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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

UPDATED: Charlestown Council majority chickens out

UPDATED: Copar sends a harshly worded lawyer letter; Gentz, Slattery and DiBello fold
By Will Collette

UPDATE: Cynthia Drummond reports in the Westerly Sun that Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero said the town had no obligation to give Copar any advance notice of their plan to pass a resolution to send a letter. Drummond quotes Ruggiero saying "There's no requirement for notice." That makes the Council decision to cave in to Copar even more disgraceful. 

Also, the Clerkbase video is now available. Click here to watch Gentz, Slattery and DiBello tell the community why they will not be allowed to speak. 

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: On August 13, the Town Council majority showed cowardice through its failure take even the meekest of actions (the sending of a letter) on the infamous Copar quarries in Bradford and Charlestown They also displayed gross disrespect to the group of residents who came to that meeting - at the direct invitation of Town Council President, Boss Tom Gentz (CCA Party) to speak on that topic. 

The Town Council changed the order of business to “address” this agenda item. What Boss Gentz actually did was tell the neighbors of the Copar operation that he wasn't going to let them speak and the Council was not even going to send this mealy-mouthed letter, at least not for another month. 

According to Boss Gentz, his plan to pass another meaningless resolution to send another meaningless letter was derailed because he and his majority colleagues were scared by a sternly worded letter from one of Copar’s lawyers, Christopher Mulhern.

Uncle Fluffy Gentz: "we're
doing this for your own good!"
Gentz fumbled his way through a reading of the entire scary letter. He then read a second, similar letter from Westerly Granite lawyer (and part owner) George Comolli. Westerly Granite is Copar's landlord.

The Copar lawyers complained that the notice about Gentz’s resolution was sent late (mailed Friday, August 9 by Town Clerk Amy Weinreich) and delivered on Monday, August 12, VJ-Day. That was, in his opinion, too late for Copar and its lawyers to plan for a meaningful presence at the August 13 Council meeting.

One member of the audience said out loud that Copar doesn't give the residents any notice at all when they fire off one of their huge blasts. 

Anyway,  Copar's lawyers complained about due process and heaped lots of scorn on the complaints and concerns of the neighbors. Copar claims they've never done anything wrong (all those federal, state and municipal citations are imaginary) and deserved a chance to defend their sterling reputation. 

Copar pretty much demanded the Charlestown Town Council defer any action on their silly little resolution and letter.

That was more than enough to convince our brave town leaders, particularly Boss Tom Gentz, his stalwart deputy Dan Slattery and their ally Councilor Lisa DiBello, with a pliant opinion from Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, that the bravest thing to do was to beat a hasty retreat.

Boss Gentz declared that he would allow not one word to be spoken about Copar (well, maybe a few, but none of them officially). The residents were thanked for coming and were told they would not be heard.

Several residents tried to protest this outrageous action, but they were alternately gavelled down by Boss Gentz and talked down to by the Council majority.

Deputy Dan Slattery: running away shows strength
Councilor Deputy Dan Slattery said he was concerned about Copar filing lawsuits and said he wanted Charlestown to be in “a standpoint of strength.” 

How Slattery can conclude that postponing action on a benign, purely symbolic gesture after getting a snarky lawyer letter demonstrates strength escapes me.

And, the three of them (Gentz, Slattery and DiBello) kept saying to the very unhappy residents that they were “just trying to protect you.”

In a couple of days, the indexed Clerkbase video should be on line and you can all see for yourself the extent to which these Councilors betrayed the public trust and their own promises. 

You'll also be able to hear the condescending words - the worst I can recall hearing from these Councilors - to tell the neighbors of the Copar operation that they were being screwed by the Council for their own good.

I swear, I am not making this up.

Let's be clear on a couple of points. 

First, tonight's agenda item on Copar was a resolution to send a letter, not a hearing, not the kind of action that rises to the level of raising "due process" concerns. 

It was to be a letter to Attorney General Peter Kilmartin asking him to look into the reasons why the town of WESTERLY hasn't been able to curb Copar's abuses. It made no mention of Charlestown's failure to enforce its own ordinances or take other actions within its power under the town's ordinances. 

Frankly, this resolution/letter was at best an empty gesture since the Council already passed a similar resolution and sent similar letters last January. Why would they expect that doing the same thing would somehow yield a different result

Click here to read what Charlestown could do if it really wanted to deal with Copar.

I think Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero knew Copar was blowing smoke. He could have advised Gentz and Slattery to grow a set, but instead, he gave them legal cover to chicken out.

Second, Charlestown has shown it will toss due process considerations out the window, when it is properly motivated. It will take whatever actions, legal or illegal, it can think of to go after a business it really wants to oppose. 

Enoch McDonough stands up to the Council
Whalerock is a prime example. 

Do you think this Town Council would have done the same thing if the subject was Whalerock and they had received a snarky letter from Whalerock's lawyer Nick Gorham? 

It just goes to show you how this Town Council plays favorites for its campaign supporters and fails in its service to the rest of the town.

For all previous coverage of Copar, click here.

Congratulations to Enoch McDonough of Concerned Citizens of Bradford-Charlestown for standing up and calling out the Town Council on this travesty. Enoch also was clever and waited until later for “Public Comments” to go to the podium and call on the Council to enact a moratorium on any new operation that will blast, crush or process rock and gravel since the town clearly doesn't know how to regulate such businesses.

And all the rest

The rest of the Council meeting pretty much went the way I had predicted. The Charlestown Land Trust will get to hold its fund-raising in the partially completed Charlestown Rathskeller.

Our Affordable Housing Commission is still struggling to make the current project plans work, despite the harsh treatment from Rhode Island Housing and financing challenges. AHC Chair Evelyn Smith presented the Commission’s advisory opinion on the situation.

Our application for HUD funding for Hurricane Sandy relief funding will be going in, though the likelihood that we will get anywhere near the $300,000 is doubtful because HUD has decided that it won’t fund generators, even though generators are essential to keep the rest of the town projects operating.

Another Platner power grab in the works
The Council also voted pro forma to allow three new ordinances to move forward to a public hearing and a vote on adoption at the September meeting. These are Ordinances #358, 359, and 360.

I previewed these ordinances, and in particular Ordinance 359 and 360, earlier. These two ordinances are going to fall on many town businesses, particularly retailers and restaurateurs, like a pallet of concrete parking buffers or a trainload of shrubbery. 

These ordinances continue the trend under CCA Party leader, Charlestown Planning Commissar Ruth Platner, to micromanage most Charlestown businesses.

I use the word “most” because, as we saw earlier, some businesses, such as the Copar Quarries get a pass to violate Charlestown law with impunity. But most other town businesses don't get any relief from the town and under these ordinances, will not.

These two ordinances are also poorly presented. 

Rather than provide the existing ordinance language and then, through the use of strike-outs and highlighted additions, show you what the Planning Commission proposes to change, these ordinance drafts simply strike out all of the old ordinance and insert the amended language as if it was an entirely new ordinance. Except these two ordinances are not new ordinances but amendments.

By presenting the ordinances in this format, citizens and businesses can’t readily see what changes are being made. Businesses in particular will have to try to figure out how badly they are being screwed.

My advice to existing Charlestown businesses is to change your line of work. What you really should all do is getting into the strip mining business - granite, gravel, coal, gold, uranium, upsidaisium, whatever. Then you can do whatever you want in Charlestown and all the Town Council will do is huff and puff.

Stankiewicz Gets an Atta-Boy

Stankiewicz gets a Council atta-boy
Speaking of huffing and puffing, at the end of the Council session, Boss Gentz reported that the Council members conducted the six-month review of Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz in their Executive Session. They unanimously agreed his performance has been “commendable.”

That’s notwithstanding the problems on his watch such as the stone wall of secrecy (which, by the way, seems to be coming down a little since I went public about it) and the town’s mishandling of Copar’s invasion of Charlestown

As I noted in an earlier article, getting criticized in Progressive Charlestown is one sure way for Stankiewicz to score points with the Town Council majority.

The Town Council completed this sorry display of inadequate town governance in only one hour and twenty minutes.