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Some things, sadly, never change

Charlestown Voters: The current proposal to spend 3.1 million dollars of YOUR money to construct a new “community center” is so disingenuous that I felt I had an obligation to share some facts on the matter. As someone who devoted over 25 years of their life serving as your Director of Parks & Recreation and then 4 years at the highest level of government as your Town Council member, I would respectfully suggest that I am uniquely “qualified” to speak on the subject of parks & recreation, budgets, and specifically the development of Ninigret Park.

During my 30+ year tenure representing you, the residents of Charlestown, I was involved in the development of many events, programs and recreation facilities. Unfortunately, I also had to endure more than my fair share of the mistruths and backroom “politics” that went on then, and clearly continue to go on today in our little town. It is these same backroom politics that are now leading the charge to spend 3.1 million of your dollars, not to address a problem or need, but rather to address the selfishness of a few.

One of the many tasks I was involved in during my long career was the development of the “Ninigret Park Master Plan “. A plan that was developed over the course of a year+ of meetings, public input, surveys, engineering plans, feasibility studies, environmental studies, budgets, and all of the elements that you would think would go into any project before a single dollar was requested or approved, let alone over 3 million dollars! But that is NOT the case here. It is blatantly obvious to me (and many others) what is going on and I felt it was important to share some facts so the residents of Charlestown will be honestly informed before 3.1 million of your dollars are used to appease a handful of people.

The Ninigret Park Master Plan was not only developed after all of the aforementioned elements were thoroughly and properly addressed, but it was also created in a manner which made the most sense developmentally and financially. During the many meetings and public hearings which were held prior to the Master Plan being adopted, there was a very small handful of people who voiced their objections to the plan, and in particular, to the development of a dedicated “entertainment/concert area” in Ninigret Park.

This same handful of people just so happen to live next door to Ninigret Park in a very affluent neighborhood and are some of the same people who are now leading the charge to use your money to supposedly build a new “Community Center” in the same space the “entertainment/concert area” was proposed. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why…these folks have beautiful homes in one of the most desired communities in our town and if they had their way, they would never hear kids laughing and playing in the park or god forbid, musical entertainment being performed. They would be able to sit on their beautiful decks and listen only to the birds chirping and silence.

And as much as I too don’t love waiting in line at Cumby’s to get gas or to be seated at a local restaurant during the busy summer months, I know this is part of living in a summer tourist community that our local businesses survive year round on and that it’s part of the “big picture”. So I get it, but what I don’t get is putting forth a disingenuous plan to address these concerns by taking 3.1 million of our dollars, without meetings, input, studies, engineering, feasibility studies, a realistic budget for all construction costs, maintenance, staffing, etc. or any of the other elements that should be addressed before a single dollar is committed.

But that’s not happening here. In fact, this Town Council, 4 of 5 members whom belong to a very powerful political action committee, have been making every decision for the past few years in their best interest, and not yours! These folks are so determined to take care of their friends and supporters that before you, the voter, has even cast a single ballot on the appropriation of this money (June 3rd), a very expensive legal ad has already run in the Westerly Sun (May 26, pg D5) advertising for the services of an engineer to design a NEW COMMUNITY CENTER BUILDING IN NINGRET PARK! How can this be when the funds haven’t even been approved yet? I have seen a lot in my time here but this has to be one of the most disrespectful things I have ever seen. What the current Town Council is saying is “it doesn’t matter how the vote goes on June 3rd, we are going forward with this plan anyway!”

Money doesn’t matter to those involved which I was further reminded of when I received a printed glossy brochure at my home this week sent out by this same political action committee encouraging people to vote yes on the budget and the allocation of 3.1 million dollar. I found it very interesting how the brochure stated that 3.1 million dollars would be used to construct a “possible Community Center”. “Possible?” I think the only thing that is “possible” is that we are being misled and that the current Charlestown Town Council has so much power and control that they believe they can do whatever they, or their friends, want without regard for the rest of the residents of this beautiful community.

The facts are easy to see and for one who has championed the development of leisure and recreational activities for my entire adult life, please believe me when I tell you that I would be the first to support anything that would enhance the quality of life for Charlestown residents, but this just isn’t it! It offends me that a few would take the opportunity to use our 3+million dollars surplus, one which we may never see again, to accomplish selfish goals while that money could be spent on actual needs like addressing our underfunded pension system or maybe even how about providing a tax rebate for many who aren’t as fortunate and who may be struggling to make ends meet. Or at worst, why not place the money in an interest bearing account until all of the necessary elements are addressed and all options have been considered, (like perhaps acquiring and demolishing the current eye sore known as the “Cross Mills Fire Station” and study the possibility of locating a community center right in the center of town, located on a large pond, where many could walk or ride bikes to increase participation while at the same time eliminating what has become a black eye in our beautiful community?

The powerful group currently running our town may be touting a “possible” community center but in doing so, they have not only shown their true colors, but have also shown the need to have people involved in town government who represent the best interests of all, and not just the wealthy. A good reminder for some, including MYSELF, that November is just around the corner but until then, I hope you will join me in voting “NO” on June 3rd. Let’s send a message to our leaders that we want a say in how our money is spent! Thank you.

Lisa DiBello

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