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Monday, April 20, 2015

Playing monopoly, playing dirty, playing rough

Charlestown Tapas: 17 tasty nuggets for the refined news palate
By Will Collette

In case you missed it: L&M/Westerly Hospital exec wants a Westerly monopoly
Bruce Cummings is playing the blackmail game again

I had meant to comment in the last edition of Tapas about complaints by Bruce Cummings, CEO of Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, the owner of Westerly Hospital, to the Westerly Town Council about South County Hospital’s plan to expand its services into Westerly through a new medical office building under construction on Route One near Dunn’s Corner.

Bruce Cummings, as you may recall, was responsible for last year’s awful strike and lock-out at L&M that put hundreds of hospital workers out of work between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 2013. Cummings hard-nosed union-busting style also shows itself with cutbacks in services not only at the parent hospital in New London but also in Westerly.

While Westerly may be somewhat indebted to L&M for keeping poorly managed Westerly Hospital open, for Cummings it was a pure business decision because he bought the distressed hospital at a bargain basement price and expanded his empire across the state line.

He has done little to improve Westerly Hospital’s less than stellar rankings for quality of care, safety and patient satisfaction, perhaps because L&M ranks pretty low among Connecticut hospitals. Clearly, workers' rights and quality care are not Cummings’ priorities.

But for Cummings to have the gall to tell the Westerly Town Council that South County Hospital is “poaching” patients and that the Council needs to be mindful of all the jobs Cummings saved by picking up Westerly Hospital for peanuts is plain outrageous.

For a guy who runs his business like a hard-core free market capitalist, Cummings should know that the best way for him to deal with South County Hospital is to perhaps look at why South County Hospital has thrived in a highly competitive marketplace while Westerly Hospital did not.

I think a large part of it is that South County Hospital’s services not only rank highly in Rhode Island where they often come in #1, but even nationwide. Plus, South County Hospital is expanding broadly into the community (e.g. their modest operation here in Charlestown) and beefing up services at the main hospital while L&M and Westerly have been pulling back. And finally, South County Hospital has a long history of labor-management harmony.

I attribute most of these characteristics to the legacy of my old friend, the late Donald Ford who ran South County Hospital from 1958 to 1986 and always put patient care first. Cummings seems to put profits first.

On the subject of South County hospitals, let’s applaud the decision of Washington Trust bank to donate $50,000 for the support of South County Hospital’s upcoming Community Cancer Center. The hospital aims to raise $6.5 million for this new program to provide enhanced care for cancer patients. Hey, Bruce Cummings…that’s how you build community support, not with job blackmail.

A few more details on Primiano’s ouster

As most Charlestown readers know, popular Parks & Recreation Director Jay Primiano was forced to resign by the CCA-controlled Town Council after a long battle that pitted family-friendly Charlestown is going to be. Families lost.

Stankiewicz won't trash-talk Jay if someone calls to do a
resume check
The Westerly Sun came up with some added details on how Jay’s ouster was engineered. Jay will be paid through June 30 although he has not been at work at least since his ouster. After that, Jay will receive a severance package of three month’s salary plus unused vacation and sick leave. The town is also paying $1,000 toward Jay’s legal costs.

When Jay looks for other work, the agreement prohibits Charlestown from doing anything to interfere with his efforts, including trash-talking him to potential employers. Instead, if someone calls to do a reference check, according to the Sun, the Town “will simply confirm his hiring date, employment length, and that he separated from the town…[and] no other statement could be made regarding the reasons for separation.”

Yeah, I’m sure no prospective employer will see anything negative in a statement like that. And I believe in unicorns.

Hot contest for RI House District 33 seat

The top contenders - Susan Cicilline-Cuonanno (l) and
Carol Hagan McEntee (r)
There are six candidates in the race to replace state Rep. Donald Lally who abruptly resigned in March. Three of them are Democrats – Susan Cicilline-Buonanno, Carol McEntee and Jason Colonies – and they will face each other in a May 5 primary.

The winner of the Democrat primary will then go on to face lone Republican Robert Trager and two independents – Elizabeth Candas and James McKnight - on June 9.

Cicilline-Buonanno is the sister of US Rep. David Cicilline. McEntee is a member of the South Kingstown Town Council. Already, there’s some sharp barbs being exchanged. Cicilline-Buonanno announced her candidacy within hours of Lally’s resignation and she secured the Democratic endorsement, leading to accusations that the state party was trying to influence the election in her favor.

Cicilline-Buonanno has been endorsed by the Narragansett Democratic Town Committee and the District 33 Democratic Committee (which was appointed by Lally). McEntee has been endorsed by the South Kingstown Democratic Town Committee.

District 33 includes large sections of Narragansett and South Kingstown.

Is your daughter or son interested in politics?

Rep. Jim Langevin is again taking applications from college students interested in unpaid, 10 hour+ per week internships for his Rhode Island for the summer. Despite the no-pay part, this is a great way for a young person with ambitions in politics or an interest in public service to get started. Click here to apply.

Coming Up
Chariho budget passes easily

Chariho School District politics are like a roller coaster. After suffering past rejection at the polls, largely due to “no” votes in Richmond and Hopkinton, the Chariho School District decided to play it safe this year and not upset the anti-tax crazies by dipping deeply into its reserve funds to come up with a $57 million budget that is actually less than last year and places no additional demands on the three Chariho towns.

Even though the gambit of raiding the piggy bank may come back to bit the District in the ass, it was enough to allow the budget to pass in all three towns by healthy margins. The turn-out was very low with 500 people (71%) voting yes and 202 voting no.

Charlestown voters had the biggest yes margin, voting 175 (92.6%) to only 14 no votes. Hopkinton went 180 (66%) yes versus 93 no. Richmond was a relative squeaker with 145 yes (60.4%) to 95 no.

Congratulations to Kevin Gallup

Charlestown’s hard-working Emergency Management Director Kevin Gallup was named the Emergency Manager of the Year by his peers at their April 8 annual meeting. 

This is well-deserved praise made even more significant because it comes from his colleagues in other municipalities. 

It’s like the Screen Actors Guild awards being more highly prized than, for example, the Golden Globes because the choices are made by people in the trade who know from their own experience when a person is doing a good job.

Rhode Island to receive $4.7 million in disaster money for January storms

As I predicted, President Obama approved $4.7 million in FEMA funding to help Rhode Island recover some of its losses from the heavy snowstorms we endured this winter. Municipalities, state agencies, the Narragansett Tribe and some non-profits are eligible to apply for funds to reimburse them for the extra costs of snow removal (including overtime) damage repair and for projects that will help prepare for future weather emergencies. 

Individuals will not be eligible for reimbursement although casualty losses, if high enough, can be listed as an itemized deduction on your taxes.

I’m sure Charlestown will put in for its own slice of the pie. We’re still spending money we received from past storms, awarding an $8,800 contract for a back-up generator at the Senior/Community Center at the April 13 Town Council Meeting.

Speaking of disasters…

Dick Sartor wants what he wants
The CCA Party and its Quonochontaug constituency are all a-twitter because the Dunn’s Corner Fire District is no longer offering public access to the Quonnie Grange. The public alarm was sounded by Dick Sartor, Charlestown’s former town Administrator and prime antagonist of former Council member Lisa DiBello.

There was a leak in the grange’s sprinkler system that caused as much as $10,000 in damage, plus there are other costly maintenance issues that led the Fire District to close off access to the grange. 

Fire Chief Michael Frink told the irate Quonnie/CCA crowd that “we’re here for fire protection services not to act as grange manager….We could be putting that money into something that could be used better like towards fire-fighting gear and equipment.”

The idea of a fire district that places first priority on fighting fires may seem to be a quaint, perhaps even alien, concept to the Quonnie denizens. After all, their own Central Quonochontaug Fire District provides them with tennis courts, docks, private beaches, road-plowing, trash pick-up, public water and other amenities - everything except actual fire-fighting services or, I guess, public meeting space.

Members of the audience suggested a fund-raising drive that would include seeking grants from private foundations. CCA Party leader and Charlestown Town Council Boss Tom Gentz says he knows a guy. Gentz claims he is talking to a potential anonymous donor (the CCA loves anonymous donors!) who might be able to do the repairs for free. Meanwhile, he said “We need a short term fix, then we can work together to fix it long term.”

I think the short-term fix for the CCA Party and the spoiled brats in Quonnie is to leave Dunn’s Corner Fire District to stay focused on their primary mission which is to protect lives and property from fire. If Gentz, Sartor et al come up with money to fix the Grange, that's great, but understand that the first duty of a fire district is fighting fires.

And the disaster after the disasters…

The National Flood Insurance Program is $24 billion in the red, largely because the program has had to pay for damages to homes, mostly owned by members of the top 1%, built in coastal where they never should have been built in the first place. Many of them simply build again, anticipating they will be covered the next time a big storm trashes their house.

But Congressional conservatives have been tweaking the program to be more reflective of the market (i.e. let rates reflect actual risk) and that means major flood insurance premium increases all up and down the eastern seaboard.

In Charlestown, the impact will be softened somewhat because of actions by town officials like Housing Official Joe Warner and our decorated Emergency Management Director Kevin Gallup (see above) who positioned Charlestown to win the state’s best preparedness rating from FEMA. That should be good for a 15% discount on flood insurance which might partially make up for anticipated rate hikes.

Sorry Mikey

For the third year in a row, the Rhode Island Foundation passed over the Charlestown Citizens Alliance’s resident scholar and pundit Mike Chambers and instead awarded its annual “Genius” grants to others. To read about these souls who beat out own local champion, click here

Adding insult to injury, one of the honorees, John Halley, has come up with an innovation that may boost shellfish aquaculture, one of the economic and environmental initiatives the CCA Party is doing its best to stop.

A wet version of RhodeMap RI?

I wonder whether all the tinfoil hat conservatives who have been so cranked up about RhodeMap RI will turn out in force to attack the state’s new phase of management planning for our offshore waters, called the Ocean Special Area Management Plan, or Ocean SAMP for short. The new focus will be on renewable energy projects, which the crazies really hate, and they kicked off the public process this week at URI.

Congratulations, Tracey!

You’ve seen her work in Progressive Charlestown. Now you can read her bylined articles in the Westerly Sun. Professional journalist Tracey C. O’Neill is now a beat reporter for the Westerly Sun, mostly covering Stonington. Good luck, Tracey.

Another seal release in Charlestown

I haven’t been getting advance notice, so I missed the April 2 release by the good people at the Mystic Aquarium Marine Animal Rescue program. They released a female harp seal named Sassafras at Blue Shutters Beach.

The program takes in injured or strained sea creatures, often seals or sea lions, fixes them up and then returns them to nature, usually from one of Charlestown’s beaches.

Two possibly related polls

Two recent articles on survey results merged in my mind for reasons that I think you will agree makes some sense. According to a new Gallup Poll, Rhode Island and West Virginia are the two states in the union where the highest percentages of people admit to using mind-altering drugs. Believe it or not, California was one of the lowest.

Scifi Aliens animated GIF
But keeping Rhode Island’s rate of drug use in mind, it’s not surprising that Rhode Island is one of the places where people see a lot of UFOs. Especially in South County. 

In fact, on the site of the present Job Lot store on Route 138 in Richmond once sat the UFO Lab Museum, dedicated to the principle that “The Truth Is Out There.” Our area was mentioned several times during the X-Files. Here’s an extract from Rhode Island Legends:

I absolutely believe that space aliens have been summering in Quonnie...and actively participating in the CCA Party

According to GoLocalProv, South County is STILL the place to go to see UFOs. Maybe it’s our legendary dark skies. Maybe it’s an explanation for the CCA. But whatever it is, we have experienced 30.8 sightings per 100,000 people, a rate that is three times higher than Providence, and around twice as high as the rest of the state.

Charlestown considers new ordinance?

The infamous Tom Gentz
Uncle Fluffy meme
One of the things the CCA Party really hates is when I poke fun at them. They really hate my caricatures, like my inclination to combine images of their leaders with other images, aiming for a little low satire. See adjacent example, right.

Well thank the stars I live in America (strike up the band) because if this was Russia, I’d be in big trouble. It seems that dissidents and satirists in Russia also like combining images to create internet memes (that’s the term for this type of satire) often using Russian leader Vladimir Putin as the goat of their humor.

Vlad does not have a sense of humor (so he’s fit right in with the gray people of the CCA Party) and according to the Washington Post, it is now illegal in Russia to publish any Internet meme that depicts a public figure in a way that has nothing to do with his ‘personality.’”

I’m expecting to see a new ordinance come out of the Planning Commission for the Town Council of Charlestown to similarly ban any such depictions of Charlestown characters. However, I would argue that my CCA memes are actually very much fit the character of those depicted.


Plenty of listings for non-profit and public sector jobs on Rhode Island Community Jobs, a free service of the Swearer Center for Public Service at Brown University. To sign up for their daily e-mail list of new postings, click here.

Here are new job postings in our area that I spotted since the last Charlestown Tapas: