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Sunday, July 7, 2013

Town Council preview: meeting on Monday, July 8

Important Whalerock items on the agenda
By Will Collette

A last minute addition to the Council agenda promises to turn what looked to be a boring meeting into one that could be pretty exciting.

Early Friday morning, an amended agenda was posted with a new agenda for an Executive Session and a new item of new business: the prospect of a special town referendum to authorize spending up to $2.7 million to purchase developer Larry LeBlanc's 81-acre site for the proposed Whalerock wind turbine.

Whalerock, plus the potential new war with the Narragansett Indian Tribe, and the obligatory discussion about the Copar quarry are on the Executive Committee agenda as well.

And one other item that hasn't been on the Executive Session agenda is Council member Lisa DiBello's now long-running $1.5 million lawsuit against the Town over her May 2010 firing. Perhaps it's time for the anticipated settlement of that sordid case.

If the Council has worked a deal with DiBello, they may announce it as soon as they come out of their Executive Session.

If you look at the agenda on Clerkbase or pick up a copy at the meeting on Monday, you'll notice a major change. Rather than the usual agenda that bears no resemblance to the actual order of business, the Council OK'd having Town Clerk Amy Weinreich do what I've been doing on Progressive Charlestown for the past twelve months.

The published agenda is now labeled a "working" agenda and reflects all the changing and juggling the Council does every month that made the old official agendas a waste of paper. It took Councilor Paula Andersen (D) to propose it.

So now that the published agenda reflects the actual order of business, I'll simply flag those agenda items that you might find interesting.

Check out the minutes for the Council's extra Executive Session on June 20. The sketchy minutes of that meeting will be approved during the “Consent Agenda” portion of the program. “Consent Agenda” items are those that are non-controversial and are voted on as a bloc, without discussion or debate.

Joe Larisa was at the June 20 secret session so
war with the Narragansetts over Camp Davis must
be looming
According to those minutes, the Council discussed the red-hot Charlestown issues of the Whalerock wind project, the infamous Copar quarry and the land transfer of Camp Davis to the Narragansett Indian Tribe, although the Camp Davis item is listed in code – i.e. only by its town map coordinates.

The minutes show that Charlestown’s Indian fighter Joe Larisa was in that session, indicating the Council is gearing up to fight the Tribe and the State over this land transfer. Click here for more details on Camp Davis. Click here for Whalerock. Click here for the latest on Copar.

The Council members also agreed during this closed session to pay Donald MacDougall $48,201.58 as ordered by the court to cover MacDougall’s legal costs in successfully challenging a decision of the Zoning Board of Review (ZBR). More on the ZBR later.

Town department reports also get introduced and officially accepted without discussion as part of the Consent Agenda. I like to read those reports because you get a different perspective about what’s really happening in town. For example, I saw in our Building Official Joe Warner’s report that we just had a nice spike in construction activity, jumping to $3.5 million, of which $1.9 million was new construction. For a very long time, construction spending ran at under $1 million and almost none of it was new construction.

Town Clerk Amy Weinreich’s report is also always interesting. She tracks the number of births and deaths and, Charlestown’s Family Planning Commissar Ruth Platner and the CCA Party will be pleased to know that deaths are now taking a 3 to 2 lead over births. However, the downside to this negative population growth for the CCA Party is that the deaths, tending to be among older Charlestown residents, cut into the CCA base.

Amy also reports that she issued nine new business licenses. One of them was to the infamous Copar quarry which had been operating for three months in Charlestown without a business license. Even though Charlestown is supposed to fine businesses $25 a day for operating without a license, Copar got its license even though there is a town council resolution condemning the company’s practices right on the Town’s web page. But words are cheap.

Charlestown is famous for making it hard for businesses to get started, or stay in business - so why is the Council giving Copar a free pass?

The Council will actually begin discussing and debating items when they get to Items 18.a. and 18.d. 18.a. are the required Council resolutions to put into effect the town budget that was approved by the voters. This will probably draw very little discussion since the voters have spoken.

But, lest we forget, this new budget contains a totally unnecessary 16 cents per $1000 in property value tax hike. The rate will go from the current $9.30 to $9.46.

Time to rip off the taxpayers again
Even though Charlestown has run up a huge surplus, far in excess of the amount our town financial advisers recommend, the CCA Party Council majority decided – for the sixth year in a row – to use the surplus in place of bonds, rather than give hard-pressed Charlestown homeowners some tax relief.

When you get your new tax bill later this month and see how much higher it is, thank CCA Party Councilors Dan Slattery, boss Gentz and George Tremblay. For six years, the CCA Party has been raising taxes while promising their use of excess surplus funds on capital projects would “save taxpayer money.” I think it’s time they told us WHEN we will get to see all those savings.

Bishop Areglado of the Church of the Ill Wind
Item 18.d. is a resolution to re-finance Charlestown’s taxpayer-approved Open Space-Recreation Bond of $3 million to both maintain the availability of the money and to get a lower interest rate.

Good idea, because we will need that money to finance the inevitable purchase of developer Larry LeBlanc’s 81 acres overlooking Route One, the site of the proposed Whalerock wind farm. Whalerock has caused a scorching case of “Wind Turbine Syndrome” among the followers by Bishop Ron Areglado’s anti-wind cult.

The one sure way to resolve this epidemic and end years of turmoil for Charlestown is for that land to be bought at open space.

Re-financing the Open Space-Recreation bond will be discussed BEFORE Item #8, "New Business" which is the late add-on agenda item - a town vote on the potential purchase of LeBlanc's property.

Unknown: whether the potential purchase would use the Open Space-Recreation bond funding or involve funding from other sources.

Then there's the very last item on the working agenda, Item 17.a., which was going to be included in the Consent Agenda where it would have been adopted as part of the block without discussion or debate.

The item calls for what is usually the routine re-appointment of Zoning Board members – one full member (5-year term) Bill Meyer, and the three one-year term alternate members: Scott Northrup, David Provancha, and Amanda J. Magee. All four of these ZBR members come with the recommendation of controversial ZBR Chair Mike Rzewuski.

At the direction of Council Boss Tom Gentz (CCA Party), 17.a. has been removed from the Consent Agenda for full discussion.

Is Boss Gentz holding the re-appointments hostage?
Boss Gentz wants these re-appointments held until after the ZBR finishes its marathon series of Whalerock hearings.

Gentz's hold on the re-appointments has the appearance of blackmail.

As Progressive Charlestown readers know, that hearing process has been an embarrassing mess, marked by incompetent leadership by Chair Rzewuski, misconduct by the town, and clear bias and prejudgment by several ZBR members.

At the very first hearing, even before the hearing was officially opened, Whalerock opponent Ron Areglado took the microphone to denounce ZBR member Bill Meyer (who is up for re-appointment) and his colleague Dick Frank. Areglado accused Meyer and Frank of being biased and prejudiced in favor of Whalerock. But both members stated they took their oaths to judge cases before the ZBR fairly and impartially very seriously.

Indeed, Meyer and Frank have hardly said a word through the proceedings to date. Not so ZBR Chair Rzewuski and member Ron Crosson who have made so many prejudicial remarks against Whalerock that they have given developer Larry LeBlanc his appeals case in a gift-wrapped box.

But I wonder about Gentz’s action to attempt to hold these re-appointments hostage until there is a final ZBR decision on Whalerock - or another resolution to the crisis, such as a public purchase of the Whalerock property.

Aside from looking a lot like blackmail to ensure that ZBR members vote the way he wants, Gentz is also creating a very difficult problem for the Board, which needs five voting members to act on the Whalerock application. When those four ZBR members terms expire on July 31st, they effectively cease to become eligible members and thus cannot vote on Whalerock one way or the other, because the ZBR will be left with only four valid members.

If the Council or the ZBR decide to ignore this inconvenient fact and those four ZBR members vote on the Whalerock application, there's a pretty good chance the Superior Court will deem the vote to be illegal.

Other than providing yet another platform for Gentz's megalomania, I don't see how this delayed re-appointment of the ZBR members serves the town's interests.

Given that Gentz is on record as a Whalerock opponent, he may also be providing Whalerock with yet more examples of the town's denial of its due process rights to present before the Superior Court.

Not that Whalerock needs much more to prove that point. But this seems to me to be the kind of stupid bully tactics that has earned Gentz the title of “Boss.” And in the context of a possible purchase deal between the town and LeBlanc, I just don't see what Gentz hopes to achieve with this ham-handed move.

Perhaps the reason the Council is signaling an interest in jumping ahead to the final step, acquiring the land as open space, is that they assume the state Superior Court will overturn a Zoning Board denial of LeBlanc's application due to all the ZBR and town mistakes.

In the end, I believe most Charlestown residents want this mess to end and want that land to be preserved. If this matter goes to the voters, we will find out for certain whether that belief is valid.