November 4, 2005

Crisis in West Warwick

Carroll Andrew Morse

Thursday’s Projo reported on the total breakdown in relations between West Warwick Town Council President Jeanne-Marie DiMasi and the rest of the West Warwick Town Council…

DiMasi, speaking in measured tones, said her speech would "change my life forever." Soon, she was leveling highly personal attacks against town officials seated only feet away, and shouting over the objections of the council vice president, who pleaded for decorum….

DiMasi departed the meeting immediately after her speech [and] the other four council members unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution calling for an end to her presidency…

The Projo reported on what may be at least one long-term source of conflict…
Opposition to DiMasi's leadership has increased for several months and was particularly inflamed by her support for the proposed widespread demolition of homes and shops in the downtown district to accommodate giant retail stores.
DiMasi has consistently favored “big box” development, while other council members have favored a less disruptive approach. This is from the Projo of October 21
DiMasi has maintained that only large stores will maximize the benefits of the legislation, raising huge revenues for the town that could pay for improving the district's dreary landscape….

The other policymakers, however, passionately disagreed. [Councilman John Flynn] said the downtown would probably never return to being the heart of Rhode Island retail or a statewide Saturday night hotspot. But building mammoth shops, he said, would create the next generation of abandoned mills.

In fact, several council members said, it is the looming prospect of a slash-and-burn redevelopment strategy that has forestalled economic investment in Arctic.

"Arctic wants to redevelop itself," council member Leo J. Costantino Jr. said. "If we left the thing alone it would have done that."

DiMasi’s style of leadership seems always to have been something less than collegial. DiMasi has been the local-level point-woman in the effort to bring a casino to West Warwick spearheaded by State Senator Steven Alves and State Representative Tim Williamson. However, in her casino dealings, DiMasi has not always kept the town council in the loop. This is from the Projo of June 25, 2004
When pressed, however, for details of the town's agreement with Harrah's, DiMasi said, "It's hard to give specifics at this point because we haven't agreed to everything yet. Not all of the council knows about it because only certain people have been working on this….”
In 2003, she recommended replacing the outgoing town engineer with an engineering firm with politcal ties to Alves and to West Warwick State Representative (and Speaker of the House) William Murphy. This is from the Projo of December 18, 2003
DiMasi said she would invite Steven M. Clarke, of Commonwealth Engineers & Consultants, in Providence, to make the presentation next month -- not to make a pitch for his own firm, she said, but to explain the "concept" of hiring a company rather than an individual.

Clarke is a prolific contributor to political campaigns. Last year, he contributed $200 to the reelection campaign of Sen. Stephen D. Alves, a West Warwick Democrat. He has also made recent contributions to House Speaker William J. Murphy and a host of state and Providence officials.

So what’s the point of the above bit of local history? The big box redevelopment favored by Council President DiMasi would require huge eminent domain takeovers of property in West Warwick. Here’s Nicholas Cambio, a local developer who studied the issue…

"As I've understood the objective, you are proposing to take over a significant part of the town. That's a pretty complicated thing to undertake," especially if it involves seizing land through eminent domain and displacing people from their homes.

Cambio never publicly discussed the size of the investment required to buy up and rebuild Arctic, but Weigel said he'd heard an estimate of a billion dollars.

The people of West Warwick -- like most Americans -- are not happy with the idea that their leaders may use large-scale eminent domain seizures against them to increase the tax base. Their leaders, on the other hand, don't see a problem. In its last session, the Rhode Island legislature passed up the chance to outlaw the kind of eminent domain takeovers being proposed in West Warwick. House bill 5242, which prohibited the use of eminent domain to transfer property to a private entity, was killed in committee.

When a bill is killed in a legislative committee, it is because the legislative leadership wants it killed as quietly as possible. Is it pure coincidence that a few powerful members of the Rhode Island’s legislative leadership -- Speaker of the House William Murphy, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steven Alves, and House Judiciary Committee Vice-Chairman Tim Williamson (the House Judiciary Committee is where eminent domain bills are sent to die) -- are both political allies of West Warwick’s biggest eminent domain proponent and uninterested in reforming the state’s eminent domain laws?

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let's not forget the 5 years she failed to pay her car taxes, amounting to THOUSANDS of dollars she skirted, while somehow registering a vehicle with the DMV during that time.

how did THAT happen? maybe it has something to do with her pal Sen. Alves' family/political connections with the registry...

and to say that this is only the tip of the iceburg would be an understatement

Posted by: tim at November 4, 2005 10:11 AM

Nice work Andrew.
This is the kind of blogging I hope we see more of from this site.
A spotlight on corruption in Rhode Island and the political allies of those involved.
If possible could you try to plug into the board of elections scandal and start to paint that picture?
Surely you and your colleagues must know people "in the know" about that case, a case of blatant ethical and in my opinion legal impropriety with one of our most important state boards, the board of elections.
That story cannot be allowed to die on the vine of secrecy.
For the life of me I cannot understand why the Republican party is not making major noise about this in the media. At the very least they should be holding press conferences in front of the ethics commission over the public admissions of improper (illegal??) behavior on the part of the board's chariman.
The lack of public reaction from the RI Republican party is baffling and embarrassing.
Makes you wonder what they are hiding.

Posted by: Tim at November 5, 2005 9:21 AM

I don't know much about Ms. DiMasi, although if she is tossing around eminent domain, I'm not in her corner. But I'm not surprised to see Wolfgang Bauer involved in possible wrongdoing - ask people in Franklin, Mass., where he used to work. It sounds like there's corruption all over the lot here.

Posted by: rhody at November 7, 2005 2:26 AM