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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What happens when you ask a question at Town Hall?

By Pat Kent

A version of this article ran as a letter to the editor in the Westerly Sun.

Talk about getting stonewalled!; Charlestown Town Administrator, Mark Stankiewicz has the process down. 

On Aug. 30, 2015, the Westerly Sun published an article regarding the appointment of Program Director and acting parks director, Vicky Hilton as the new Director of Parks and Recreation for the town of Charlestown. 

The job became vacant in the spring when the town forced a resignation from then Parks and Recs Director, Jay Primiano.

As I read the article by Brooke Constance White it indicated Stonewall planned to sit down with Mrs. Hilton after the summer was over to see what type of capital improvements and parks programs should be instituted going forward. 

As a taxpayer, it would seem to me these are questions which should have been asked during the hiring process. 

After reading the article, I emailed Mr. Stankiewicz on 8/29 and ask him for information about where the position had been advertised and; how often and how many applicants responded.  On 8/31, I received this in an email from Mr. Stankiewicz:

The town is in receipt of your email detailing a request for documents under the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act (APRA). In accordance with guidelines established under APRA, the town has up to ten (10) business days to respond. Under APRA you may be assessed a fee to recover the costs of complying with your request. The fee is necessary to perform the records search, copying and segregating exempt from non-exempt information. The current charges under the law are fifteen cents ($0.15) per page for documents. There is no charge for the first hour of staff time for the search, & retrieval of documents. After the first hour, there is a $15.00 per hour charge for staff time.
I told him to forget it.  On Sept. 1st , I emailed Stonewall and asked if he interviewed anyone other than Ms. Hilton for the position.

The record search for advertising information was however underway and in a letter dated 9/2/15 from Mr. Stankiewicz via US mail, it states the position was advertised 3 times in the Westerly Sun – on 6/14 in the printed paper, the online and the RI jobs section and on 6/17 printed and online and on 6/18 the Community Calendar Classifieds.  The town received 17 applications.

On Sept 10th, I once again emailed Mr. Stankiewicz to ask him how many candidates were interviewed for the position and in a letter via US mail dated Sept. 11th, I was advised there are….are you ready for this…..”no documents that are responsive to my request”. 

I guess Stonewall doesn’t have a calendar of his appointments nor does his office administrator.  

Apparently there is nothing in the Parks and Recs files.  I am really concerned early dementia may be setting in if Stonewall cannot remember whether he interviewed any other applicants.

The Westerly Sun is the official newspaper of record for Charlestown.  I do question why advertising was not additionally placed in the Providence Journal to increase the applicant pool. 

Or does Mr. Stankiwicz as the town administrator prefer to do the minimum required. The town may prefer to promote from within and that’s fine as long as due diligence has been done. 

Now the role of Program Director is open, where will this be advertised? Will there be any interviews of candidates or will someone from town hall fill the position? 

This letter should not be seen as a reflection of Mrs. Hilton’s ability to be the Parks and Recs Director.  I worked very closely with both former director Jay Primiano and Mrs. Hilton when I coordinated the Harvest Festival at Ninigret.  Both Jay and Vicky were very helpful and generous with their time and energy. 

But, this is one voter who is weary of being stonewalled by the town administrator, Mark Stankiewicz.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I first wrote about the shift in Mr. Stankiewicz’s manner of responding to questions last year. The shift is to treat any question that has any sort of political impact or comes from a person not on the CCA Party’s xmas card list as if it was a formal request under the Access to Public Records Act (APRA). Under that Stankiewicz policy, you don’t get an answer except in the form of a public record, if one exists, and you are required to pay for Town Hall staff to search for such a record.