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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Council presents its News Year's wish list to state legislators

Belated Town Council meeting review
By Will Collette

After pressing the issue with Town Hall, Clerkbase coverage of the December 10 Town Council meeting was finally posted last Thursday.

Due to technical difficulties, your intrepid Progressive Charlestown team could not cover that meeting and had hoped for timely access to ClerkBase to fill the gap. But as seems to be a more and more frequent occurrence, ClerkBase wasn't there on time. But at least it eventually got posted this time – there was NO ClerkBase coverage for the Planning Commission’s November 28 meeting. They are scheduled to meet again on December 19 (Wednesday).

Anyway, the Council’s December 10 meeting was very sparsely attended, largely due to the awful weather and pretty uneventful agenda. For me (as well as the Westerly Sun’s Dave Pepin), the most noteworthy event was the Council’s discussion of its legislative laundry list with state Rep. Donna Walsh and Senator-elect Cathie Rumsey.

Donna noted that at the top of the Council’s wish list was the demand for a state moratorium on the provision of the state’s affordable housing law that deals with comprehensive permits. Last year, the Council wanted a one-year moratorium, but no other municipality publicly backed Charlestown up. Then, to CCA Town Council boss Tom Gentz’s shock and dismay, the bill never passed out of committee.

Donna said that now Charlestown was asking not for a one-year moratorium but for one that extends into 2016. She said that it was unusual for any moratorium to extend that long and chances of passage without sizable and broad support among other municipalities are slim to none.

Gentz, echoed by CCA Councilors Dan Slattery and George Tremblay, explained how perfectly logical it is to have the moratorium run concurrent with the time it will take for Charlestown to produce a new Comprehensive Plan, due by 2016. Slattery said that there were extensive discussions in Charlestown, involving the Planning Commission and Affordable Housing Commissions (and presumably the CCA clubhouse), and they all agreed this was a sensible way to go.

Perhaps this is so, in the CCA world where Charlestown is special and entitled to the privileges its CCA masters are accustomed to receiving. But just because Dan, Tom and George and presumably Ruth Platner and the rest of the CCA think something is so doesn't mean the part of the world that is not Charlestown will agree.

The Town Council also wants the General Assembly to revive its joint legislative commission on affordable housing so that this commission can review and presumably adopt all of Charlestown’s desired changes to the state affordable housing statute. This would include allowing Charlestown to count homes that have dropped in value due to the real estate crash as “affordable” without doing anything further – and certainly doing nothing for the owners of those now “Affordable” labeled homes.

The Council also wants an end to state mandates on the Chariho School District, more dredging money and a pony. Actually, three ponies.

If wishes were horses….

Little controversy was generated by this surreal discussion. The Council presented its pointlessly optimistic wish list to Donna, assuming that now it’s all Donna’s problem. Donna gently explained that while she will introduce these bills, nothing is going to happen unless Charlestown organizes the political force to give its wish list life.

But this new Town Council seems perfectly content to allow symbolic activity to substitute for action.

In other Council matters, the Council heard Frank Glista, who lost his bid as a Democratic-endorsed Planning Commission candidate, recommend to the Council that the next highest vote-getter last November be picked to fill the Planning Commission vacancy created by George Tremblay’s resignation from Planning so he could take his Town Council seat.

Frank noted that the next highest vote-getter is CCA-endorsed Peter Herstein and that, by the will of the voters, Herstein should be offered the seat. The Council members seemed surprised that Frank would strongly propose that one of his opponents be given the seat. Councilor DiBello added to her record number of questions-to-the-Solicitor by asking Peter Ruggiero if Frank’s suggestion was proper. We’ll have to wait until the minutes are published to find out what Peter answered since he never once during the several times he spoke during the meeting spoke into the microphone. So, “answer inaudible.”

Also, Dan Slattery walked his colleagues through a series of procedural motions regarding Council rules, public participation and citizens’ forums. He loves this stuff. In a nutshell, Slattery proposed keeping all the rules that the Council adopted in 2010, including the jumbled agendas that have led to Progressive Charlestown’s new monthly feature where we re-arrange the agenda items to actually reflect the order of presentation.

Slattery also wants to keep the Citizens’ Forums – which are generally the only time the CCA’s titular President Virginia Wooten is heard in public – and to actually make them quarterly. Slattery cited the bizarre search for Charlestown’s “phantom properties” as one of the great successes of his Citizens’ Forums. Presumably, more such Forums will lead to more such quests. Somehow, I guess holding them more often will make them better attended.

Finally, the Council did its bi-annual division of town commissions and quasi-public agencies. As a rule, each of these bodies gets a member of the Town Council assigned to it as a liaison. That Council liaison is supposed to help that commission and carry its messages and interests back to the Council. In the 2010 term, the Council members each served this function on three or more commissions, except for Lisa DiBello, who picked the Cross Mills Public Library, attended one meeting and then never showed up again.

This time around, DiBello made a point of noting that she was liaison to the Library, but never showed up because she had a time conflict (apparently every single time they met over a two-year period). So, DiBello said, she would not “serve” again. She did not pick another assignment.

Gentz asked for, and was given, the liaison role for Affordable Housing and Washington County Planning. Slattery asked for, and was given, Budget, Senior Citizens, Zoning and Tri-Town. New Democratic Council member Paula Andersen was given Economic Improvement as well as Parks and Recreation, which she chaired before being elected to the Council. Similarly, new CCA Councilor George Tremblay was assigned to Planning, where he served two years of his six-year term as a Commissioner until his election to the Council.

That only leaves DiBello without a gig. But I suppose it is better to make no commitments if that means she can avoid criticism for failing to carry out her promises, following the principle that the secret to success is to under-promise and then over-achieve.