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Thursday, July 18, 2024

From SCOTUS to Project 2025

Another take on what’s at stake in November

By Philip Mattera, director of the Corporate Research Project for the Dirt Diggers Digest

There has never been any question that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority is solidly pro-corporate. Yet in a slew of audacious rulings at the end of the term, those Justices abandoned any pretense of even-handedness.

Chief Justice Roberts and his allies swept away a 40-year-old precedent that directed judges to defer to federal regulatory agencies in interpreting laws involving oversight of business. The decision is expected to result in a wave of lawsuits by corporate interests challenging all manner of regulations. Many of those cases will ultimately be decided by the Justices, and it is clear how that will go.

Along with its ruling in the Chevron deference case, the Court took several other whacks at regulators. It invalidated the Securities and Exchange Commission’s use of in-house administrative law judges, a move that could cripple the agency’s ability to resolve securities fraud cases and could undermine similar enforcement procedures at other regulators.

At the same time, SCOTUS put on hold an Environmental Protection Agency plan to curtail air pollution that drifts across state lines. Finally, the Court gave corporations more time to challenge regulations by extending the statute of limitations.

Gee, how could this happen?

Rhode Island places 11th

Click here for more information: Visual Capitalist

Astronauts are stuck on the International Space Station after yet more problems with Boeing’s beleaguered Starliner

Can Boeing do anything right anymore?

Ian WhittakerNottingham Trent University

For the past few weeks, Nasa astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams have been stuck on the International Space Station (ISS) after the first crewed voyage of Boeing’s new Starliner spacecraft hit a snag. 

Concerns raised by Boeing and Nasa over thruster problems and several helium leaks (helium is used in Starliner’s engine system) have prevented the craft from making the return journey as scheduled. 

Nasa has now said the astronauts may have to stay put until the next scheduled crew switchover in August – potentially on another ship.

Boeing and Nasa are trying to put a positive spin on the extension by saying they are testing systems required for longer Starliner missions. But the project has already suffered several delays, having originally been set to lift off for the first time with crew in 2017. This, combined with the latest problems raise questions over the whole Starliner program.

Starliner was noted as having a small helium leak before it even launched. Helium is an inert gas (much like neon or xenon), meaning that it is very unreactive with other materials.

This makes it ideal when coming into contact with rocket fuel and high temperatures, although producing it is an expensive process. It is pressurized and used to push fuel into the engines at the correct rate. Helium leaks can mean that not enough fuel will reach a thruster.

The leak spotted while Starliner was on the launch pad was determined to be negligible and the spacecraft was sent to orbit regardless. However, this turned into a larger problem when additional helium leaks were identified following launch, meaning that several of the spacecraft’s small maneuvering thrusters couldn’t be used.

Four of the five thrusters have been repaired while Starliner has been docked to the ISS, but it raises concern for other thrusters cutting out during the return journey to Earth. On Starliner’s return, re-entering Earth’s atmosphere requires a very specific “angle of attack” to ensure there is not too much friction heating up the vessel.

An inability to adjust the orientation of the craft or the orbital parameters for re-entry could in the worst-case scenario result in massive heat build up and the destruction of the spacecraft with two astronauts on board.

Bioplastics are inadequately defined, poorly regulated, and potentially toxic: Report

“These bioplastics just aren’t ready for primetime.”

Cami Ferrell for Environmental Health News

The lack of federal regulations and clear definitions for bioplastics make it increasingly difficult to determine whether or not they are a safe alternative to traditional plastics, according to a new report from Beyond Plastics.

Since 1950 the world has produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, and about half was produced after 2000. Yet only 9% has been recycled, 12% was burned and a staggering 79% entered landfills. As the plastic pollution crisis looms, scientists, industry leaders and environmental advocates are searching for solutions — among them bioplastics, which are loosely defined as plastic materials that are either partly or wholly derived from renewable biomass like plants or are biodegradable or are both. The demand for bioplastics is growing, with its global market size estimated to go from 7.41 billion in 2024 to nearly 57 billion by 2032.

However, the new report raises concerns about harmful chemicals potentially making their way into bioplastics, a lack of regulatory oversight, and potential conflicts of interest in the currently available certifications.

The new report comes on the heels of an Environmental Health News investigation that found bioplastics can contain some of the same harmful chemicals as traditional petrochemical-derived plastic and often will not break down in current composting facilities.

We aren’t saying go back to single use plastics, we appreciate the effort. But these bioplastics just aren’t ready for primetime,” Judith Enck, Beyond Plastics president and previous Environmental Protection Agency administrator, told EHN.

Microplastic “Hotspots” Identified in Long Island Sound

Plume extends to a large "hotspot" off Charlestown coast


Concentration of all types of microplastic and anthropogenic microfiber pollution found in this study overlaid on a heat map showing the concentration of shipping traffic (all types) and a heatmap showing population density. In all cases, red indicates higher numbers. Credit: Staffordshire University

Forensic and environmental specialists have collaborated to create a new scientific technique for identifying microplastic pollution ‘hotspots’ in open waters.

The technique was tested in New York’s Long Island Sound through a collaboration involving Staffordshire University, The Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean, and Central Wyoming College.

Professor Claire Gwinnett from Staffordshire University explained: “Long Island Sound was a location of interest because it has lots of factors that can cause pollution. It is an estuary that has high populations of wildlife, it is a busy transport route frequented by cargo ships, and is a popular fishing area. Located adjacent to New York City, it is also highly populated and a major tourist destination.”

Identifying Pollution Hotspots

Funded, in part, by the National Geographic Society, the study saw samples collected from the deck of the 60′ oceanographic sailing research vessel, American Promise. The team took 1 litre ‘grab samples’ of surface water every 3 miles from the East River along the middle of Long Island Sound to The Race, where it meets Rhode Island Sound.

Grab sampling allows analysis of specific locations, with the researchers applying a statistical approach to identify hotspots where microplastics were most in evidence.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Charlestown vigilantes?

A new twist on the endless battle over shoreline access

By Will Collette

Signs warning of ticket penalties posted by Nope’s Island Conservation Association. 
Credit: Courtesy of Stephen Cersosimo
The Public’s Radio South County bureau chief Alex Nunes has probably done more in-depth coverage of the on-going battle between beachgoers and shoreline property owners than anyone. 

Even though the right of beach access is written into the RI Constitution and a new state law was passed last year to define those rights, the issue is far from resolved.

Along the way, Alex has written about fences, signage, walls, nose-to-nose conflicts, legislative fights and a conveyor belt of lawsuits filed for and against beach access. We’ve learned about “fake fire districts,” glorified homeowner associations that actually don’t fight fires but serve as a tax dodge and beach bulwark.

In a separate article, we’ll cover a brand-new problem – a federal judge’s rulingthat calls RI’s shoreline access right into question, but for now, let’s look at the issue of privacy and vigilantism.

Charlestown police accused of empowering ‘vigilantes’ to help patrol local beach

Under a new policy, the Charlestown Police Department is using video surveillance captured by private individuals to help enforce a town driving ordinance on a barrier beach.

BAlex Nunes July 12, 2024, The Public's Radio

Shoreline access and civil liberties advocates are crying foul over a new policy in Charlestown welcoming private individuals to collect surveillance evidence for police to use in enforcing a vehicle ordinance on a barrier beach at the center of multiple beach access legal fights.

Under the new policy rolled out by the Charlestown Police Department this summer season, people who believe they see someone violating a seasonal restriction on driving on the beach face at the Quonochontaug Barrier Beach can record video to send to the police department for officers to investigate and possibly act on, according to Charlestown Town Administrator Jeffrey Allen.

“The police department has been accepting time-stamped videos of potential violators, and they research it, and they obtain a written statement from the person who was responsible for taking the video, and they will look into it and potentially write summonses,” Allen said. “We’re basically getting the information from a private property owner.” 

In explaining the policy, he said the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management also accepts evidence from individuals “in these types of situations where there’s not a lot of active enforcement for whatever reason – right, lack of manpower, or situations where this is hard to get to.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: For many years, law enforcement has not only accepted, but often solicited photos and video to help catch criminals. The Boston Marathon bombing is a famous example. Private cellphone video of the police murder of George Floyd was crucial in convicting the officers involved. Few would question the value or legitimacy of those uses. – Will Collette

Charlestown police have already issued two tickets using the new system, Allen said. While it’s not clear what fine the tickets levy, the municipal ordinance they are issued under provides for penalties up to a $500 fine or 30 days imprisonment.

Allen, who previously served as chief of the Charlestown Police Department during a 32-year law enforcement career, said the new policy was “a first for me.” 

“I never really heard of it,” Allen said. “But times are changing, right?”

Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, had a stronger reaction to the new policy. 

“It sounds very disturbing,” Brown said. “The idea of delegating private citizens to engage in this type of law enforcement activity seems quite inappropriate.”

“That’s something that we might very well look into once we get more information about what’s going on,” he added. “If the town is essentially deputizing private residents to enforce a local ordinance, it’s problematic.” 

Scott Keeley, a shoreline access advocate and Charlestown resident, said the policy has created “vigilantes” gathering information for law enforcement. 

“It doesn’t sound right to me at all,” Keeley said. “I didn’t even know that was possible.” 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Weaponizing video or photo taking as a tool for harassment is, in my opinion, way over the line. Charlestown Citizens Alliance leader Cliff Vanover used to use his camera to provoke opponents or bait them into a fight. He did that to me. He succeeded in provoking then Town Council President Jim Mageau to push away Vanover’s camera. That led to an assault charge by Vanover against Mageau that ended up in a circus trial. But the actual legality of Cliff’s actions has never been judged in court. – Will Collette

The new policy comes as the town continues to navigate a fraught situation on the Charlestown side of the Quonochontaug Barrier Beach, which begins in Westerly and stretches 1.7 miles east before ending at a state breachway. 

The Nope’s Island Conservation Association, which owns the majority of the land on the barrier beach in Charlestown, has been pressuring the town to more strictly enforce a town ordinance that prevents vehicles from traveling on the beach face in Charlestown during the summer months. Nope’s Island members say four-wheel-drive vehicles are damaging the dunes.

Allen said the evidence that led to the two tickets was submitted to the police department by the conservation group.

Shoreline access advocates and fishermen who use the area have accused the conservation association of overstating the threat of vehicles as part of a “ruse” aimed at making the area less accessible to visitors. The Nope’s Island Conservation Association is associated with the Weekapaug Fire District, which is fighting two costly legal battles to prevent public access to the barrier beach shores. The two organizations share the same address, the fire district headquarters, and belong to a membership group that sets policies on the barrier beach.

People pushing for increased police enforcement also contend the Sand Trail path that leads down  the barrier beach and onto the beach sand in Charlestown does not give the public the right to access the state property at the breachway. The path is currently before the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council for consideration as a state designated right-of-way to the shore, and the Weekapaug Fire District has taken the case to court to prevent a public designation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Weekapaug is one of those fake fire districts that lacks the ability to fight fires, instead serving as a homeowners’ association. = Will Collette

Earlier this year, Charlestown Town Council member Stephen Stokes held a private meeting with Nope’s Island and officials from Charlestown, Westerly, the CRMC, DEM, and Rhode Island Mobile Sportfishermen, which also owns property on the barrier beach in Charlestown, to discuss concerns the conservation group has about vehicles on the barrier beach.

The town council later considered an ordinance change to expand the dates of the beach driving restrictions, but the plan was abandoned following outcry from beach access advocates and skepticism from some town council members.

People interested in the issue had considered it settled for the time being. Then photos surfaced this week of signs posted on Nope’s Island Conservation Association land implying visitors could face enforcement action.

Two signs photographed read:

“Sand Trail Ends…Private Property

No Vehicle Trespassing……Violators Will Be Ticketed By Camera”

Allen, Charlestown’s administrator, said the signs do not belong to the town or state and Nope’s Island Conservation Association President Michael Sands has acknowledged that he placed them on Nope’s Island property.

Allen said the town does not plan to remove the signs. When it was pointed out to him that the signs could be read to suggest enforcement of trespass law, while Nope’s Island is assisting the town with enforcing an ordinance about driving on the beach face, Allen said, “Well, fine, then it’s not legally valid then. So what’s the problem?”

“What do you want me to say?” Allen said regarding the signs. “You want me to go down there and throw them away? I’m not throwing them away. It’s on private property. It’s on Nope’s Island property.”

Allen said he forwarded the information to CRMC in case the signs violate state regulations and CRMC is investigating the situation.

In a statement sent to The Public’s Radio, Sands, the Nope’s Island president, said his organization has “photographic resources and evidence of vehicles illegally trespassing on our property that we share with respective law enforcement officials. Those same photos may contain violations of Charlestown, CRMC and DEM laws at the same time. That is for the respective agencies to determine.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s not illegal for a private group to take photos and videos and then forward them to law enforcement along with their allegations. Does it have a chilling effect on beachgoers? Sure it does.

The CRMC and DEM did not immediately respond when asked by email Friday morning if the agencies had received any video or other image evidence from Nope’s Island and acted on it.

Brown, of the ACLU, called the signs Nope’s Island put up on the barrier beach “completely inappropriate.”

“Private residents have no right to be putting up signs saying that people are going to be ticketed,” he said. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rhode Island General Laws 11-14-1 makes it a crime to impersonate a “public officer.” The law’s definition would apply to Charlestown Police, the Town of Charlestown, CRMC or DEM. The Nope’s Island signs that claim that “Violators will be ticketed by camera” looks to me like a fit. But hey, I’m not a lawyer. – Will Collette

Keeley, the shoreline access advocate, said the signs and video surveillance will have the effect of scaring away people who have a right to visit the shore, which he believes is the intent of Nope’s Island. 

“They’re getting a private beach for filming and turning people in,” Keeley said. “I’m surprised that the Charlestown police would support that. Maybe they just don’t understand its intent is to privatize the shore.”

How J.D. Vance described his new boss


Gallery event - July 20

Unchecked human activity is clearing the skies of flying animals and insects.

Hummingbirds Are in Rapid Decline

BY Sy Montgomery

In Native American lore, bees symbolize community; Celtic myths tell us bees are spirit messengers from the Otherworld. Around the world, butterflies evoke the promise of metamorphosis. And the sparkling, hovering hummingbirds, because they are impossibly tiny and fast and beautiful, are emblems of irrepressible life.

The Aztecs believed hummingbirds, who are furious fighters, are reincarnated warriors. They’ve returned to life with swords as beaks, continuing their battles forever in the sky. They called them huitzitzil and ourbiri—“rays of the sun” and “tresses of the day star.”

Early Spanish visitors to the New World, seeing hummingbirds for the first time (they only live in this half of the globe), called them “resurrection birds.” They believed that anything that glittered so brightly had to have been made new each day.

In the Dominican Republic, people call them suma flor—“buzzing flower.” The Portuguese called them beija-flor, or “flower kisser.”

Today, perhaps more than ever before, we thirst for community. We hanker for transformation. We long to reconnect with the incandescence of life. We need to make those inner journeys. But what if there are no bees or butterflies or hummingbirds to accompany us?

It’s a growing possibility. A shocking number of pollinators, including hummingbirds, are in dire danger. Honeybees are suffering from colony collapse disorder. Bumblebee populations are crashing. You are 50 percent less likely to see a bumblebee than you were in 1974.

Butterfly populations have decreased, according to one estimate, by 33 percent since 2000.

Three billion birds—one in four—have disappeared from North American skies since 1970. Audubon’s “Birds and Climate Change Report” (2014) warns that half of all birds in North America are at risk, and it singles out four species of hummingbirds—including the Allen’s hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin)—projected to lose 90 percent of their small breeding range due to human-induced climate disruption by 2080.

PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ can be absorbed through human skin

Plastic waste penetrates your body

Oddný RagnarsdóttirUniversity of BirminghamMohammed AbdallahUniversity of Birmingham, and Stuart HarradUniversity of Birmingham

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or synthetic forever chemicals have been detected everywhere from the Arctic ice and its polar bears to penguin colonies in Tasmania, even in rain water and sea spray. These persistent chemicals have been found in the blood of people all over the world, as well as in human breast milk. Indeed, our team has even found them in dust from the International Space Station.

But not much is yet known about how PFAS gets into our bodies. Possible pathways include ingesting (food, water and other products that contain PFAS) or breathing in air contaminated with PFAS particles. Our recent research shows that it’s possible for PFAS to penetrate human skin and reach our bloodstream.

PFAS are found in many consumer products, including skincare products, cosmetics and waterproof clothing. These compounds are often referred to as “forever chemicals” due to their persistence in nature and in the human body where they can stay for many years.

Our new study shows that dermal exposure – absorption of PFAS through the skin – could be an important pathway into the human body. Using 3D models of lab-grown human skin tissue that mimic the properties of real human skin, our team of environmental chemists investigated the dermal permeation (the uptake of a chemical through our skin) of 17 different PFAS chemicals.

Our results suggest, for the first time, that many of these compounds can indeed be absorbed though the human skin, contrary to what has been previously believed about the skin acting as a barrier.

Westerly DINO Sam Azzinaro draws an opponent

Jonathan Daly-LaBelle is running for state rep in Westerly's District 37


Daly-LaBelle (right) on sidewalk in front of his Wakefield real estate office
Steve Ahlquist: You have some news? What's up?

Jonathan Daly-LaBelle: I went to Westerly Town Hall a little before four o'clock, and I filed my declaration of candidacy to run for state rep against the incumbent, Sam Azzinaro in District 37.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Jonathan is challenging Azzinaro in the Democratic primary on September 10. There is no Republican in the race, so the primary winner wins it all. - Will Collette

Steve Ahlquist: Why are you running?

Jonathan Daly-LaBelle: I decided to give the incumbent a challenge and give the people of Westerly a choice. The person who's currently serving is anti-choice and against most gun regulations. He was the primary sponsor of the book-banning legislation that was moving around in the State House last year, and he was very vocal and influential against turning VJ Day into Peace and Remembrance Day.

Steve Ahlquist: I want to talk about that because I'm meeting you here right after your peace protest outside Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's Providence office. Can you talk to me about that activism, which you've been doing as long as I've known you?

Jonathan Daly-LaBelle: I have two main silos to my activism. They both relate to issues of peace and anti-militarism. The one that you're referencing is oftentimes just myself. Other times I have another peace activist or two who joins me - sometimes we have a small crowd - but we've been going outside congressional member's offices, as well as other locations around the state, for about seven years now, focused on reducing military spending. When issues of high priority come up, we'll shift focus to.

Steve Ahlquist: Like Palestine.

Jonathan Daly-LaBelle: Right. Right now we're looking for a permanent ceasefire. That was my sign, “Say it, Sheldon “Permanent Ceasefire.” It's our taxpayer money. So that's where that focus is.

The second part is that I'm one of six to eight peace organizers in a loose-knit group called Just Peace RI. We've just finished our fourth year collaborating, trying to move issues forward at the State House that relate to peace and anti-militarism

Steve Ahlquist: And that's the group that wants to change Victory Day to Peace and Remembrance Day.

Jonathan Daly-LaBelle: Correct. The primary sponsor of that was Representative Jennifer Stewart. It's very important to her. That was her initiative and we were happy to support her. We want to reframe societal thinking. Why are we celebrating a situation that ended up killing hundreds of thousands of people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and celebrating the use of the worst weapons known to man? Why can't we frame it as peace? That should be part of our new societal template. We will still have the remembrance - nobody wants to minimize the service of the people who fought in that, or any war. In general, when people sign up, they're thinking in terms of trying to promote democracy, trying to promote freedom. Unfortunately, we know that's not always the case, but we want to remember the people who were lost and acknowledge that sacrifice.

Steve Ahlquist: Theoretically, isn't the ultimate goal of every war peace? We're not supposed to be doing it because we love war. Theoretically, we're doing it because we want there to be peace.

Jonathan Daly-LaBelle: I hear what you're saying, and we align on these things for sure. I think a lot of the time that's how war is framed, but at the same time, war theoretically could be peace-related, but a lot of it is over resources, territory, and religion. It's framed as "once we get our way, there will be peace." That's not a healthy society.

Steve Ahlquist: I was being a bit flippant because I know there's a strong factor of capitalism built into this - the selling of arms and the instigation of war is a way of making obscene profits for people who own munitions companies.

Jonathan Daly-LaBelle: To your point, it can be framed that way because ultimately everybody should want a peaceful world, who can be against that?

Steve Ahlquist: Who would be against that out loud?

Jonathan Daly-LaBelle: My opponent is locked into Victory Day. I don't think renaming that day is the number one issue in the world right now or for the constituents that I would like to represent in Westerly, but I have talked to people in Westerly about this, and everybody who I've talked to, says that it's not their top priority, but also, why is it Victory Day? Rhode Island is the only state that still celebrates.

Steve Ahlquist: That's interesting because “top priority” isn't what the State House is about. They passed hundreds of bills there this year. Most of the bills passed were not top priority, they were just bills that passed. We're capable of doing more than one thing, and the General Assembly does hundreds of things every year.

Jonathan Daly-LaBelle: I realize it's going to be a challenge to get into office. A few years ago there was a movement to put less power into the hands of the Speaker and give more power to the committees - to have the House be a more democratic institution. I'm going to be looking at what has happened in the past that would move some of the power away from the Speaker and give the members the ability to move things forward and not just wait for what the Speaker or the Senate President wants.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Slyke of hand, again

Van Slyke defends Budget Chair who helped mess up town finances

By Will Collette

Sartor is outta here
On July 8, the Charlestown Town Council appointed two applicants to fill the two vacancies on the Budget Commission; returning Commission member, Gregory Plunkett and Michael Marcylenas, who holds a bachelors degree in Actuarial Mathematics.

This has mightily angered long-time Budget Chair Richard Sartor’s patrons, the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA PAC). Their leading scribe Bonnita Van Slyke penned another one of her fact-challenged missives praising Sartor to the heavens and condemning the CCA’s archenemies, Charlestown Residents United (CRU), which holds a 4 to 1 majority on the Council.

When Van Slyke was still on the Council (she’s hoping to make a comeback), I wrote a series of “Slyke of Hand” articles taking apart Van Slyke’s numerous false or ridiculous claims, mostly about town finances. Here we go again.

She wrote the broadside reprinted below. The parts in blue are the exact words attributed to her (I don’t know if she actually wrote it). The parts in bold red are my fact-checking and rebuttal. Here we go.

Silencing A Voice Of Experience On The Charlestown Budget Commission

Bonnie Van Slyke 

On July 8, the current Charlestown Town Council majority got rid of a highly qualified and experienced member of the Budget Commission, Dick Sartor. Mr. Sartor had applied to be reappointed, and he was not. This sacking of Mr. Sartor was carried out by a Town Council majority that says institutional knowledge, and qualifications, are of utmost importance in government.

Sartor’s institutional knowledge and experience is that of screwing up. That does’t entitle him to another term. Read on for specifics.

Mr. Sartor was, until July 8, the chair of the Commission. He had served admirably on the Commission for almost 20 years. He has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in public administration. He has over 40 years of experience in town and city management, and he served as Charlestown’s Town Administrator in the early 2000s. He is skilled in budgetary preparation, planning, and evaluation of fiscal proposals.

The Budget Commission advises the Town Council on budgetary matters. The reason the Council’s action is so completely mind boggling is that our town has seen its Town Administrator of 10 years forced out by this Council majority, has had two Town Treasurers leave, and is now on its third auditing firm—all since November 2022.

Van Slyke (CCA photo)
WHOA! What an incredible pack of lies. Town Administrator Mark Stankiewicz was NOT forced out. In fact, he had lined up a new job months BEFORE the 2022 election, but milked months of extra salary from the taxpayers.

Stanky began his new job as Berkley, MA’s town manager on his last day in Charlestown in February 2023. He lasted six weeks.

Van Slyke knows all this but repeats the CCA lie because the truth makes them look like chumps.

Then, over objections from top financial officials in Pawtucket, Stanky got a patronage job as Finance Director from Mayor Donald Grebien even though he admitted he was “no finance guy.” His Charlestown experience certainly showed that.

In Pawtucket, Stankiewicz has helped Mayor Griebien get a close to 50% pay hike and a massive corporate welfare scheme for a planned $137 million soccer stadium heavily subsidized by taxpayers all while Pawtucket’s schools are having trouble paying their bills. Stanky is still a political stooge but on a much larger scale.

And Bonnie misses him.

Incidentally, Stanky took Irina Gorman, one of those failed Town Treasurers mentioned in Bonnie’s letter, with him to fill the same job in Pawtucket. Further on, I deal with the auditors.

Mark Stankiewicz was a terrible town administrator. How terrible? CLICK HERE. Among his worst offenses was covering up the Sartor and CCA “$3 million oopsie” as well as the CCA’s shady land deals.

He kept his job because he did exactly what the CCA told him to do, even if it was unethical or illegal.

Were it not for Dick Sartor’s experience and skill at the helm of the Budget Commission, the town would not have been able to develop the 2024–2025 budget on time this past June. There was no draft budget; there was no audit of the previous year’s finances; and there was little to no institutional knowledge in the Finance Department.

The problems Van Slyke complains about were caused by Sartor and the CCA and the mess they left behind. The CCA, Budget Commission, Charlestown’s long-time auditor and Stankiewicz failed to spot a “$3 million oopsie” – a misallocation of funds that remained unnoticed on the books for almost two years.

Instead of acknowledging the “oopsie,” Sartor and the CCA looked for ways to try to cover it up and explain it away. The scapegoated auditor quit.

The CCA hired another auditing firm, Marcum LLP, just before the new majority took office. Marcum’s audit confirmed the serious problems that had escaped Sartor’s and Stankiewicz’s attention.

That was helpful, but Marcum's over=billing practices were unacceptable. The CRU majority fired them. Shortly after that, the US Securities and Exchange Commission fined Marcum LLP $10,000,000 because, the SEC charged, "Marcum prioritized increased revenue over audit quality.".

In producing this year’s budget, probably his last, Sartor also allegedly committed an unforced error by leading a discussion of raises for the town’s unionized workers.

This violates the terms of their contract – you ONLY discuss terms and conditions within the collective bargaining process. Teamster Local 251 notified the town it will file charges of Unfair Labor Practices (ULPs) with the NLRB. (Agenda Package at page 207). With all of Sartor’s vast knowledge and experience, that’s a rookie mistake.

With Mr. Sartor at the helm of the Budget Commission, Charlestown was the first town in the state to develop a written Fund Balance Policy, which was based on an independent evaluation of the risks the town faces.

Sartor pushed Charlestown to maintain a fund balance (surplus) far in excess of what financial experts consider prudent even for the most generous “rainy day” fund.

Sartor said he wanted to give the town the option to pay cash for major capital projects (roads, bridges, buildings, etc.) instead of issuing low-interest municipal bonds.

Now unless you studied financial management under William Shakespeare (“neither a borrower or lender be” – Polonius in Hamlet), that’s a stupid policy.

Regular people take out mortgages and car loans for household capital costs and don't pay cash. So do normal municipalities. But Sartor’s modus operandi called for a needlessly large surplus that increases taxes.

In good part because of Mr. Sartor’s service, Charlestown is one of the most solvent towns in the state, has been able to achieve a tax rate that is among the lowest in Rhode Island, and has, at the same time, provided excellent government services to taxpayers.

For the 1000th time, the CCA harps on the tax RATE while ignoring the other key factor in determining what you pay in taxes. That’s the property ASSESSMENT.

Tax rate X property assessment = what you pay in taxes.

Charlestown’s tax rate actually went up under the CCA. It stayed relatively low because it was propped up by rising house prices. Average residents still saw steady increases in taxes, but hey, says the CCA, “how ‘bout that tax rate?”

After voters booted the CCA in 2022, the tax rate fell to $5.74 and is expected to go up by only four cents under the new budget. Now, if the CCA was still in power, they’d take credit for the drop and would ignore the role rocketing assessments played in causing the drop.

Sartor’s only role was to trumpet the CCA’s false narrative that only the tax rate matters. If that’s the case, the CRU’s 2023 tax rate at $5.74 beat the CCA’s peak rate of $10.21 by almost half.

The loss of Mr. Sartor’s knowledge, experience, and institutional knowledge is unfortunate. One can only wonder why the Town Council majority would remove Mr. Sartor’s practiced eye from oversight of the town’s budget.

"Practiced eye?" "Oversight?" how do you spell "oopsie?" Richard Sartor vehemently opposed a proposal by Town Council President Deb Carney to commission an outside forensic audit triggered by the “$3 million oopsie.” Instead, Sartor and Stanky did the review themselves and, of course, found themselves blameless.

One last item that is part of Sartor’s legacy. Under him and the CCA majority, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) ranked Charlestown as having the highest administrative costs in the state. Details HERE.

If Sartor was an honorable man, he would have taken his fair share of blame for Charlestown’s financial chaos and $3 million oopsie and resigned. Instead, tapes of Budget Commission meetings show Sartor was much more concerned about protecting his image, minimizing the problems in public perception and assigning blame to others.

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Initial Court Ruling Tosses Sand on R.I.’s Year-Old Beach Access Law

Far-Right law group kicks sand in our faces

By Rob Smith / ecoRI News staff

It’s looking like the Ocean State’s new shoreline access law might meet the same fate as a beachside sandcastle this summer.

On Friday, Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter issued a preliminary decision, siding with private property owners who seek to overturn the state’s new shoreline access legislation passed last year by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Dan McKee.

The plaintiff in the case, Stilts LLC of Charlestown, a private company that owns the part-time beachfront home of David Welch, argued successfully before the judge that the new law amounted to an unconstitutional takings of private property. It was Stilts LLC’s second lawsuit challenging the law.

In her initial decision, Taft-Carter wrote that by changing the boundary of public access, lawmakers permanently extended a right of access and prohibited private property owners’ right to exclude the public from their property.

“The Act reduced the Plaintiff’s ‘bundle of rights’ inherent in the ownership of property,” she wrote. “By expanding the preexisting boundary line to ten feet landward of the recognizable high tide line and confiscating the Plaintiff’s property resulting in an unconstitutional taking.”

Not mentioned in the decision was what kind of compensation Stilts LLC and other waterfront property owners can expect. A key argument in the plaintiff’s lawsuit was that without just compensation, the new law was an unconstitutional taking of private property by the government.

The judge’s final decision is expected later this summer.

It was Stilts LLC’s second attempt at overturning the shoreline access law. Last summer, the first lawsuit was brought by the Rhode Island Association of Coastal Taxpayers (RIACT), an anti-shoreline access group led by Welch, who owns four residential lots along Charlestown Beach in South Kingstown. That lawsuit, filed in Rhode Island District Court, was dismissed last September by Judge William Smith for lack of standing.