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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Did Dan Slattery keep his 2010 campaign promises?

Why CCA’s Dan Slattery does not deserve a second Town Council term
Time to ride off into the sunset
By Will Collette

CCA Town Council Vice-President Dan Slattery has maintained a low profile over the past several months. Perhaps he is hoping that no one will remember all the chaos he has caused in Charlestown and will re-elect him. Slattery has indeed left a Sandy-like swath of destruction through Charlestown. Here’s a quick review of Slattery’s recent political career, including his one term on the Town Council.

In 2008, Slattery presided over the CCA’s first election campaign where the CCA ran five Town Council candidates against then Council President Jim Mageau. The CCA unseated Mageau through the use of vicious personal attacks against him and his running mate Bruce Picard. Earlier CCA attacks were so bad that they forced Council President John Craig to resign mid-term and move out of Charlestown.

Slattery also presided over the CCA’s 2008 endorsement of former Democrat Matt McHugh in his effort to run as an independent against Rep. Donna Walsh. McHugh told the CCA general meeting where he received their endorsement that he planned to continue his efforts to win voting rights for non-resident property owners, a cause the CCA and its big brother, the RI Statewide Coalition, have embraced.

Click to enlarge. Slattery's 2010 campaign statement - how well did he
keep his promises? Read this article, read the evidence, then decide.
In 2010, Slattery once again led the CCA election effort, this time to unseat the Town Council members the CCA had endorsed and elected in 2008 because they failed to adhere to CCA orthodoxy. The new CCA slate denounced the old CCA slate in vicious, personal terms but, this time, voters didn’t give the CCA a clean sweep, despite some pretty blatant cheating on the part of the Slattery-led CCA slate

They split the vote and the seats – two to the excommunicated former CCA Councilors and two to the new- but won control of the Town Council when nominally independent Lisa DiBello won a seat and generally voted their way.

From the start, Slattery and his CCA colleague Tom Gentz, with support from DiBello, began to practice the opposite of the “open, honest, transparent and professional government” they promised during the campaign.

At their very first Council meeting, they blatantly defied the Open Meetings Act by coming in with a pre-written resolution to ban wind energy. This pre-orchestrated action seemed in direct defiance of an Attorney General decision in a 2006 CCA complaint against Jim Mageau where they charged Mageau and his colleagues with coming to their first Council meeting having held a private meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Act. But, in the CCA’s worldview, rules only apply to others, not themselves.

Deputy Dan Rides Again

Slattery’s term in office has been marked by repeated efforts to round up posses to go after favorite bogeymen. I started calling Slattery “Deputy Dan” to lampoon his often bizarre efforts to find villains where none exist. His two most infamous posse rides were the Battle for Ninigret Park and the closely related “Kill Bill Campaign.”

The Ninigret Park battle started when Slattery found out the Interior Department objected to a town proposal to place sports lights in town-owned Ninigret Park (the Pop Warner football kids wanted some extra practice time in the autumn). 

Rather than let the Parks and Recreation Commission handle it reasonably as they undoubtedly would, Slattery sided with the federal government and began a now well-documented e-mail exchange with US Fish and Wildlife’s Charlie Vandemoer to develop a plan to give the federal government more control over town land.

The lynchpin to Slattery’s plan was to violate one of Slattery’s 2010 campaign promises to respect town commissions[1]. Slattery introduced a string of motions to strip the Parks and Recreation Commission of its powers under the Town Charter and to transfer oversight of Ninigret Park to a select committee of CCA allies and Charlie Vandemoer.

Slattery’s Council colleague Tom Gentz joined the Battle promoting the totally inaccurate information that the feds were going to take back Ninigret Park and that, under law, the town had no rights to stop them.
Spanked by the Westerly Sun. Click here.

Slattery, a retired federal bureaucrat, forgot that he is supposed to serve Charlestown, not his former employer. He also forgot his allegiance to the truth while he and Vandemoer concocted this phony emergency. Slattery also forgot – or simply reneged on – his 2010 campaign pledge to include and honor town commissions in his cutthroat attack on the Parks and Recreation Commission.

In the end, Slattery became a laughing stock, and even the Westerly Sun, in an editorial, took him to the woodshed for his foolish posse ride.

Collateral damage

DiLibero - collateral damage
But there was collateral damage. The Battle for Ninigret Park spawned the “Kill Bill Campaign” which saw Slattery and Gentz do a 180-degree turn against former Town Administrator Bill DiLibero. Only a few short months after commending DiLibero and giving him a raise for gallant service in the wake of Hurricane Irene, Slattery and Gentz decided DiLibero had to go because he allowed the sports lighting project to go to the proposal stage, and because, earlier, while following Tom Gentz’s orders, DiLibero tried to find a site in Ninigret Park for municipal wind turbines.

My theory is that Slattery and Gentz concocted the “Kill Bill Campaign” to bind Councilor Lisa DiBello to them through their wild and crazy crusades. DiBello was and still is suing DiLibero, as well as the town of Charlestown, for $1.5 million because DiLibero fired her for cause. But, as we so often saw, there is nothing Slattery won’t do to pursue his villains, real or imaginary. As a result, Charlestown lost a Town Administrator who was, viewed objectively, doing an honest, competent job.

While Slattery deserves to be turned out of office just for the gut-wrenching Battle for Ninigret Park and “Kill Bill” campaigns alone, there is so much more to his record.

Slattery’s Secrets

While the CCA was publicly backing wind turbines for Charlestown and his colleague Tom Gentz was publicly touting wind energy by testifying before the Town Council about the CCA’s support for wind energy and, later, pushing for the municipal wind turbine project in Ninigret Park, Slattery was secretly organizing NIMBY opposition to wind power. As shown in the WTF series by Progressive Charlestown guest writer Bob Yarnall, Slattery rode his little bicycle from home to home in neighborhoods adjacent to wind turbine proposals, illegally stuffing flyers against wind power into people’s mailboxes.

Later, when wind energy split the CCA 2008 Town Council slate against the CCA faction led by Planning Commissar Ruth Platner, Slattery started to publicly speak out against wind energy saying that he had collected numerous research reports about the disastrous health effects of wind energy. Slattery has never publicly shared that research even though he referred to it during several Town Council meetings.

Click to enlarge: from Slattery's sworn affidavit
One of Deputy Dan’s first posse rides was after he claimed he received a citizen’s complaint about possible impropriety by Frank Glista (currently a CDTC-endorsed candidate for Planning Commission) who, as chair of the Economic Improvement Commission, oversaw “Friends of Ninigret Park.” Slattery made a report to the Town Council that he had conducted an investigation – without Council authority – and conducted a series of interviews and collected evidence to support his conclusion that Glista and Friends of Ninigret Park had done nothing wrong.

Click to enlarge
He waved his folder of information while making this report and invited his Council colleagues to examine it.
First, there was never any serious doubt or concern about improper actions by Friends of Ninigret Park. But it was shocking to find out that Slattery, on his own, had conducted an “investigation” that included conducting interviews of town staff and collecting evidence.

Evidence that Slattery then refused to make public. I filed an open records request and Slattery refused to disclose what was in that file he waved at the Council meeting.

Click to enlarge
Then Council Gregg Avedisian took Slattery up on his public offer to show the file to Council colleagues. Slattery reneged on that public promise.

In response to my formal complaint against him for violating the state open meetings law, Slattery admitted that he had no authority to conduct the investigation – this, in support of his argument that, since his “posse” was unauthorized, the records weren’t public records. He also admitted that he broke his public promise when he turned down Councilor Avedisian’s request.

Taxing Double-talk.

The CCA has been rewarded handily -
click here to read the details.
In January, after joining with colleagues Tom Gentz and Lisa DiBello in killing a Democratic proposal to give a $1000 Homestead Tax Credit to all permanent residents, Slattery came back with a plan to investigate who among Charlestown taxpayers were having trouble keeping up with their tax payments to determine who was “truly needy” and who was simply irresponsible. 

Slattery wanted to make sure that no one “earning $80,000 a year but maxing out on their credit cards” would get any leniency on their tax payments. These investigations would be conducted by Slattery and a select group of town officials. This appalling invasion of privacy failed to win Council approval.

Slattery then came back with an even more bizarre scheme, with the acronym RHOTAP. What the initials mean is less important than what this proposal would have done. Under Slattery’s RHOTAP, needy Charlestown property owners would petition a panel of selected town volunteers for tax relief. They would have to write an essay saying why they were worthy of help and divulge complete financial details. They may even have to appear before this panel to plead their case.

This grotesque proposal died swiftly after its lack of confidentiality, never mind its impracticality came to light. But who knows how many secret files Slattery opened on Charlestown residents in financial distress during this episode.

Taking Chariho to school

Slattery raised an odd complaint last winter that he found the Chariho school system budget difficult to read. Chariho, like every other school district in the state, had switched to a new state-mandated budgeting system that, I will be the first to admit, is very hard for the layperson to read. However, Slattery wanted to make this his personal campaign where he would rally the other two towns in the Chariho district to oppose this budgeting change.

Slattery failed to get the needed three votes to proceed. But, undaunted, Deputy Dan did it anyway, and did indeed get the other two school districts to sign on to an insulting letter to Chariho Superintendent Barry Ricci, condemning Ricci for following the state mandate by producing a budget Deputy Dan and counterparts in Richmond and Hopkinton couldn’t read.

Going after poachers and rustlers

One of Slattery’s favorite rituals is his periodic “Citizen Forums.” These are events where anyone can come and speak about anything they want for as long as they like. Very few people actually show up, perhaps because the need is already satisfied by the Public Comment segments we have in each Town Council meeting. However, current CCA President Virginia Wooten is a regular and she loves to talk about open space at these events. At one of them, Ms. Wooten complained that Charlestown owns a lot of properties all over the town, and that she was worried they weren’t properly inventoried, monitored and managed.

Deputy Dan inflated Ms. Wooten’s complaint by then saying that because “many citizens have expressed concerns” (in reality, it was only Ms. Wooten) about these phantom properties, that the town needed to snap to it and find out what it had and what was happening.

This led to a major investment of staff and volunteer resources to locate all the phantom properties. As Deputy Dan breathlessly reported, there were signs that people were encroaching on some of these town properties, noting that there seemed to be some instances where residents’ gardens had overlapped onto this unused town land.

Something clearly needed to be done, said Deputy Dan, echoed by Councilor Lisa DiBello. Let’s get a surveyor and map out all these properties precisely to prevent unauthorized use, such as those invading gardeners. Councilor DiBello enthusiastically expanded on the idea by suggesting that these properties needed to be clearly sign-posted and perhaps even fenced.

When Councilor Gregg Avedisian and others noted that the costs for doing this would run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, Councilor Tom Gentz suggested that Deputy Dan’s posse needed to come up with a plan, including a cost estimate, and return with a report. That was the last we heard from the Phantom Properties Posse.

Casual relationship with the truth

It’s not just Slattery’s bizarre choices in causes to pursue that should give voters pause. A common thread to most of Slattery’s posse chases is not just how he bends and twists information to fit a formula he can exploit, it’s also how readily – and sometimes convincingly – he simply makes things up.

The Battle for Ninigret Park was probably the worst example, where instead of defending Charlestown’s interests, Slattery accepted Charlie Vandemoer’s incorrect interpretation of the town’s rights to use Ninigret Park. When Slattery rolled out the issue at the March Town Council meeting, he asserted there were two critical collections of records to support his assertion that the town had the “moral, ethical and legal obligation” to run Ninigret Park only in ways that Charlie Vandemoer found acceptable.

One of those records became public and, once public, it became clear to all (except Slattery, Vandemoer and the CCA) that the documents didn’t say what Slattery said they said.

Slattery's motion - Document #2 either disappeared or never existed
The second critical document, referred to in Slattery’s motion as Document #2, apparently never existed. Again, as I did with Slattery’s secret Friends of Ninigret Park files, I demanded the release of the record under the state’s open records law. Slattery refused. At one point, he blamed Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, saying Peter barred the record’s release. However, Ruggiero said that wasn’t true.

Then Document #2 disappeared from mention and Slattery pretended as if he never referred to it. Slattery also denied that his motions to strip Parks and Recreation of oversight over Ninigret Park said what they said. He also denied that he ever said Ninigret was in any danger. But Slattery was publicly rebuked and rebutted, not just for acting irresponsibly, but for trying to lie his way out of it. Click here, here and here.

That wasn’t the first time Slattery tried to lie his way out of trouble but got publicly nailed for it. When the Council was about to pass a CCA-backed town ordinance effectively banning small residential wind turbines, the Charlestown Democrats requested a time slot to speak against it. Slattery and Gentz were adamantly against allowing CDTC spokesperson Tim Quillen (now a Town Council candidate) to speak and convinced Marge Frank to vote with them to censor Quillen.

Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero later told Slattery and Gentz that it was illegal for them to censor a speaker from speaking on behalf of a group (indeed, both Slattery and Gentz had testified often before the previous Town Council as CCA leaders). So they had to relent and allow Quillen to speak. But not before denying they ever tried to block him. 

With shouts of “Liar!” coming from the audience, they had to back down and, according to the minutes, Gentz apologized to the audience and to Quillen for attempting to censor him. Slattery did not relent or apologize, nor did he retract his lie.

And now he wants your vote so he can keep on riding for another two years.

[1] Ignoring town commissions has been one of the hallmarks of Slattery and Gentz’s rule over the Council. They ignored the Conservation Commission during the Y-Gate Scandal. They ignore the Affordable Housing Commission on affordable housing policy. They ignored the Economic Improvement Commission on the lighting ordinance. And of course, Slattery’s Ninigret Park coup was a full-out attack on the Parks and Recreation Commission. The only Commissions they seem to like are Planning (controlled by Commissar Ruth Platner) and Budget (controlled by the pliable chair Richard Sartor). Other town commissions are pretty much irrelevant to their plans.