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Monday, June 1, 2015

Vote results: Chambers of Sorrow

Big voter turn-out says YES to Ninigret, NO to land scam
By Will Collette
Families win over fear and falsehoods

The unofficial tally for Charlestown’s financial referendum shows more than 1,200 voters turned out, about 20% of the total registered but way more voters than normal for such a special election where 700 voters is about the norm.

The unofficial tallies phoned in to me right after the polls closed showed the following: 
  • The Charlestown budget passed by 879 (74%) to 280 (26%).
  • The $2 million Open Space bond issue squeaked in by 590 (50.5%) to 579 (49.5%). With a margin of only 11 votes, we may need to wait for the official count.
  • The CCA-pushed plan to give property rights for the town-owned former Whalerock property to the Charlestown Land Trust lost by 618 (53%) to 548 (47%).
  • The citizen-driven Petition #1 to put $1 million into improvements to Ninigret Park passed by a whopping 788 (68%) to 377 (32%). 

The Charlestown Citizens Alliance and its ally, the Charlestown Land Trust, invested heavily in the controversial plan for the town to grant a conservation easement for free to the Land Trust. The Land Trust, a 501(c)(3) charity, even violated campaign finance law to push its self-interest.

That ballot question drew the largest number of votes (by one vote at 1166) and delivered a defeat to the CCA Party and Land Trust by six points.

Even though the CCA Party tried to stop momentum for the “Support Ninigret Park” with back-handed snide remarks, that ballot question drew the second-largest total vote count and a resounding two to one landslide.

The CCA Party probably pulled off a win for its $2 million open space bond question if the 11 vote margin holds up. But never before has an open space bond measure, local or state, done so poorly with Charlestown voters. That in itself is shocking, and the CCA Party has only itself to blame for eroding public support.

Finally, the town budget passed by a margin of three to one, delivering the seventh consecutive tax rate hike to the taxpayers of Charlestown. This means your tax bills with a new tax rate of around $10.10, the highest rate since 2004, will be going out soon. Something to think about in 2016, after we get what I expect will be the 8th consecutive tax hike.

This special financial election will give the CCA Party a lot to think about. Maybe now they will decide that whatever debt they owed to the Areglado-Chambers Morainiacs is paid off. After all, the town bought the land, paid $50,000 for private legal counsel, gave them all patronage political appointments and a coveted seat for fund-raising coordinator Joe Quadrato on the CCA Steering Committee. However, this land rights giveaway was just one step too far.

By letting Planning Commissar Ruth Platner and her husband, Zoning Board member Cliff Vanover, take their extremist views that families with children are the enemy that need to be pushed out of town, or excluded, they turned open space from being a broadly popular issue to one that barely holds its own.

Trying to sell the ridiculous argument that open space costs nothing and that taking land off the tax rolls lowers taxes by allegedly boosting property values did not boost the credibility of Platner, Vanover or Mike Chambers.

And how about the folks of “Support Charlestown’s Ninigret Park” who came up with the Petition measure that did what the CCA Party refused to do – fund improvements and long-neglected maintenance at Ninigret Park!
Bad night for Boss Gentz

This is the biggest beating the CCA Party has suffered since their ill-advised effort to stop the beach pavilions at the town beaches.

It feels good to win but Charlestown still faces the fact that the CCA Party still thoroughly controls Charlestown town government.

It would not surprise me at all to see them try to subvert this election by either impounding the money voters approved for Ninigret Park or, at minimum, do what they did after they lost the beach pavilion vote – try to stall any project attempted in the park. 

Just to refresh your memory, and perhaps offer a preview of coming attractions, click here to read about just one of the many tricks the CCA tried to pull to block construction of the beach pavilions.

And if that doesn’t throw ice water on any jubilation you might feel over the election results, I would also not be surprised if our autocratic Council Boss Tom Gentz decides to try to go ahead and give the Land Trust the conservation easement anyway. Boss Gentz hates to lose.

But maybe, just maybe, today's vote offers a glimmer of hope for the future.