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Saturday, January 9, 2021

Monday Charlestown Council meetings to feature SPA-Gate and the CCA back-tracking on institutional racism

CCA wants to restore bloated contract for Charlestown's Indian Fighter Joe Larisa

By Will Collette

CCA's pick
On Monday, the Charlestown Town Council will conduct a virtual meeting with a jam-packed agenda which you can read HERE.

I'm going to skip the mundane stuff, like the town audit and appointments to boards and commissions - though in Charlestown, you never know when the mundane will turn into the bizarre - to focus on two major issues Progressive Charlestown has been following closely.

One is discussion and maybe some action on the proposal from staunch Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) allies in the Sachem Passage Association (SPA) to sell Charlestown a parcel of land even its own members don't really care to use. 

The second is a CCA effort to reverse the Council's December decision to end attorney Joe Larisa's contract of $25,000 a year for the sole purpose of fighting anything the Narragansett Indian Tribe wants to do. 

Restoring his contract is on the agenda. That means that one of the three Council members who voted to terminate this embarrassing, racist deal has changed her mind and wants the decision reconsidered. 

Wild guess: it's Susan Cooper, the only CCA member of the Council to vote for ending Larisa's gravy train. I'm also guessing that Cooper got dressed down by our secret leaders in the CCA Clubhouse that you must never deviate from the CCA Party line.

Let's go through some of the juicy details for both of these issues.


It's a classic Charlestown "pay-to-play" deal where the Charlestown Citizens Alliance cuts deals for neighborhood groups that support and contribute to the CCA. We use town and state money to buy a property the Sachem Passage Association (SPA) no longer wants. It's an approximately 4 acre parcel - its exact size is still not clear - on Foster Pond. 

When the deal was first floated to the Town by prominent CCA personage and SPA leader Ron Areglado, it came attached to an appraisal based on the impossible assumption that the land could be used for construction of a two-bedroom house on the water. The appraisal said that under such implausible circumstances, the property is worth $426,000.

Town Tax Assessor Ken Swain strongly disagreed, writing a June 1 memo to Town Planner Jane Weidman to explain why he assessed the value of the property at $61,900. 

But on June 4, Weidman disregarded Swain's assessment and submitted a proposal to RIDEM that was based on the SPA's ridiculous $426,000 assessment. RIDEM awarded Charlestown the maximum allowable state  funding - $213,000 of the value of the land ("Hello, fraud tip-line?").

Except DEM required an independent appraisal so we hired an appraiser to do so.

Stankiewicz on the ramparts for secrecy
Throughout the process, Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz tightened the clamp on the flow of information, either withholding or blacking out dozens of records on the SPA deal. 

I have been fighting this cover-up and filed a formal challenge to the town's decision to withhold documents - including the new appraisal - with the Open Government Unit of Attorney General Peter Neronha's office.

I'll cover the fight for information in a separate article.

Interestingly, the long-awaited appraisal done for the Town has been completed and is now a public record - though you will have to dig for it within the 500 page+ agenda package posted on the Town website for Monday's Council meeting. It starts at Packet Page Number 223.

Skipping to the bottom line: the independent appraisal set the value of the SPA-Gate property at $75,000

This is a screenshot from Council Packet Page Number 227

While that's $13,100 more than Ken Swain's assessment, it's a major blow to the SPA and its $426,000 appraisal. No big payday for Ron Areglado.

The big questions for Monday: now what? Does the SPA still want to sell it? Will they answer the questions the Council has posed to them? 

Why should Charlestown buy this land, regardless of price, since that land will remain undeveloped open space? That is, under it sinks underwater in a few years due to sea level rise.

Joe Larisa, Indian Fighter

I applauded the Town Council's decision in December to end 18 consecutive years of employment for Joe Larisa as Charlestown's lead Indian fighter and most prominent symbol of institutional racism.

I had hope this would be the first step toward a reconciliation between the Narragansett Indian Tribe and Charlestown residents. We have been literally and figuaratitvely at war since 1675

CLICK HERE to read about the history of institutional racism in Charlestown.

But the CCA Party clearly wants to move backwards. The agenda lists a reconsideration of that decision to end Larisa's contract. 

Susan Cooper, the CCA member who created the majority to terminate Larisa's contract, has apparently changed her mind, no doubt after a tongue-lashing from the CCA leadership.

At the December meeting, CCA-endorsed Council Vice-chair Cody Clarkin voted to renew Larisa's contract but made no comment. 

I'd like to hear prominent Eagle Scout Cody Clarkin reconcile his support for Larisa with the stern anti-racist position of the Boy Scouts of America.  I think it's time for Cody to speak on this subject.

On June 15, 2020, the BSA declared:

"There is no place for racism – not in Scouting and not in our communities. Racism will not be tolerated."