itself be defined, within the context to which it was applied, before any substantive discussion could proceed.

Joe noted the meeting on his calendar and made a note to himself to catch up on the latest stuff on wind energy. At this point he had no idea that the proposed site of a pair of 410’ industrial wind turbines was approximately 600 feet from his pride & joy wood chip smoker grill.  That’s about one-fifth of a “klick” (kilometer) to the infantrymen who dodged incoming mortar shells for a living or a dying, as fate decided.

On the appointed day and at the appropriate moment of the next Charlestown Town Council meeting, Citizen Joe stood at the podium and spoke against the general concept of public-private partnerships that carry inherent levels of risk to taxpayers. His comments were duly noted and Dolock was assured that there would be ample opportunity to ask questions during subsequent council meetings as well as public hearings, as the partnership proposal moved toward actualization.

Dolock attended the July 2010 Town Council meeting and asked both Charlestown Attorney Peter Ruggiero and Whalerock Attorney Nicholas Gorham to define the term “partnership” in the context of the wind energy proposal. Neither was able to provide a direct answer to the inquiry.

The following monthly meeting provided Dolock with another opportunity to seek clarification on the Charlestown-Whalerock LLC partnership proposal.  Dolock asked to see the actual partnership agreement, but the attorneys were unable to agree exactly what, or where, it was. Dolock commented that based on his background in real estate investment trusts, these preliminary discussions pointed to a bad deal for the town.

Not long after Joe Dolock initiated his series of monthly inquiries seeking clarification on the proposed public/private partnership between Whalerock LLC and the Town of Charlestown, Attorney Gorham, at the request of his client Larry LeBlanc, withdrew the partnership offer. Puufff…gone. Like the smoke from a gun.*

In the meantime, Whalerock’s wind energy proposal, including the actual site plan, had been filed with the town. A core neighborhood group, headed by Ron & Maureen Areglado, Mike & Donna Chambers, and Kristan O’Connor, all residents of Partridge Run, began to organize an opposition group and initiated a leafleting campaign.

Concurrent with the efforts of The Partridge Family (uh-oh, possible copyright violation here, calling for a federal investigation) was a similar leafleting campaign singlehandedly run by current Town Council Vice-President Dan Slattery, who stuffed mailboxes while “mountain” biking through the neighborhood. (uh-oh again, possible violation, unauthorized use of US Postal Service property here, also calling for a federal investigation) **

Kristan O’Connor, a young financial services consultant beginning a new career in Boston, served as The Partridge’s (kinder, gentler satire) point person in gathering and analyzing Joe Dolock’s considerable expertise regarding the genesis and etiology of Whalerock. However, the core group didn’t seem to share Joe’s view that the best way to combat the industrial wind turbines was to attack the business concepts underlying LeBlanc’s proposal.

With or without a partnership, federal tax credits or not, it was senior banking analyst Joseph Dolock’s professional opinion that LeBlanc’s half-baked idea would not be underwritten by any commercial lending institution. Joe Dolock’s professional opinion was politely dismissed by Illwind’s version of the CCA Steering Committee, The Partridges. Congenial folks, our P-F’ers, but simply lacking in Lieutenant Dolock’s areas of expertise.  Just the way it was, just the way it is.

L-T learned all he cared to learn about firefights in a far away land over forty years ago. This neighborhood windmill thing, this was not a war, not a battle, not even a skirmish. It was a case of adults on all sides, at all stages of the process, not acting like adults, not thinking things through.

Instead, they pulled fire alarms. (Figuratively speaking, Miguel.)

Just like Judge Savage said. (ditto)

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, over

* violent imagery used with all due apologies to my loyal CCA readership…

** Editor’s note : It is comforting to know that should any federal investigations be required, they can be conducted within a Town Council Special Meeting, at no additional cost to the taxpayer