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Sunday, March 19, 2023

New CCA temper tantrum

Failed March 13 attempt to “flood the zone” sparks slander from CCA leadership

By Will Collette

The Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) was soundly rejected by voters in the 2022 election. But, not surprisingly, they still have some tricks up their sleeves to take back power.

One such attempt was made – and failed – at the March 13 Town Council meeting where the CCA attempted to “flood the zone” with a large number of their stalwarts trying to get onto key town commissions and committees.

Such long-time CCA hardcore players as Bonnita Van Slyke, Mikey Chambers, Ron Areglado, Pete Mahoney and Dick Sartor made bids for seats on the Charter Revision Committee, Ordinance Revision Ad Hoc Committee, Town Administrator Search Ad Hoc Committee and Parks & Recreation Commission.

None were approved although several applicants with CCA ties, such as veterinarian Dr. Lew Johnson did win appointment.

Fortunately, there was a large field of experienced and thoughtful non-CCA candidates to fill the ranks of these important town bodies. You can see the full list of people who applied, who was chosen and who was not by CLICKING HERE.

I also encourage you to read their applications and career highlights by CLICKING HERE.

You really should take a close look because the CCA has decided to use their failed blitz as “evidence” that the “Town Council Puts Developers In Charge,” according to the headline in their blog.

Only one appointee, Tim Stasiunas, is an active developer. Evelyn Smith, who was appointed to the Charter Revision Committee, was a developer decades ago. However, Evelyn has put in more than 20 years on the town’s Affordable Housing Commission. Evelyn does own an inactive sand pit.

According to the CCA, any person who owns a business is suspect, as are all attorneys (except the CCA’s last remaining Council member Susan Cooper of course). By the way, contrary to CCA's claim, Cooper voted to approve Evelyn Smith's appointment.

For some inscrutable reason, about half of the CCA’s screed rehashes their own tragic handling of the COPAR Quarry crisis, re-writing history by casting themselves as the heroes rather than chumps. 

Copar owner Phil Armetta (Middletown Eye
photo by 
As readers may recall, a guy who did federal jail time for racketeering, Phil Armetta, re-launched the Copar quarry on the Westerly-Charlestown line in 2013. He hired a convicted grifter, Sam Cocopard, to run it for him. 

All of this had predictable results for the neighbors and the environment as well as itself. Copar went bankrupt in 2015 after its principals started stealing from each other.

Even though our own Town Solicitor advised the then CCA-controlled Council the town has broad police powers to invoke public health and safety to curb the quarry and certainly to deny them a permit to expand into Charlestown by taking over the Morrone sand pit on Route 91, the CCA Council decided they needed state legislation.

They wasted time dithering at the State House, putting their faith in our useless ex-state Representative Blake “Flip” Filippi.

As the CCA describes it, they created an ordinance in 2014 that was fought and killed by the very people appointed on March 13, 2023.”

That’s a lie. The only quarry-related matters passed by the then CCA-controlled Town Council during the Copar crisis were a string of resolutions asking the General Assembly to give Charlestown the authority to regulate quarries and sand pits.

The CCA withdrew all town efforts to control quarries until years after Copar was gone and then, they only affected future quarries and specifically exempted existing ones. Charlestown is currently in litigation with the new owners of the Morrone sand pit, fighting over whether this is a new mine or a old "grandfathered" one.

The CCA’s diatribe tries to convince you that the new Town Council majority are nefarious agents for the hordes of developers and mining companies with convoys of construction equipment parked along Route One just waiting for the go-ahead to despoil Charlestown’s “rural character.” And as usual, only the CCA can save us from this fate worse than death.

But if you read to the end of their screed and the comments, the real cause of their angst becomes clear. They claim the newly appointed committees will “change the town charter to have an appointed rather than an elected Planning Commission. An elected Planning Commission has to be responsible to the voters. An appointed Planning Commission is controlled by the same Town Council that puts developers in charge of local land use law.”

Rhode Island law requires Planning Commissions to be appointed. Charlestown is the only municipality in Rhode Island that still elects its Planning Commissions. 

The state law requires appointment over election to de-politicize municipal planning. However, the CCA likes things the way they are because it gives their leader Ruth Platner the role of most powerful elected official in Charlestown.

OMG! A bus stop! The end of Rural Character
as we know it
Behind the scenes, Platner exercises the power to obstruct any land use that conflicts with her vision of "rural character." As an example, she is why Charlestown is the only municipality in Rhode Island that has no RIPTA bus route and doesn't want one.

Foster just got approval for bus service. By the end of the year, RIPTA plans to provide Little Compton and Block Island with van service, leaving Charlestown as the sole hold-out.

The CCA is also lying when it claims the Charter Revision Committee can just “change the town charter.” 

First, any changes will have to go through an extensive open and public process, including legal review and public hearings, before Commission recommendations can be approved by the Town Council as ballot questions which then go to the voters. Even then, the General Assembly will have to sign off on any charter changes.

This will take time. The earliest likely time for any proposed charter changes would be the 2024 election.

Speaking of elections, one of the comments published by the CCA is this one from a person who calls themselves “Audrey":

Perhaps if Non-Resident property owners, who pay enormous amounts of Property Taxes to the Town of Charlestown, such as Summer-Home owners, were allowed to VOTE, there would be no rapacious Town Council members or Administrators!”

Non-resident voting (based on property ownership) is unconstitutional but has been a longtime priority for the CCA and its antecedent, the RI Shoreline Coalition.

And then CCA’s Voice Mikey Chambers chimed in with: “In the end, this Council will probably take away the rights of the voter to elect their own Planning Commission, decide on large town expenditures, and to issue grievances publicly.”

For more than a decade, the CCA routinely purged town commissions and committees of people insufficiently loyal to the CCA, refused re-appointments and denied applications from other non-CCA adherents. They saddled Charlestown with commission members, some incompetent, others hostile to the mission of the commissions on which they served while rejecting applicants who were obviously more qualified.

Mikey Chambers was among that motley crew who benefited from CCA’s purges by getting patronage appointments.

Just about every town body that wielded any kind of power was filled with CCA sycophants. Looking back at the November 8 election, it was the CCA’s arrogance in putting their own political power ahead of the needs of the people of Charlestown that cost them the election.

Based on their substance-free, fact-challenged whining, it's clear they have learned nothing.