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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

New concert series for Ninigret Park?

Over the Partridge NIMBYs’ dead bodies
Nooooooo! Russo says he has several "easy listening"
stars in mind
By Will Collette

When I previewed last Monday’s Charlestown Town Council meeting, I noted that a proposal endorsed by the Parks and Recreation Commission for a potential new concert series in Ninigret Park might turn into one of the night’s biggest fights, despite strong competition from several other very ugly issues.

I predicted that likely opposition might come from the Arnolda neighborhood who often turn in to oppose human activities in neighboring Ninigret Park, but I was wrong….and I should have seen it coming.

There was a long and fiery discussion over the proposal by famous promoter Frank Russo’s Creative Entertainment company to explore the prospects for bringing in some big-name stars for perhaps two afternoons or evenings of entertainment. Russo was asking the Town Council to give its approval for four tentative dates so that he could to approach the half dozen prospects he had in mind.

Russo said that it was necessary to have the approval for the dates before making the approach – he needed to offer specific dates with the knowledge that if the star picked one of the dates, there would be no problems with the town. Russo noted that his reputation was on the line when making such a deal and that he had to be able to deliver so he couldn’t settle for an approval that could be later revoked.

Russo acknowledged that given the nature of the business, he could not nail down all the specific details in advance. A lot would depend on which big name entertainer he lined up and whether this star wanted to play an afternoon gig or an evening one. Russo said he preferred day-time concerts since the logistics were easier to handle.

Is Russo's preferred venue in the protected part of
Ninigret Park?
He proposed using the former Westfest site, which is at the opposite end of Charlestown’s 55-acre section of the park that may be used for active recreation and entertainment, rather than the usual Rhythm and Roots site. That change of site allows more room, Russo said, plus “the sun isn’t shining in the entertainer’s eyes” as it would at the R&R venue. 

The Westfest site is also located as far away from Arnolda as any part of the Park, but it is on Route One, opposite the neighborhood that just finished fighting the proposed Whalerock wind turbine.

Russo said that if this first experiment worked, and led to annual events, he’d be interested in working with the town to set up a permanent staging facility.

This presentation set off a sharp and bitter reaction from former Ill Wind leader Ron Areglado and his flock. A total of six of the Ill Winders – Ron and Maureen Areglado, Mike and Donna Chambers, Joe Quadrato and Kristan O’Connor – jumped up repeatedly to attack the proposal as too noisy, too confusing, too unclear and just too, too much for their delicate sensibilities.

Areglado said that there was no need for this new concert series since Charlestown already had plenty of regular music events coming into the Park (although we are one short if you count the Reggae Festival that decided to skip Charlestown claiming police harassment).

Perfect place for meditation

Areglado's mantra: Nooooooooooooooooooooooo (same as mine 
for Barry Manilow)
Areglado said that people come to Charlestown for the beach, not for entertainment and that people come to live in Charlestown for the silence and contemplation. This could be setting the stage for a new use for the recently acquired town property at the Whalerock site. 

What a great place for an ashram provided you don’t mind road noise from Route One or the gunshots from the hunters in Burlingame’s woods (or helicopters overhead).

Next up was Ill Wind’s lead fund-raiser Joe Quadrato, who also organized a major fund-raiser for the CCA Party. Quadrato runs a home-based office products business out of his East Quail Run home, an impeccably landscaped residence that is arguably the showpiece of that section of the neighborhood.

The most striking feature of the property is its nightscape, a large American flag atop an approximate twenty-foot pole, illuminated by a high-wattage, skyward-facing halogen beacon. 

The neighbors joke that while it shines nightly 24/7/365, it was conspicuously extinguished on the night of the CCA fundraiser. 

Perhaps he didn't want to offend the sensibilities of dark sky proponent and CCA Party standard-bearer Ruth Platner. Smart move, since his home is a business, there may be a violation here.

Quadrato supported Areglado’s position and also argued that Charlestown is for quiet retirement, not entertainment. Quadrato also expressed his dismay that Frank Russo could not present a completely mapped out plan that addressed every possible contingency. 

As observers of the antics of last year’s Charter Revision Advisory Committee may remember, Quadrato likes to have everything minutely spelled out – and even pushed for a charter change that inserts what amounts to a purchase-and-acquisition manual into the Town Charter. That's as appropriate as adding an amendment to the US Constitution containing the "Federal Acquisition Regulations."

Newly minted CCA Party patronage appointee to the Chariho School Committee Donna Chambers also spoke against the proposal even though she and her husband Mike have been regulars at the Rhythm and Roots Festival, even serving as volunteers. Their unabashed support for R&R was featured in the Charlestown Press.

Her husband Mike questioned the wisdom of the project because he had not seen a business plan. Mike is another newly minted CCA Party political appointee; he was named to the Zoning Board at the same meeting where the debate over this concert proposal was discussed.

"Personal" depends on the amount donated

Gentz will let you say whatever you want, as long as....
Ill Winder Kristan O’Connor was especially pointed and personal in her criticism. Aside from not liking the idea of the noise, she also attacked the proposal because it gave too much autonomy and discretion to Parks and Recreation Director Jay Primiano. She pointed at Primiano as she made these remarks, and repeated them again when she returned to the podium to restate her objections.

She was not restrained and reprimanded by Town Council Boss Tom Gentz (CCA Party) for violating the standing rule against making personal attacks from the podium.

However, Gentz did invoke the rule against Economic Improvement Commission chair Frank Glista when he asked Joe Quadrato if his attacks were based on being a Charlestown native or a transplant. 

That, ruled Boss Gentz, was too personal even though Glista words were temperate compared to Kristan O’Connor’s attacks against Jay Primiano. For Gentz, I guess the difference was that O’Connor is a CCA Party major donor and Frank Glista is a Democrat.

Later, Quadrato complained about how Glista’s comment had hurt his feelings on the CCA Party’s blog.

Russo has a history with big concerts

Frank Russo tried to reassure his attackers that he has a long history in the music business. He has done mega-concerts, such as bringing the Rolling Stones to Gillette Stadium and said that one of the reasons why he wants to do Charlestown concerts is because the setting is not only beautiful but the logistics are a lot easier.

But the former anti-wind NIMBYs, now reincarnated as anti-music NIMBYs were not reassured and continued the attack.

Planning Commissar Ruth Platner added her own dose of negativity by saying that there might be a problem with the event since it could include that part of the town park that is preserved as a buffer for the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge with Fish & Wildlife approval needed for activities like this.

Clap Hands, here comes Charlie!

Charlie Vandemoer, local Fish & Wildlife chief
She raised the specter of a repeat of the Battle of Ninigret Park where our federal overseer, local Fish & Wildlife Chief Charlie Vandemoer who is on an unscheduled and unpaid vacation due to the federal shut-down, might object to the concert as a disturbance to the critters in the National Wildlife Refuge.

She reminded the audience of the issues over the town’s use of its land that led to the forced resignation of former Town Administrator Bill DiLibero. 

She said that it would be important to get Vandemoer’s sign-off before going forward – which, of course, is not possible since the federal government, including all of the National Wildlife Refuges, is closed and Charlie and his staff are all laid off without pay.

Vandemoer has no authority to issue an official position during the shut-down. But if there’s anyone who can pull Charlie into a Charlestown political fight, it’s Ruth Platner.

Primiano was quizzed about whether Vandemoer had been notified. Primiano said that, yes, under the terms of Charlestown’s Memorandum of Understanding with Vandemoer, Charlie was sent the Parks and Recreation Commission meeting notice, agenda and documents, but did not attend or send comments. The meeting where this plan was discussed took place before the federal shut-down.

Primiano was chided for not going beyond the terms of the MOU to do something else, not specified, to make sure that Charlie knew exactly what was going on.

Platner and Councilors Gentz and Slattery thought it shouldn’t be hard to get hold of Charlie over the following week to find out if he votes yes or no on the proposal, even though Vandemoer is not working. It would be illegal for Vandemoer to issue an official opinion during the shut-down.

Battle for Ninigret Park, redux

Slattery was the central figure earlier this year in
trying to curb the Rhythm & Roots Festival
When the NIMBY attack finished, Councilor Deputy Dan Slattery (CCA Party) took over. Slattery has now established a reputation as an opponent of human activities in Ninigret Park, having sharpened his teeth during the Battle for Ninigret Park which was largely based on “information” largely concocted by him and Charlie Vandemoer and on non-existent documents.

Slattery also had misgivings about Russo’s business acumen, as have others, confusion over the exact nature of the project and had lots of misgivings about putting anything else at the Park without knowing exactly what was going to happen.

Russo tried to explain how the music business works. There’s a chicken-or-egg problem – he needed the Town to approve the four tentative concert dates in order to negotiate in good faith with agents for the entertainers. 

Once Russo signed the star, he would then come back to the Town with the detailed plan that met the terms and standards set out in the proposal (maximum crowd 15,000, 11 PM curfew, sound level control and Russo paying for all the logistics, security, etc.).

Councilor Lisa DiBello asked Russo what if the Council decided at that point that it didn’t want the concert to happen. Russo, somewhat exasperated, explained that it can’t work that way. It would irreparably damage his professional reputation if he negotiated a deal and the town pulled the rug out from under him. He need a firm approval to protect his interests and offered a firm agreement to meet the conditions set out in the approval.

You can listen to the entire discussion and watch the Clerkbase video by clicking here.

DiBello couldn't make up her mind
In the end, the Town Council eked out a majority to give “tentative approval” to Russo. A written sign-off from Charlie Vandemoer is one of the conditions. Two of the CCA Party Councilors – Boss Gentz and George Tremblay – voted against their colleague Dan Slattery who was the only NO vote. 

Under parliamentary rules, by voting with the majority, Gentz and Tremblay are able to introduce a “motion to reconsider” if they get pushed – as I’m sure they will – by Commissar Platner or the Partridge NIMBYs.

Democratic Councilor Paula Andersen voted YES. Persistently confused Councilor Lisa DiBello voted to abstain without giving an explanation for once again being unable to make up her mind.

My prediction: it ain’t gonna happen

Before Russo can actually go forward with a possible 2014 big name concert date, a lot of things can happen. Russo came within a whisker of pulling the plug and, in fact, stepped to the podium at one point to say that maybe the Town Council couldn’t handle making a big decision.

I predict this project isn’t going to happen, especially since Commissar Ruth Platner wants to kill it, Deputy Dan Slattery will do everything he can to sabotage it and two key CCA Party constituent groups hate it: Areglado’s Partridge cult and behind the scenes, the Arnolda neighborhood.

If Russo doesn’t have second thoughts and decides this isn’t worth the headache, than something else going to kill this plan. Some ways this plan might die:
  • Charlie Vandemoer returns after the federal shut-down ends (if ever) and Ruth Platner gets him to weigh in against Russo’s proposal. This is close to a sure thing if the site is in the protected part of Ninigret Park as it appears to be. It would certainly render any hope of a permanent venue a near impossibility.
  • Deputy Dan Slattery convinces Police Chief Allen that this could suppose a deadly threat to town security. This too would turn Gentz and Tremblay. DiBello would go from undecided to against the concert if the Chief has any concerns.
  • Platner and Slattery gang up on either Gentz or Tremblay – more likely both – and have one of them introduce a motion to reconsider. If one or both flip, the project is dead. It won’t matter how Councilor Lisa DiBello votes.
  • Whichever way the project is killed, Jay Primiano will be blamed and this time, with Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz having no interest in keeping him, he will be fired or forced to resign.
When this project dies, Areglados Partridges will certainly take credit for it and hold another “members-only” victory party under the bright lights on the moraine.

The debate does seem to re-open the Battle for Ninigret Park. There was a loud groan when Russo said optimistically that if this works out and turns in an annual event, he might help the Town with the construction of a permanent entertainment venue. A number of CCA Party stalwarts, led by Commissar Platner, have already declared their intention to overturn the Ninigret Park Master Plan which contains plans for such a venue.

Once you start, it’s hard to stop

It also looks like a new group of anti-Ninigret NIMBYs from Partridge Run will be joining the fray. Areglado and his followers now have time and energy on their hands since the town spent the $2,114,445 to buy the land next to their neighborhood from wind turbine developer Larry LeBlanc.

When I worked with groups fighting waste dumping proposals, I often saw something like this happen after groups won their fight. There is often a reaction, akin to post-partum depression or PTSD, that leaves people feeling like there is a void in their lives.

I worked with a group in Spencerville, OH that was fighting a proposed 500-acre landfill that was to be built across the road from their regional high school. Spencerville was a small (pop. 1,600 in 1987), struggling farm town, but they organized literally everyone to fight the dump. At a rally featuring Love Canal leader Lois Gibbs at the high school, they actually turned out more people than they had in the town as word spread about the fight to the surrounding county.

I knew this fight wasn’t going to last too long so when I sensed the end was near, I started counseling the group leader about the after-effects and how she’d feel like there was a hole in her life. She told me I was nuts and that the day after, she’d go back to doing what she always did.

She was wrong and I was right. The day after Waste Management Inc. pulled the plug on the dump proposal, she called me, crying, saying “goddam you, Collette, you bastard, I feel awful….now what do I do?” I had an answer prepared for this conversation and hired her as one of my regional organizers where she had to chance to spread what she had learned all over the Midwest.

I guess the answer for the Ill Winders is to pour their energies into the CCA Party and more mischief for the rest of the citizens of Charlestown.