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Sunday, February 6, 2022

The Muddy Genesis of the CCSPAA

Charlestown Citizens/Sachem Passage Alliance Association Emerges From The Mud Hole

By Robert Yarnall

In small towns, it is easy for small decisions and big mistakes, local squabbles and petty rivalries to become the business of everyone. This is the story of how one neighborhood’s disputes can have a major effect on everyone, residents and town employees alike.       

Part 5 Cash Flow Low? Try Quid Pro Quo!

The picture above was taken at the Sachem Passage Association kayak access located on its Oyster Drive property. The fake money was digitally added to contrast with the real money our association has been figuratively tossing into that mudhole for the past 22 years. 

The images below, from left to right, are Belgian block pavers fronting the kayak access; a pull-back view from the small parking area looking toward the kayak access; the kayak rack adjacent to the kayak access; the lone picnic table adjacent to the small parking area.   

These idyllic amenities are the prime features of the Oyster Drive property that interested the Charlestown Town Council and Planning Commission Chair Ruth Platner. The lot itself has been deemed unbuildable by the Town of Charlestown. Why? Wetlands. 

When it became apparent that the coveted recreational features were no longer included in the deal during the SPA’s November 8, 2021, Town Council presentation, Council President Deb Carney and her fellow councilors were less than pleased. 

SPA President Ronald Areglado claimed that the inconsistencies were attributable to his leave of absence from the SPA Board of Directors while he campaigned as the CCA-endorsed candidate for Charlestown Town Moderator. He suggested circumstances would have been more favorable had he been in the loop. 

The Town Council collectively shrugged off Areglado’s disclaimer. Beginning with Council President Carney, each councilor probed different aspects of the proposal. Even with assistance from SPA Attorney Nick Gorham, Mr. Areglado was unable to clear things up. He knew he was in trouble, and it showed. He jokingly offered to give the property away. It wasn’t a good look. 

Planning Commissioner Ruth Platner, de facto leader of the CCA, found herself in an uncomfortable position. Ms. Platner had followed the Oyster Drive property sale for over two years. It was exactly the type of open space acquisition she worshipped, undeveloped land with built-in passive recreational features. 

Ruth Platner was somewhat puzzled by the SPA’s withdrawal of the boat/kayak launch: 

“The boat launch was definitely part of the grant,” Ms. Platner commented, referring to the document package of the formal proposal that was the foundation of the SPA’s sale pitch. 

For those of us watching video of the Nov 8th Town Council Meeting, it seemed Ruth Platner was genuinely taken aback by the SPA’s transparent bait & switch maneuver. 

Referencing Areglado’s earlier assertion that his leave of absence from the SPA Board of Directors was the source of the confusion, Platner offered to make sense of SPA’s double messaging… “…there have been different association heads, I think, so that’s probably why there’s a difference in what they are talking about, compared to what the other people are talking about.” 

Planning Commissioner Platner was necessarily nibbling at the corners, not quite sure what was going on with the Oyster Drive deal. If she knew that CCA Steering Committee member Joe Quadrato had been working on the proposal for nearly two years, including the past nine months in his capacity as SPA Real Estate and Finance designee, she wasn’t about to mention it, certainly not in a public forum. 

Ms. Platner knew that Joseph Quadrato had been a vital cog in the CCA’s political machine for nearly a decade. Quadrato’s natural fundraising prowess, a convenient extension of his professional sales career, earned him a 2014 appointment to the Zoning Board of Review. His sustained performance over the next two election cycles led to a coveted seat on the CCA Steering Committee alongside Zoning Board colleague Cliff Vanover, Platner’s spouse. 

CCA Treasurer Vanover soon learned that Quadrato’s services came with a price tag, in addition to the pair of political plum appointments. Starting with the 2012 election cycle and continuing through the 2020 campaign, Vanover wrote six checks totaling $4,515.32 to Quad Products, Mr. Quadrato’s home-based small business. For the CCA, it must have been worth every penny, even if it came with a whiff of quid pro quo…

It’s likely that neither Mr. Vanover nor Ms. Platner knew that Mr. Quadrato may have had more in mind than a measly handful of Quad Product orders tossed his way in recognition of his contributions to the CCA political fiefdom.

In July of 2020, property owners of Sachem Passage received a newsletter from then-SPA President Paul Raiche. A thirteen-member sub-committee had developed three options in a quest to get rid of an asset that had turned into a liability. 

The group settled on exploring option #2, donating the land to a non-profit conservation group, and kicked its recommendation upstairs to the Board of Directors. 

The SPA Board of Directors consists of SPA officers and SPA directors. In 2020, the SPA officers were also its directors. This meant that President Paul Raiche, VP Joe Quadrato, Secretary Ron Areglado and Treasurer Tom Gilligan were also the Board of Directors. 

Aside from Mr. Raiche, the fate of the Oyster Drive property was now in the hands of Messrs. Areglado, Quadrato and Gilligan, the same SPA power trio that led the SPA proxy, Illwind, the group that dovetailed with the CCA during the entirety of the Whalerock Wind Turbine saga, 2010-2013. 

It was during Whalerock that CCA stalwarts Tom Gentz and Dan Slattery recognized Joe Quadrato’s formidable fundraising skills. Quad Products began showing up in the CCA’s Expenditure Reports. Joe Quadrato meant business. The CCA bought in. 

As Whalerock was playing itself out, Illwind was able to offload its litigation-based financial worries onto the backs of Charlestown’s taxpayers. The CCA-controlled town council spent $50,000 to hire Special Council John Mancini to represent a group of “anonymous abutters.” 

When the town plunked down $2.14 million to buy the 78-acre idyllic not-to-be-Whalerock open space, now the Moraine Preserve, the voluminous pretext associated with Illwind faded from the public discourse. Illwind, the SPA clone, had been bailed out at taxpayer expense, while Charlestown’s CCA-dominated Town Council looked the other way. 

The “anonymous abutters” turned out to every remaining Illwind litigant who had persevered through the 2010-2013 courtroom marathon. There were twenty-nine individuals representing sixteen households. All but two households were SPA members. Every SPA officer and director from 2010-2020 was on the list. 

The Town’s role in Illwind’s bailout cemented a mutualistic relationship between the CCA and the SPA that has lasted for a decade, due primarily to the fundraising skills of Joseph Quadrato. 

Over the next three election cycles, Quadrato maintained his CCA workload while also accepting an appointment to the Zoning Board of Review. By 2019, however, the floundering SPA required his attention as well. He knew what had to be done. He rounded up his Illwind posse and got to it.    

January 2020: SPA Treasurer Tom Gilligan contacts Andolfo Appraisal Associates to commission an appraisal report to establish the fair market value of Lot 95-5, Oyster Drive. The report includes photographs of the property’s waterfront, woodlands, parking area, boat launch, kayak rack, and picnic area. The fair market value is determined to be $426,000, if and only if the wetlands lot is buildable. Unfortunately, it is not. 

April 2020: SPA Secretary Ron Areglado files an Open Space Inquiry with the Town Clerk, leading to interactions with Megan DiPrete, Chief of Planning for RI DEM, Town Manager Mark Stankiewicz, and Town Planner Jane Wideman. Weidman files a $213,000 grant application based on the SPA’s conditional appraisal of $426,000, ignoring Tax Assessor Ken Swain’s definitive, standards-based rationale of the town’s $61,900 fair market value assessment.     

February 2021: The Charlestown Town Council decides that all negotiations pertinent to Oyster Drive Lot 95-5 property will be based on a third-party appraisal by Newport Appraisal Group, listing a fair market value assessment of $75,000. The SPA Board of Directors does not reference the $75,000 third-party appraisal in its February mailing, nor in any other subsequent interactions, with its members. Joseph Quadrato is appointed as Resource for Finance and Real Estate, a position created specifically for him. 

September 2021: CCA Steering Committee member Joseph Quadrato delivers an update on the property sale to thirty-one SPA members attending the September 16th Annual Meeting, among them Charlestown Town Councilor Susan Cooper. Quadrato states bluntly, “… I have two contacts at Town Hall. They have told me that one individual, who I will not name, is not cooperating with us.”

President Ronald Areglado refuses to allow Quadrato’s statement into the official minutes, aware of its political implications. 

November 2021: Newly elected SPA President Ron Areglado hand-delivers the SPA’s Oyster Drive Prospectus in a 90-minute, live-streamed opus during the November 8th Town Council Meeting, and promptly drops the ball. The Town Council lambastes his performance, noting that although the SPA’s asking price remains at $426,000, this newest SPA offering no longer includes the kayak/canoe access, the watercraft rack, or the picnic area. The Councilors’ comments indicate they recognize the bait-and-switch tactic for what it is. SPA Real Estate guru Joseph Quadrato, architect of the proposal, is nowhere to be seen. 

December 2021: President Ronald McDonald Areglado sends a snail mail update referencing the November 8th Town Council Meeting by providing an unlinked ninety-three-character URL address - it must be entered from a keyboard - to access the video of the meeting. “Good luck with that…,” he muses.

Also included in the holiday greeting is a terse mea culpa that the association has neither the expertise nor the money to address the issues raised by the Town Council, ergo “…we voted unanimously to retain the property at this time. We will bring this recommendation to the members at our next Annual Meeting in May 2022.” There is no mention of Resource Person for Real Estate and Finance Joe Quadrato. 

If there was ever a chance that the CCA would again bail out the SPA รก la Whalerock, Joe Quadrato killed it by way of his awkward braggadocio referencing his “two contacts at Town Hall,” arguably Town Manager Mark Stankewicz and Town Planner Jane Weidman. 

Implicit in Quadrato’s admission is the discomforting notion that both Stankewicz and Weidman “were cooperating with us,” and that only he, Joe Quadrato, wielded enough influence around town hall, by virtue of his Zoning Board familiarity and CCA Steering Committee status, to extract their “cooperation” for the financial well-being of the SPA. 

During routine business, in his capacity as a Zoning Board Official through June 2021, Quadrato would presumably interact with town officials, especially in Planning (Jane Weidman) and Administration (Mark Stankewicz). What he had to say, and how he said it, is anybody’s – and everybody’s – guess. Especially Ruth Platner. 

Although Charlestown’s rank-and-file employees have workplace protections afforded them by virtue of union representation, administrators and department heads are not part of the bargaining unit.

They are represented by their own “association,” essentially serving at the whim of the decade-long CCA-dominated Town Council. 

Those “whims” are explicitly defined for them by the policy-making priorities of the CCA Steering Committee, which gives Joseph Quadrato top dog billing as its top producing cash cow. 

Apparently, those “whims” don’t include a CCA Courtesy Bailout for the SPA this time around, a mere decade after the Whalerock alliance, Joe Quadrato’s fundraising skills notwithstanding. 

It remains to be seen how Mr. Quadrato will react to the CCA’s thumbs-down. If he was counting on the standard 6% real estate commission, a $426,000 sale would have netted him 25,560 clams. He may just decide to pick up his marbles - what’s left of them - and go home. 

Joseph Quadrato will never admit to the impetuous speech he gave that autumn evening at St. Andrew Lutheran Church. Indeed, his confidante, Ronald Areglado, refused to allow the verbatim text into the official minutes. And John Kaptinski, SPA Archivist, will swear that “If it isn’t in the minutes, it didn’t happen.” 

But for most folks, especially Councilor Susan Cooper, it happened loud and clear. 

The mouse that roared turned out to be the elephant in the room. 

To read the earlier episodes in this series:

For Part 1, click here

For Part 2, click here

For Part 3, click here

For Part 4, click here