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Thursday, January 26, 2023

Stankiewicz leaves as Charlestown Town Administrator

Did he resign or was he fired? Who cares?

By Will Collette

Stonewall Stankiewicz is gone
To no one’s surprise, Charlestown’s Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz’s “resignation” was accepted by the Town Council last Monday. His effective departure date is February 13 – exactly 10 years from the day he was hired – but using leave time, he is leaving immediately. Because his end date falls on his 10th anniversary, he becomes fully vested in the state pension system.

There was a parade of Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) people who came to the microphone to sing his praises and to rail against those who felt Stankiewicz was not the perfect town CEO.

Westerly Sun reporter Ryan Blessing summed it up this way:

“On Monday, his supporters scolded the council and reminded the public that under Stankiewicz, the town enjoyed low property tax rates, a harmonious Town Hall and expanded open space lands….’He is the best town administrator we've ever had,’ Planning Commission Chairwoman Ruth Platner said.

Of course, the CCA loves him – he was their perfect servant. Plus, he knows where all the bodies are buried since he helped bury them. But the reality of Stankiewicz’s tenure was far different then the glowing picture painted by the CCA.

First, Stankiewicz politicized the office. Shortly after he was hired, he told me to my face that “I work for the CCA” not the people of the town. And during his ten years, he carried out the CCA’s wishes, punished their enemies and helped to cover up their mistakes. He generally imposed a pay-to-play system that put non-CCA residents at the bottom of the town’s priority list.

Last November, voters busted up the CCA's control of the Town Council, leaving only Susan Cooper to wave the CCA flag. With the defeat of the CCA council majority, Stankiewicz lost his protection.

Second, Stankiewicz screwed up the money. The most important responsibility of a Town Administrator is to oversee the budget and town finances to ensure maximum accuracy and probity. Yet just in the past several months, we’ve learned about:

  •        The “$3 million ‘oopsie’” where money was “misplaced” leading to the town adopting a budget and spending money it thought it had in its unassigned fund balance.
  •        Annual payroll overpayments in most of the past 10 years because the payroll was based on the false assumption that every year contains 260 workdays. The fix is ludicrously simple: count the number of workdays at the beginning of each fiscal year. Instead, Stankiewicz attacked the whistleblower who revealed this flaw, which is also clearly evident in the town records.
  •        Very negative findings about Charlestown’s ranking among RI’s 39 cities and towns for money management from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC). The most glaring issue was that Charlestown’s administrative costs are double the state average and six times higher than Cumberland which has the lowest administrative cost in the state.

Our tax rate may be low, but Stankiewicz had nothing to do with it. Wealthy transplants bought waterfront properties at bloated prices. That jacked up our Grand List and kept the tax rate low. If Stankiewicz had done his job better, our taxes would be even lower because it’s the taxpayers who paid hundreds of thousands for his screw-ups.

Here's a typical response to an open records request.
Not only do you get NOTHING, you also get
charged for it.
Third, Stankiewicz dropped an Iron Curtain over the town. Under Stankiewicz, it became almost impossible to get full access to public records, as he found new and obscure exemptions in the state Access to Public Records Act (APRA) to ratchet up denials of information requests. I have frequently reprinted pictures of documents I received from the town regarding various suspicious land deals with the entire contents blacked out.

When blackouts didn’t suffice, Stankiewicz ordered exorbitant and frankly extortionate charges to provide documents. I was effectively shut out when I refused to pay hundreds of dollars for documents I knew would be almost entirely blacked out.

Unless you were a CCA supporter, chances are you would receive the same treatment.

Fourth, the claim that Stankiewicz created a “harmonious Town Hall” is patently ridiculous. Stankiewicz created an atmosphere of fear and paranoia.

He also insulted his own staff by telling the Providence Journal that his staff “lacked the bandwidth” to effectively plan and use federal American Rescue Plan Act funding leading Charlestown to hire Congressional candidate Allan Fung to “consult.” Ironically, Fung stated publicly that, like other Republicans, he opposed the American Rescue Plan, though he was willing to make money from it.

There were two big problems with Stankiewicz’s ProJo quote. First, it was Stankiewicz’s job to build and supervise a staff that can manage government grants, not to make snarky public complaints about them in the Providence Journal. Second, there are, in fact, town staff who routinely manage federal funding and apparently do so well.

Finally, the claim that Stankiewicz was responsible for “expanded open space lands” is misplaced praise. His role was to wield his APRA magic to cover up records about shady open space land deals pulled off by Planning Commissar Ruth Platner. He allowed Platner’s minion, Town Planner Jane Weidman, to knowingly submit phony appraisals that led to purchases of land for prices far above their assessed value.

I don’t know what’s next for Stankiewicz. According to the Sun article, he’s 65 years old and made an offhand remark during the Monday meeting that he has “a few years left” before he retires. Sources tell me is on the list of applicants to fill Jamestown’s vacant town manager position.

He never bothered to move to Charlestown, instead buying a house in Stoughton, MA two years after he was hired. That’s a 140-mile roundtrip commute through some of the worst traffic in the Northeast.

If it was me and if I cared enough to give him advice, I’d say retire and write your memoirs.