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Sunday, December 8, 2013

Political Hacking 101

Never Let A Good Crisis Go To Waste
 By Robert Yarnall
CCA Ethicists Slattery & Areglado Pausing For a Moment
of Reflection Before Conducting Their Own Investigation

The past five years in Charlestown have been as politically tumultuous as any period in the town’s history, aside from, and with all due respect to, the struggles of the Narragansett Indian Tribe.

When (not if) our town is finally required to deal with the reality of Native American sovereign rights, the discussion will make petty arguments about weekend Ninigret concerts seem like a stroll in the park. Demographics, the ultimate cultural glacier, can reshape a political landscape in a couple of generations, far quicker than the millennia required to craft Charlestown’s geological terminal moraine. But that’s a topic for another day.

Currently, in terms of local politics, the oddly conjugal sagas of Whalerock and Ninigret Park have produced a handful of bastard children (in the figurative sense of the term for the concrete-burdened literati of the CCA) who have snaked their way into town politics.

It’s not unusual that budding political careers thrive on a Miracle-Gro kicker of timely political crises. Winston Churchill, not Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel as some mistakenly credit, authored the timeless maxim, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

The true path to St. Moraine's Church of Fear & Loathing
The Whalerock crisis provided exactly that, as a handful of local residents, the most visible being Charlestown Town Councilor Daniel Slattery and Chariho School Committeeman Ronald Areglado, formed an unholy alliance and launched their crusade against Whalerock, upon which they have built  St. Moraine’s Church of Fear and Loathing.

There was nothing Churchillian about the tactics of the Slattery-Areglado tag team when it came to the political smack-down of then-Town Administrator William DiLibero, a convenient fall guy for a contrived strategy best characterized as a “hatchet job” by Charlestown sage Dr. Irwin Birnbaum, former Chief Operating Officer of Yale University’s School of Medicine.

"Dammit, Slattery! Drop the investigation and make me some coffee!"
Town Councilor Slattery fired the first volley in the CCA’s “Kill Bill Campaign” when he accused Charlestown Town Manager William DiLibero of nefariously violating terms and conditions set out when the town acquired Ninigret Park including National Park Service protocols attached to town use of its own Ninigret Park.

Citing an unnamed source, Areglado degraded DiLibero's
performance at Harvard, all evidence to the contrary.
How moral! How ethical!
Slattery regularly prefaces his commentary during town council discussions with oblique references to various federal bureaucracies with which he interacted during his career as a District of Columbia federal bureaucrat. Slattery claimed he had specific documents showing that the federal government had the right to control town activities over all of Ninigret Park which he called “Document #2” but never actually produced. A subsequent open records request from Progressive Charlestown’s Will Collette revealed no such documentation existed.

Later, the northeast regional head of the National Parks Service program that oversees lands converted from military use to public ownership came to Charlestown to explain that the federal government actually has no control over the 55 acres of Ninigret Park that is owned by the town free and clear, and is the portion where nearly all town-sponsored human activity takes place.

Town Council candidate Areglado mustered additional firepower by spearheading a petition drive in my neighborhood abutting the proposed Whalerock site. A major factor he cited[1] to me was a concern related to him by his friend at the Harvard School of Government, the venue for a Town Administrator’s Workshop attended by Charlestown Town Administrator William DiLibero.

According to the otherwise unnamed source, DiLibero’s performance at the Harvard workshop was unimpressive[2]Perhaps Areglado felt compelled to act on behalf of the town? Maybe Areglado felt so compelled based on his 2012 Board and Commission Application that lists his occupation at that time as “President of The Center of Ethical and Moral Leadership.”

And indeed there was an internet-based reference to The Center of Ethical and Moral Leadership, linking to a  Massachusetts-based association of school administrators wherein the mission statement encompassed an imperative for school superintendents to be perceived as the ethical and moral leaders of their respective communities.

Oddly enough, this particular web site seems to have been taken down, coincidentally preceding Areglado’s initiative to require the Chariho School Committee to revise its 2008 Code of Basic Management Principles and Ethical Standards for School Committee Members to reflect priorities he is championing. (The proposed revisions are currently being discussed as agenda items and will be analyzed by Progressive Charlestown in subsequent coverage of town events.)

The aforementioned community advisory issued by Dr. Birnbaum, that the DiLibero firing constituted a “hatchet job,” leads a curious person to the obvious corollary - that perpetrators of hatchet jobs have axes to grind.

Would either Councilman Daniel Slattery or School Committeeman Ronald Areglado qualify as a legitimate ax-grinder?

Is it relevant that Slattery was an unsuccessful applicant for the $100,000 Charlestown Town Administrator’s job to which William DiLibero was appointed?

Is it relevant that Areglado was hired in 1998 as Principal of Charlestown Elementary School, and then gone one year later? (Areglado’s wife was also hired in 1998 as Principal of Ashaway Elementary School, also gone one year later.)

Ponder this: School Committeeman Areglado trumpets his initiative for tightened ethical and moral standards at Chariho while Councilman Slattery hones his formidable analytical skills as a substitute teacher in the school system, simultaneously beating his town council drum for Chariho budget cuts.

I have neither the innate cognitive skills nor the corporate world experiences of high achieving community icons like Irwin Birnbaum, but having spent over three decades in the public schools of Warwick, every minute in actual classrooms with actual students doing actual learning tasks like reading, writing, and arithmetic, I respectfully suggest to my brothers and sisters at Chariho to check behind all doors for hatchets.

But you already knew that.


[1] This conversation took place at the foot of my driveway on East Quail Run a little over a year ago, as I was chasing leaves around with a plastic rake. The Areglados were out for a stroll and stopped for a casual chat, which led to the disclosure. I was taken aback, basically speechless at the tenor of the topic, managing to recount Irwin Birnbaum’s assessment of the situation. Maureen allowed that Irwin was a smart man, entitled to his opinion.

Later on I realized I was more disappointed that they would even bring it up, presuming I would buy into that kind of crap. I thought I had previously made my position clear with respect to procedural rights accorded to public employees. I would think that public school principals, of all people, would understand that process. Apparently I was wrong. No problem, I’m used to it.

[2] Areglado’s remarks about DiLibero’s performance at Harvard were publicly and directly contradicted by Areglado’s political patron, Council President Tom Gentz, who said this at the Council’s August 10, 2011 meeting:

“Bill DiLibero, our Town Administrator has returned from being chosen as one of three Rhode Island Municipal and State leaders to attend the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University for a fully grant funded three week long class. This is an honor for Bill to be selected and a feather in the Town’s cap. He was selected from a nationwide group of municipal and state leaders to attend. Bill mentioned the leadership portion of the training, so I anticipate his direct reports will be working on that skill with him. Bill sent out a Charlestown ePipeline with information about his educational experiences. Pat Anderson, our Town Treasurer was the acting Town Administrator while Bill is away at school. Thanks to Pat for her service to the Town”

I wonder who got it right – Areglado or Gentz?

Seven months later, in March 2012, DiLibero was publicly vilified by both Areglado and Gentz. One month later, DiLibero resigned.