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Saturday, January 15, 2022

CCA embarrasses itself at Town Council meeting.

What ever happened to the CCA’s claim of being competent money managers?

By Thom Cahir

This article originally ran as a letter to the editor of the Westerly Sun on January 14, It is re-printed here with the permission of the author.

In the Jan. 5 letter, “Charlestown considers a plan for stability” by Bonnie van Slyke, it becomes apparent that the Charlestown Citizens Alliance cares little about transparency, accountability, or holding true to their own agenda. 

They’ve claimed to run on a low-tax platform, but with their Fund Balance Policy, residents would be paying more and might never see any benefit from it.

The letter raises worries about financial stress, accumulating debt, and keeping taxes stable. Instead of fear-mongering worst-case scenarios, the CCA should consider generating original ideas.

This is the postcard sent by Charlestown Residents United
opposing the CCA's 2019 abuse of trust  
We’re at this place because in 2019 taxpayers rejected the budget and a $3.1 million outlay to build a community center. At the time there was “too much” surplus, according to auditors, and the CCA tried to force the center on taxpayers. Voters overwhelmingly rebuffed the proposal.

In 2019 the fund balance policy was originally submitted by President Carney and endorsed by Charlestown Residents United. It addressed voters’ concerns in a transparent manner and allowed for rebates. However, it wasn’t submitted to the GFOA by the CCA. Why?

Because the CCA has been in power for a decade, doesn’t listen to opposing viewpoints and has even moved meeting times, all resulting in the electorate losing confidence in these officials. Just look at what happened at Monday’s (January 10) council meeting.

The CCA lost confidence in themselves and pulled their motion because so many people complained. I urge every Charlestown voter to remember this when they head to the voting booth this November.

The CCA has been in power too long, it’s time to elect new leadership.

Editor's Note: I also watched the seemingly endless Council discussion about how to manage the town's surplus funds. I was struck by the lengths Budget Commissioner Dick Sartor went to deny any connection between his proposal and the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA). As Thom points out, the CCA claimed ownership of the proposal one week before the Council meeting via CCA senior council member Bonnie Van Slyke's letters. 

Then, even though the Sartor/CCA plan had not been released to the public as is required by the Open Meetings Act, the CCA majority of Van Slyke, former Eagle Scout Cody Clarkin and Susan Cooper all voiced their support for the plan and wanted to vote on it there and then before the public even had a chance to see it.

Protests from the on-line audience embarrassed them enough to compel them to pull the secret plan. It will come up again at the February Council meeting where apparently the CCA plans to ram it through unless something happens to change their plans.

I was also struck by how vacuous Sartor's defense of his own plan turned out to be. As Stephen Hoff pointed out in his "Charlestown Shell Game" series (read it HERE and HERE), Sartor's "new" plan simply codifies the loosey-goosey money management status quo.

Challenged on the high amount reserved surplus called for in his plan, Sartor kept repeating the term "unknown unknowns" as the reason for keeping the surplus so high. Putting aside my distrust for anyone who quotes Donald Rumsfeld (see below), Sartor fails to acknowledge how few "unknown unknowns" are really out there. 

At the federal, state, local, corporate and academic levels, virtually every conceivable thing that can go wrong has been gamed out, especially events connected to the climate crisis.

Studies have been done on nuclear power plant meltdowns (like our trouble-prone Millstone Nuclear Power plant just outside of New London). Or a tsunami generated by landslide at the Las Palmas volcano in the Canary Islands. Scientists have studied pandemics for decades before the COVID outbreak - we had plans, but Trump wasn't interested in using them. They've gamed out a nuclear strike at Groton/New London, meteor strikes, chemical plant leaks, World War III and even a zombie apocalypse

Finally, I was struck by how little regard Sartor and the town seem to give to insuring the town against risk rather than just piling up cash. We already belong to a statewide municipal risk pool for legal costs. When Town Administrator Stankiewicz was asked during the meeting whether he had looked into one form of broad-based coverage, he hemmed and hawed and admitted he had not gotten around to it.

- Will Collette