Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Protecting Our Right to Know in Middletown

Anyone who thinks that politics isn't a contact sport hasn't recently been to a Council meeting in Middletown. I don't usually attend but I did this time as I was concerned over a new policy masquerading as a "memo" regarding acccess to public records.

This backdates to an article in the "Newport Daily News' by reporter Matt Sheley. Councilman Ed Silveira, the White Knight (wearing a light tan suit), was preparing for the upcoming budgeting season. He requested, as many Councilors do, specific information regarding various items from the Town Manager, Gerry Kempen (the man in between a rock & a hard place). Gerry then forwarded his e-mails to the Finance Manager, Sean Brown, & asked him to comply.

The problem seems to have arisen a few days later when Ed requested info regarding the Senior Center. The Senior Center director is Arleen Kaul. The Daily News article forgot to mention that Arleen is the sister of the Council Prez, Paul Roderiques (what happened to full disclosure). Access to information seems to have then stopped. This was due to a memo issued by Kempen "The Man"(after Silveira kept requesting the info) that seemed to imply that any information requested by a Councilor had to first be approved by the Council Prez.

The White Knight then went to the A.G's office who also had concerns about the policy. He stopped short of filing a complaint concerned that doing so would cost the town money (although he or someone else may still do so) . He then went to the Daily News. After the News reporter contacted Administrator Kempen, the items he requested then started flowing to him. He had originally been informed that to receive any info regarding the Sr. Ctr., he would have to make an appointment with the director, but some of that into was also sent.

The Town Administrator then modified his original memo stating that whoever was requesting public records should receive the records. However, copies of the info should be given to the Town Administrator who would then forward them to the Council Prez. It would then be up to the Prez to disseminate or not the info as he saw fit. Now this applies not just to Councilors requesting info, but anyone. Ever request info from them? Would you like it distributed at a Council meeting & then to the press? Think about it. The type of info that this applies to is not specified.

At this point the White Knight has obtained most of the requested info, but not all. He then put this policy on the agenda for last night's meeting so that it could be discussed in public. The Knight proceeded with a very calm explanation of what had transpired & his reasoning for questioning the new policy. Then began the crucifixion (Councilor Mello was absent). The major sin seems to be that he went to the paper when he didn't get his info. The second sin is that he DID get his info & was questioning what was termed by Councilor "Inspector" Sylvia as a "memo," or an "in-house policy" but not a "policy." (???)

The White Knight was concerned that"Big Brother shouldn't be monitoring" info that is being requested. It is a "breach of public trust" as was the forwarding of his e-mail requests by "The Man" Kempen to the Prez. He requested info on the fund reserve. He believes that this account is overfunded and $3.5 mil should be returned to the General Fund (read as tax cut)! He also believes that the account holding GMH funds is overfunded and some of this $ could be used to fund sports in the middle school!!

Councilor Ed was concerned that the e-mails to "the Man" Kempen (wouldn't want that job) also made their way to the Council Pres. regarding info that he had requested. Why? This was not common practice previously and seems to have been placed in effect just for him after he made requests.

The Prez responded that the White Knight was "way out of bounds, Mister," had an "axe to grind," and that going to the "News" was "just plain wrong." He was also concerned that a "council member becomes blind-sided" and that "you need to be able to read." Councilor DiPalma thought this policy should be brought before the Council and was "taken aback" that this policy applied not only to Councilors but to the public. The response was that "we don't need one [policy]." Councilman Silveira made "something out of nothing." Councilman "Inspector" Sylvia thought this was all "pixie dust, black magic, and smoke and mirrors."

The White Knight's quoting of Open Meeting Laws was ignored as was his maintaining that 10 days is the limit for requested records to be presented. Resident Art Benner then spoke on the tapes that Councilman Ed had requested. He reminded him that the library has these tapes and was concerned that all this was a "waste of time," and upset that "this crap was going on." Applause from the small audience here including Director Kaull & other officers of the current Democratic Town Committee. No mention of the new policy or its implications.

Once more the Prez stated that he was "too busy for all this stuff." Yet he wants all this "stuff" submitted to him for review which is a bit surprising. This is a policy designed to intimidate requesting any info and it most ceretainly doesn't pass the "sniff test." The White Knight was right, "If it walks like a duck..." As for the Democrats now being united, again, that's pretty much blow apart. The promised rapprochement was just blowing in the wind, but it certainly made for good press. The fact that Councilor White Knight & DiPalma rec'd the barest minimum of committee assignments while Republican Councilor "Mother Theresa" Santos was inundated surely hinted at that. In other words, toe our line or we isolate you. So much for extending the hand of friendship. That's party unity???? This is a Democratic Council after all.

Go, White Knight! Be unafraid. Councilman DiPalma is guarding your flank. You get those records & examine them. You file complaints if you need to. It's OUR MONEY. That's why we elected you, to ask questions no matter who is unhappy that you do. Follow that money!

You'll see a Projo story on this. Also the Daily News. This will most certainly be ongoing!

BTW, The News says that Councilman Sylvia was an "endorsed Dem." He wasn't. Heck, that's part of what is causing all these problems.


Anonymous said...

Did "Inspector" Sylvia forget to mention that mixed in the "pixie dust, black magic and smoke and mirrors." he accuses Ed Silveira of, is his own, behind the scenes, request to increase the retirement benefits for his fellow retired police officers'? He just so happens to be president of of that group! Now that-sounds more like smoke and mirrors!

Anonymous said...

Yes, he did forget to mention that. Glad that you did.