On Monday, September 9th, Charlestown once again witnessed the spectacle (or perhaps debacle) of the actions of the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) dominated Town Council. The issue this time was the filling of a vacancy on the Parks and Recreation Commission.
Under Council Rules and Procedures, Section 13.2, it states that “The Town Council will continue the practice of appointing the best-qualified persons to boards, commissions and committees without regard to personal or political affiliations.” (emphasis added). Please keep this rule in mind as we review what transpired at the Monday council meeting.
There were two applicants to fill the vacancy, Christine M. Holden and Jodi J. Frank. Ms. Holden’s one page resume indicated she was a realtor and a resident of Charlestown for some time. She also apparently was acceptable to the CCA. Ms. Frank’s resume extended over nine pages of information pertinent to the skills needed by a member of a Parks and Recreation Commission and took some time to delineate when it was presented to the council. It included extensive educational and academic credentials, including a PhD doctorate in Sport, Leisure, and Exercise Science and a Masters in Therapeutic Recreation Management. It included extensive practical experience including being certified in over half a dozen fitness, recreation, and aerobics areas. It included being a college professor in various Health and Physical Education Departments at, for instance, Rhode Island College and Eastern Connecticut State University. It included being a fifteen time Ironman Triathlon finisher. And this is only a small sample of her accomplishments. Ms. Frank also has had six years of experience on the Charlestown Parks and Recreation Commission, until she and several others who were not CCA supporters were removed. She was far and away the best-qualified personfor the position.
Why then did the Council violate its own rules and select the much less qualified candidate, Ms. Holden, on a 4 to 1 strict party-line vote? Ms. Frank is an independent contractor (not an employee) who, as a certified life guard trainer, has been helping train and improve the life guarding at Charlestown beaches to avoid a significant increase in our liability insurance after a very poor Red Cross review. The CCA Council members concluded that, as a “town employee”, she should not be on a voluntary commission with jurisdiction over her work. It should be noted that: (1) neither the Charter nor any other relevant document contains any prohibition for an employee of the city working on any board or commission, let alone in a voluntary position, (2) the Parks and Recreation Commission does not set policy or engage in personnel matters. It is an advisory board whose recommendations are presented to the Council for any necessary actions, (3) the Council did not raise this issue when Cody Clarkin, a long time Charlestown town employee, was placed on the Commission, (4) Ms. Frank served on the Commission in the past while working, as an independent contractor, for the city.
It should be noted that Ms. Frank has attended every Commission meeting since January, even those many meetings that were cancelled because of a lack of a quorum. She suggested that the Council approve a one month delay in their decision to allow the Town Solicitor to investigate the Council’s concerns and to give her a chance to decide if she would quit her work for the Town to be able to serve on the Commission. There was, after all, no urgency in filling this vacancy. A motion to that effect did not even receive a second on the Council.
So once again the CCA continues to pack town governmental bodies with only their supporters in complete disregard for the qualifications or desires of other Charlestown residents and of their own rules. Given the important items coming before the town government in the near future, like the Comprehensive Town Plan which can define how the town develops and uses its resources for many years into the future, this pandering to CCA’s self-interest over the interests of the rest of Charlestown’s residents is not only inexcusable, but is obscene.
Kenneth Robbins, Charlestown
This article appeared in The Westerly Sun as a Letter to the Editor on September 14.