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Sunday, June 8, 2014

What the Hell is this $2,000,000 bond thing about?

Is the Town Council planning an end-run around the Town Charter and budget or something else?
By Will Collette

Ruth Platner, Dan Slattery and Boss Gentz do the Open Space Dance
I apologize to readers for having failed to pick up on a potentially important agenda item coming up at the Town Council’s Monday night meeting which will be held in the Charlestown Police Station, not the usual spot in the Town Council Chambers. I’ve asked Town Hall for information on Clerkbase coverage, given that meetings not held in Council Chambers generally don’t get live-streamed.

Anyway, I’m talking about this item which is scheduled to be taken up almost first thing on the agenda:
b. Discussion and potential action regarding the approval of a resolution authorizing the issuance of general obligation bonds and notes of the Town of Charlestown not to exceed $2,000,000 to finance the acquisition, preservation or protection of open space or any interest therein alone or in conjunction with federal agencies, state agencies, land conservancies, land trusts or preservation organization for preservation, ground water protection or the development of public recreation facilities.
If you click on the link and read the resolution, this planned $2,000,000 bond issue claims to draw on a 2004 town voters’ approval of open space bond money. While it is true that voters did authorize that bond money for Open Space/Recreation, this is the money the town was supposed to have spent last summer to buy the proposed site for the now dead Whalerock wind farm.

In fact, according to our town officials at the time of the transaction, Charlestown used up all of its existing bonding authority for open space/recreation to carry out the transaction. For those of us who were carefully monitoring the issue, it even seemed like the final purchase price was tailored to fit exactly into the total amount of bonding authority the town had left.

So that begs a bunch of questions. What IS the purpose behind the planned issuance of $2,000,000 in bonds? Is this a residual effect of the Whalerock deal? If so, how is that possible, since we went to closing and paid $2.1 million to Larry LeBlanc and his partner James Barrows, and got title to the land? Did we give them an IOU and an autographed picture of Tom Gentz? Are we just now settling up?

Or did the town somehow discover that we had another $2,000,000 in unused, voter-approved bonding authority? Is that 2004 open space/recreation bond referendum some sort of leprechaun’s bottomless pot of gold?

Did town leaders, most prominently Town Council Boss Tom Gentz and Planning Commissar Ruth Platner, lie to town taxpayers about how much the town had left in its bonding authority when they promoted the Whalerock land deal?

Is this item intended to make it possible to pull off another land deal, such as the $250,000 purchase being advocated by our part-time, temporary Town Planner Jane Weidman?

Are we about to go through another round of bitter fighting over whether the CCA Party-controlled Town Government can take unilateral actions to issue bonds that may or may not be voter approved to then make major land acquisitions without taking the matter to the voters?

Or are we now – ten months after closing the Whalerock deal – just now getting around to settling accounts? If that’s the case, I’d like to hear the explanation. And I’d like to know if we ended up paying additional interest costs to issue short-term bonds to cover the $2 million we gave to LeBlanc and Barrows.

Don’t get me wrong: I like open space as much as anyone else in this town, except perhaps for the fanatics within the CCA Party who would like to see the entire town be emptied of everyone else but themselves and turned into one vast open space tract. And I am not regretting the town’s purchase of the Whalerock property – in fact, I had been pushing for that solution even before the anti-wind NIMBYs embraced it.

But I think this resolution to issue $2,00,000 in bonds needs a lot of explanation. If they want more bonding authority for open space/recreation, the proper way to do that is to take it to the voters.

On the other hand, if this bonding authority does indeed exist, the CCA Party owes the town an apology for the lies it told to taxpayers when we did the Whalerock deal.

And if the CCA Party wants to grab another open space parcel, like the one suggested by Weidman, we have learned the hard way through the Y-Gate Scandal and the Whalerock flap, that there is a right way and a wrong way to do that. The biggest lesson of Y-Gate and Whalerock is that there is a price to be paid in public trust when the CCA Party town leaders try to bypass the voters.

Or is this just a screw-up where it took ten months to actually carry out the terms of the Whalerock purchase by finally using the 2004 bonding authority?

Whatever the answer we hear Monday night, I think we are once again seeing that the CCA Party has no learning curve and nothing but contempt for the voters, the Town Charter and even their own campaign pledges to run an open, transparent and efficient town government.