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Thursday, April 14, 2022

UPDATED: Charlestown hires Allan Fung to help the town spend its money

Fung’s law firm given open-ended contract to spend American Rescue Plan funding

By Will Collette

UPDATED: Fung's campaign for Congress, 2nd District, got a boost when one of his two opponents dropped out of the race. State Senator Jessica De La Cruz dropped out after only one month since her declaration and endorsed Fung. That leaves only Robert Lancia to oppose Fung in the GOP primary. It also makes Fung's hiring by the town of Charlestown even more wildly inappropriate in my opinion. - W. Collette

I can’t say this is the weirdest thing I’ve seen the CCA-controlled Town Council do, but it’s right up there. At the April 11 Council meeting, the Council voted to give Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz authority to execute two consultant contracts to help Charlestown figure out what to do with its $2.3 million share of funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). 

As some may recall, Stankiewicz told the Providence Journal that town staff were not capable of handling the ARPA money:

"We’re playing it slow," said Town Administrator Mark S. Stankiewicz. 

The small town has an equally small staff, and those employees have limited bandwidth and aren't necessarily "attuned to all the ins and outs of federal regulations," Stankiewicz said. As a result, Charlestown will likely hire an outside consultant to figure out how to best use the money without running afoul of any guidelines. 

These remarks imply that Stankiewicz DOES have the right skill set to navigate the nooks and crannies of federal funding, begging the question that if he’s so smart, why doesn’t he do handle the ARPA funds himself?

Another idea came to mind when I read those remarks: are about to be raided by the FBI for misspending past federal funding?

We have been getting Community Development Block Grant money for decades. We get FEMA money after almost every major storm. We get federal grants for environmental improvements and for many other purposes. 

For many of the town staff, ARPA is not their first federal funding rodeo. 

What makes ARPA so different? Please note we are not talking about APRA, Rhode Island’s Access to Public Records Act. When it comes to the APRA, Stankiewicz could hire himself out as a consultant to help public bodies find loopholes to avoid public disclosure of embarrassing records. 

One Charlestown ARPA contract will go to iParametrics which is based in Alpharetta, Georgia. That contract, capped at $56,680, will be for technical issues. Several other Rhode Island municipalities are using them. 

The other contract will go to the law firm of Pannone, Lopes, Devereaux and O’Gara LLC,

The total amount of the contract is unspecified (i.e. open-ended) but it will pay $250 an hour for the services of law firm partner, ex-Cranston mayor and current Republican candidate for US House District 2 Allan Fung. 

Fung’s self-proclaimed ARPA expert status is based on his experience as mayor of Cranston where he oversaw the spending of the same kind of federal money Charlestown has handled, only in much larger amounts. 

You can do your own Google search on Cranston finance and tax issues (their parking ticket scandal was one of my favorites). Suffice to say that I doubt Cranston would Charlestown’s first pick for a role model. 

Allan Fung is a Republican who is running for US House District 2, most likely against current state General Treasurer Seth Magaziner. District 2 includes Charlestown. 

Fung faces a primary before he can move on to the general election.

His party membership is significant, given that Congressional Republicans voted unanimously against the American Rescue Plan. Not one single GOP House member or Senator voted yes to ARPA, although now, many are taking credit for it. 

So it is relevant for us to ask Fung:

  • Do you even believe in the ARPA?
  • Would you have voted for it?
  • If you don’t believe in or support the ARPA, why should Charlestown trust you to make a plan to use those funds?

I have asked Charlestown’s newest lawyer for his answers to these questions. He has not. 

Personally, I think it’s unethical for Charlestown to hire someone who is running for elected office to represent us. Are we hoping he will win and that we can use this fat contract to curry favor with him? Is this the CCA’s backdoor way of funneling taxpayer money to their election choice? 

What’s next? Do we hire Blake “Flip” Filippi as Charlestown General Counsel? After all, Flip is a prodigious though largely unsuccessful litigator who even sued his own mother. To be precise, he counter-sued Mom; she sued him first alleging he cheated her. 

Maybe we should hire Elaine Morgan as town Sergeant of Arms to enforce the new CCA civility code. Morgan likes to dress up in a copuniform. Or Dennis Algiere to be our Treasurer. 

Don’t you think Fung might be a little busy between now and November trying to win a seat in Congress? 

While Fung might have been popular in Cranston, he’s not very popular in Charlestown. In 2018, he ran against Gina Raimondo for Governor and lost Charlestown by 17.1%. UPDATE: Fung also ran against Raimondo four years earlier, in 2014, in a 5-way race. Charlestown also voted against Fung, though by a closer margin.

I doubt he will boost his popularity in Charlestown by picking our pocket.