Menu Bar

Home           Calendar           Topics          Just Charlestown          About Us

Monday, January 13, 2014

First Charlestown Town Council meeting of 2014 finishes with fight over Zoning Board

CCA Town Council majority begins positioning itself for 2014 election
By Will Collette

George Tremblay takes his turn on the ramparts of Charlestown's stone
wall against the people's right to know
LIVE BLOG ended at 9:50 when the meeting adjourned.

There were are some serious and far-reaching issues on the agenda.

Unfortunately, they got the usual Clown Council treatment by the CCA Party majority of Boss Tom Gentz, Deputy Dan Slattery and George Tremblay.

Among them is an attempt by CCA Party Councilor George Tremblay to curb public access to town records by cranking up fees to the maximum.

There’s the patronage appointment of CCA Party founder Cliff Vanover to a position on the Zoning Board of Review where he will be obliged to make quasi-judicial decisions - if you can believe that, given his famous temper. However, in the chaos of the debate, it seems like the Council may have left a lot of loose ends.

Charlie Vandemoer of the US Fish & Wildlife Service returns to get got a renewal of his Memorandum of Understanding that says that Charlestown and the Service will voluntarily talk to each other on matters of mutual interest. This MOU was all Charlie got out of the bitter, awful Battle of Ninigret Park in 2012.

CCA Party Council Boss Tom Gentz will float got approval for his idea for a referendum that would allow parents to send their kids to any of the Chariho elementary schools, not just the one in their town, which should add some gasoline to the simmering civil war pitting Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton against each other.

The Council approved this, even though even Gentz and Slattery thought it was a bad idea - they just want to stick it to Richmond. They also added an agenda item to discuss their battle plan for fighting with the other Chariho towns at Wednesday night's Chariho Omnibus meeting.

As always, there might be a surprise or two when a seemingly non-controversial agenda item turns into a major big deal. That's from my scouting report on the meeting. It's 7 PM and now It's Show Time! There was no Executive Session this month - a rarity.

1. CALL TO ORDER - Moment of Silence, Pledge of Allegiance. Boss Gentz may have headed to this meeting straight from Happy Hour. Giggles and guffaws and says howdy to Town Clerk Amy Weinreich....except it's not Amy, but Deputy Clerk Ellen Hefler who was filling in. Oops.

2. ROLL CALL - Motion to move items 15a and 17a to be heard next on the Agenda
Charlestown's newest police officer, Officer Lawrence
Scott, right, being sworn in by Chief Allen

a. Discussion and potential action regarding the presentation of a Proclamation for Joshua Alan Hedin in recognition of his attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. Gentz could hardly get through the reading of the proclamation.


a. Swearing in of Officer Lawrence Scott to the Charlestown Police Department

RECESS - Cookies and stuff out in the lobby

Apparently all the Town Council members are having trouble with their connection to
Clerkbase and the Town website. Over the recess break, several councilors were puzzling over the problem. Ken Swain's got some 'splainin' to do.

3. PUBLIC COMMENT for items not on the Agenda. Frank Glista reported on the successful New Year's Eve bonfire and read the long list of people who donated goods and time to make the event happen.

4. COUNCIL COMMENTS None. For the first time I can remember, Gentz passed on making comments. All things considered, that was probably a good idea.


a. Town Administrator
b. Town Solicitor
c. Commission Reports - Peter Ogle spoke on behalf of the Wastewater Management Commission to note that their survey of 30 shoreline homes resulted in one-third of the properties showing high nitrate levels.

Joseph LaPaglia asked if this meant that at some point soon, Charlestown will start supplying municipal water. Ogle said that was unlikely. Unspoken was the cost (millions, probably $100 million-plus).



a. Discussion and potential action regarding the re-authorization of the Town’s Memorandum of Understanding with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in order to facilitate coordination and cooperation on the Ninigret National Wildlife Refuge and Ninigret Town Park for a term of five years.

Councilor Dan Slattery (CCA Party) proposed renewal since "it has worked well." Slattery gave a revisionist (actually, pretty distorted) history  of the "Battle of Ninigret Park" that ended with this voluntary MOU.

Councilor Lisa DiBello brought up a request from Parks & Rec to table this motion. Slattery was adamant about doing. Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz said there really is no objection from Parks & Rec.

Motion passed 5-0.
No parking
b. Discussion and potential action regarding the revision of Chapter 218-59: Commercial Vehicles and Trailers.

Councilor George Tremblay said he worked with Zoning Official Joe Warner to come up with clearer language for the section of the town zoning ordinance that BANS parking commercial vehicles at residential properties. Tremblay noted that the current ordinance weight limits are outmoded - modern pick-ups have larger carrying capacity. Tremblay moved that the Solicitor should craft language to be forwarded to the Planning Commission for review.

Slattery asked clarifying questions about the size of trucks that could or could not be allowed at people's homes. This proposal would make it legal to park a large pick-up, but would still ban tractor-trailers. Motion passed 5-0.

c. Discussion and potential action on a letter requesting the Chariho School Committee to request a Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton referendum item that Chariho students can voluntarily chose to attend a Chariho elementary school in a town other than their town of residence and a nine member school committee.

This is a Gentz initiative. He says it is in reaction to the frustrations expressed by the town of Richmond with the current way Chariho operates although Gentz's proposal doesn't mirror Richmond's initiative. He says the Charlestown Chariho reps support this.

Slattery added comments about the current dispute between Richmond and the other two Chariho towns, including the way the schools are financed. Slattery said - and let's remember this later - that the way Chariho is funded is "fair." That's not what Slattery has said in year's Chariho budget debate where Charlestown's share climbed, but hey, he's a politician. He supports Gentz's motion.

Councilor Paula Andersen (D) notes that Chariho policies already allow parents to petition the District to send their kids to a different elementary school. Slattery almost immediately did a 180-degree pivot saying he couldn't see any good reason for a parent wanting to send their kid by bus to a school in another town.

Cheryl Dowdell spoke on the issue of the size of the committee and the historic reason why Charlestown has four seats while the other two towns get three - it was an enticement for Charlestown to come into the district.

DiBello asked Gentz about the meeting with Charlestown's Chariho reps, where they endorsed the proposal, and why she was only hearing about it tonight (and why wasn't she invited). Gentz said it was a private meeting - only he and Slattery attended in order to avoid violating the Open Meetings Act. This was probably the first official notice from Gentz to DiBello that her services as a CCA ally were no longer needed.

d. Discussion and potential action regarding a review of the history of APRA requests for potential revision of policy to reduce administrative costs of compliance.

Tremblay read a report he commissioned on APRA act requests. He said the Clerk is responsible for responding to requests but also engages some town department heads in the process. Tremblay noted that the town currently provides an average of about 40 documents per month. He wants the town to charge the full amount permissible by law.

Paula Andersen commented that the town needs to respond to the public's right to know. She asked how often the town gets outlandishly large requests - and said that if a request is outlandish, the town can and should charged.

Slattery - has no problem with simple requests. But some requests are "incredible" and agrees the town should have a policy to charge people who make burdensome requests.

DiBello asks the Solicitor and Town Administrator for added comments. Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz said they get routine requests all the time but some are huge and take up a lot of time. He says he thinks they can come up with a policy that takes the middle ground.

Paula Andersen said that she hoped this initiative is not being taken for retaliatory purposes. Stankiewicz said that wasn't the case. Stankiewicz said that the costs involved are not only the number of pages, but all the search time and redaction review. 

Motion passed unanimously. Now the Solicitor and Stankiewicz will draft a policy that will have to come back to the Council.

e. Discussion and potential action regarding the Charlestown Hometown Hero Award.

Tremblay asked to pull this item for discussion at a future workshop.

ADDED ITEM: Preparation for the upcoming Omnibus Chariho meeting (Wednesday). 

Out of concern that Richmond might want to reopen the Chariho Act, Gentz spoke to Rep. Donna Walsh and Sen. Cathie Cool Rumsey. They suggested, he said, that Charlestown send a letter saying Charlestown doesn't want the Chariho Act opened up.

Slattery adds his comments calling for wartime planning, both for the upcoming Omnibus meeting, but beyond. He said that if any unfavorable action was taken against Charlestown, "there's no way" Charlestown should remain in the District. Well, I guess that settles it, as Deputy Dan sounds the call to arms.

Cheryl Dowdell threw some cold water on a very hot-and-bothered Dan Slattery, by noting how much it could cost Charlestown to withdraw - which are HUGE. Cheryl said that if Richmond is like Central Falls and can't pay for the education of its students, they need to go to the state.

Slattery made a looooong response about how irresponsible Richmond is. One key item - he says Richmond has greatly expanded its housing stock, but not its business base (hmmmm, drive down Route 3 and ask yourself if Slattery's statement sounds true to you).

Gentz repeated his motion about sending a letter to everybody in state government expressing Charlestown's concerns about whatever it is the other two towns are thinking about doing. Motion passed 5-0.


a. Public hearing and potential action regarding #361 amending Chapter 158-4.1, Friends of Ninigret Park - Establishment and membership.

Cheryl Dowdell explained this ordinance fixes a problem caused by the restriction of the number of members to three by expanding it to five. However, the Town Charter prohibition against dual office holding would apply as the ordinance is currently written. That means a person cannot sit on another commission or hold town office AND sit on this committee.

But in the end, the vote to approve was 5-0


12. CONSENT AGENDA. All items marked with “CA” are to be considered consent agenda.

Consent agenda items are generally non-controversial items that are not discussed or debated, but simply voted on as a bloc. 

Councilor DiBello, as she usually does, pulled two items - #11A and 11B.

The rest of the consent agenda was approved 5-0.

Motion to accept, approve and place on file the following as the consent agenda: 11a, 11b, 13a, 13b, 17c, 17d, 17e, 17f, 17g, 17h, 17i, 17j, 17k, 18a, and 18b


“CA” a. Application for a Peddler’s License from Michele LaPaglia d/b/a/ The Cart of 61 Charlestown Beach Road, with a recommendation from Building Official Joseph Warner, subject to receipt of all required paperwork and that stipulations and rules and regulations as required by the State of Rhode Island, Department of Health and the Town Council

Lisa DiBello wanted to know how things are going - wanted to know about problems that occurred last year. Apparently all problems are now resolved. Approved unanimously.

“CA” b. Discussion and potential action regarding the approval of the following events at Ninigret Park with a recommendation from the Parks and Recreation Commission, subject to review of contracts by the Town Solicitor, receipt of all applicable paperwork and insurance and that all event details are satisfactorily met by the Parks and Recreation Director:
1. Event: Rhythm & Roots
Park Reservation (Setup): August 23 – September 4, 2014
Event Dates: August 29 – 31, 2014
Camping: 1,500 Max Campers
Insurance: $2 Million General Liability; $2 Million Liquor Liability
Fee: $9,000.00

Lisa DiBello had comments about the current application and applauded the completeness of the application. Questioned whether expanding the old Met tower area would be done at town expense. 

Stankiewicz said he saw that item as a "request" not a mandate. There's a lot of poison ivy in the area.

Gentz says he opposes use of any additional acreage. DiBello wants whatever the Council's decision is to be crystal clear. Stankiewicz said that his understanding is that the Town will provide the exact same area that it agreed to last year for this year's program.

DiBello asked about electricity and whether the festival will tie in to the town's power and, if so, who will pay. Stankiewicz said there may be some use, but he would look into who pays.

Otherwise, approved unanimously.


“CA” a. Town Council Minutes:
1. December 4
2. December 9 (Executive and Regular)
“CA” b. Reports:
1. Building Official – December 2013
2. Police Chief – December 2013.
3. Public Works Director – December 2013
4. Town Clerk – December 2013.
5. Treasurer – November 2013


“CA” c. Appointment of Constables as recommended by the Chief of Police, terms to expire January 2015: Charlestown Police Dispatchers - Tammy Belden, Kim Anderson, Michael Previty, and Michael Carrasquillo; Records Division - Laura Knudsen; Harbormaster - Justin Vail; Building Official - Joseph Warner; Animal Control Officer - Kathy McA’Nulty; CEMA Program Director - Andrew Checcia
“CA” d. Appointment of Traffic Constables as recommended by the Chief of Police: Todd Allen, Gary Bellows, William Bennett, Michael Carrasquillo, Thomas Doherty, Raymond Dussault, Dennis Evans, Eric Linacre, Matthew Manni, Paul Pepler, Michael Previty, Keith Place, Patrick Strickland, Lawson Durfee, Peter Yee and Christopher C. Lyman terms to expire January 2015
“CA” e. Appointment of Special Police Officers as recommended by the Chief of Police: Kevin R. Gallup, John S. Heston, Kathleen A. Currier, Justin J. Habershaw, Shawn Richards, Lauren Matarese and Paul M. Gentile, terms to expire in January of 2015. The above individuals are all RI Municipal Police Training Academy certified.
“CA” f. Reappointment of Lillian B. Arnold, Hal Hultgren, Forrester C. Safford and Kenneth E. Simoneau to the Conservation Commission, terms to expire in January of 2017
“CA” g. Reappointment of Justin Vail as Harbormaster, term to expire in January of 2015
“CA” h. Reappointment of Lawson Durfee as Assistant Harbormaster, term to expire in January of 2015
“CA” i. Reappointment of Sandra M. Arnold and David Tobin to the Juvenile Hearing Board, terms to expire in January of 2017
“CA” j. Reappointment of Julia Beasley, Cheryl Dowdell, and Jodi Frank to the Parks and Recreation Commission, terms to expire in January of 2017
“CA” k. Reappointment of Robert D. Frost and Elizabeth V. Richardson to the Wastewater Management Commission, terms to expire in January of 2019


“CA” a. Discussion and potential action regarding the award of the Landfill Monitoring Services bid to SCS Engineers in the annual amount of $7,800.00, and enter into the balance of the three-year initial contract with payments of $7,800.00 in years 2015-16 and 2017-18, as budgeted through line item 01.640.6001, and authorization of the Town Administrator and Town Treasurer, each, to take any and all such actions, and execute and deliver such certificates, receipts or other documents as may be necessary to carry into effect the foregoing
“CA” b. Request from the Tax Assessor for abatements in the amount of $5,020.43


a. Board and Commission vacancies

Added to the list, the two new openings created on Friends of Ninigret Park.


b. Discussion and potential action regarding appointments to the Zoning Board of Review, with a recommendation from the Chair. Applications received from Clifford L. Vanover and Kara Scott.

ZBR chair Mike Rzewuski asks the Council to (a) promote Amanda McGee from Alternate to full membership; (b) move Mike Chambers up from Alternate #2 to #1; (c) add Cliff Vanover as Alternate #2 and (d) add Kara Scott as Alternate #3. This would be in keeping with long-standing town practices.

Frank Glista suggested that Kara Scott, based on the weight of her resume, should be moved up the roster to Alternate #1.

Councilor Slattery said he has a perspective based on being Council liaison to the ZBR. He agrees with Rzewuski about filling the permanent seat. He thinks Amanda McGee is well qualified to go into the fifth permanent slot. He also thinks Chambers is "well-prepared."
scared (1284) Animated Gif on Giphy

Tremblay disagrees and says there hasn't been enough time to observe all the alternates and doesn't want to pull his prior resolution about holding the permanent seat open. He says that if the Council does want to fill the fifth slot, he'd prefer it be Kara Scott based on her resume. He says there is still not evidence that any of the others have the right stuff.

DiBello and Andersen asked about whether it's even possible to appoint Scott based on the Charter. Solicitor Peter Ruggiero says it's doable.

Gentz says he hasn't done the research so he doesn't want to move anyone in front of anyone without knowing more.

Gentz said he was probably going to muddy the waters. He was right. There ensued a raucous discussion that touched on state law, the Charter, the merits of individual members and applicants.

Here's a surprise: William Meyer who was denied renewal of his term in retaliation over his early vote on Whalerock, is STILL technically on the ZBR because the Council has not replaced him, due to Tremblay's resolution to delay filling the position until July.

Ah, the legacy of Whalerock!

Debate moved on to whether to act now or wait until July. DiBello and Andersen say don't wait - give the ZBR the personnel it needs. Tremblay and Slattery says what's the big deal in waiting six more months.

I get the impression from Tremblay and Slattery that a ZBR position is like being on the Supreme Court as if they must have, as both called it, "a body of work."

Gentz weighed in to support delaying the filling of the permanent position. He said he thought the issue wasn't going to come up until July - I guess he didn't read Rzewuski's memo which was in the Council document package - so he didn't do his research.

Maybe as part of his research, he ought to read the Council packets.

Slattery made the motion to accept Rzewuski's recommendation to move up McGee and Chambers and add Vanover and Scott (in that order).

DiBello said that the Council just finished discussing the importance of picking ZBR members on merit. She supports moving McGee into the permanent slot, but thinks maybe there ought to be more thought about the batting order among the Alternates.

Argument ensued over the message this sends to people who want to serve and to the town taxpayers.

The vote on Tremblay's motion to hold off on filling the permanent slot until July passed on a party line vote with the three CCA boys (Gentz, Slattery and Gentz) voting to delay and Lisa DiBello and Paula Andersen voting no.

A new motion to approve the two new appointments, Vanover and Scott, passed by 4 to 1. The three CCA boys, plus Paula Andersen, voted YES. Lisa DiBello voted NO.

NOT CLEAR: did the Council just increase the number of Alternates to four which would violate the Town Charter? Or will Ms. Scott have to wait until July? I'll get back to you when I have an answer, but that's not going to be tonight.

Relevant section of the Town Charter:

§ C-178Establishment, appointments and vacancies.

[Amended 11-5-1996]
There shall be a Zoning Board of Review consisting of five (5) members and three (3) alternate members, all appointed by the Council. Each member shall be appointed for a term of five (5) years, except that the original appointments shall be made for terms of one (1), two (2), three (3), four (4) and five (5) years respectively. The alternate members shall be appointed for terms of one (1) year. If a vacancy on the Boardshould occur, the Council shall appoint one (1) of the alternates as a member for the unexpired term.


20. ADJOURNMENT - meeting adjourned at 9:50 PM and I have a booming headache. What a mess this Council is!