In what organizers and many townspeople thought was a “win-win” idea for weary residents about to be released from a mask mandate, nearly everyone but the three councilors who rejected the event proposed by PVD Food Trucks were shocked by the results of the February 28 Charlestown Board Meeting.
Eric Weiner of PVD Food Trucks gave a professional speech, mentioning the very successful events he organizes in the nearby towns of Richmond and S. Kingstown, and in Warwick, Providence and throughout the state, and explained that his organization partnering with the city on their existing music and movie nights made perfect sense. They even offered to pay for an extra hour of group time, portable toilets, trash removal, and marketing.
The Parks and Recreation Commission voted 7 to 1 to approve the improvement, and Craig Marr of the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Improvement Commission raised the issue that it would increase attendance and bring visitors to the city . The Chamber would run the beer and wine tent as it had done for 21 years at the Seafood Festival and arrange for contracted out services which PVD Food Trucks would pay for. Heather Paliotta has also offered to provide volunteers and, in conjunction with the Economic Improvement Commission, to act as co-sponsor of the event.
However, when advisers had time to inquire, it was apparent that the three aligned themselves with the Charlestown Citizens Alliance, led by Bonnie Van Slyke, who said she had ‘a long, long list of questions’ , that it was not going to be easy for Mr. Weiner. She also said she didn’t want to monopolize the conversation, but the meeting continued for another two hours. Councilman Van Slyke lives next to Ninigret Park.
Councilman Clarkin, who has a conflict problem, his father lives in the gatehouse at Ninigret Park, worries about parking and traffic issues, and worries about the dumpster that would be used for waste from the event. His questioning seemed self-serving to many, and even though he sought an advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission on his father’s residency before running for office, there were numerous calls for him to seek one. another for questions relating to Ninigret Park.
Council received 35 emails prior to the meeting on the subject, 33 in favor and 2 against, with many more residents speaking out in favor than against in the public comment section; yet in the end the council overruled the overwhelming will of the voters and overruled the near unanimous vote of the Parks and Recreation Commission and replaced it with a scaled-down event that will ultimately cost taxpayer money in the form of city staff salaries since they now have to plan the event. What should have been a “no-brainer” ended up being replaced by one of “no more than three trucks”, in a 4-to-1 vote, which Council Speaker Carney said was ” doomed to fail”.
Now, after two weeks of online outcry, the board has decided to give Mr. Weiner another chance to make his point Monday night (3/14) at the regular meeting. This will be the first in-person meeting since the end of Mask’s tenure and should be well attended if online comments are accurate. There must also be some concern as councilors Van Slyke and Clarkin added an item to the meeting agenda this week regarding “civility in council meetings”. Stay tuned to find out if the Charlestown town hall becomes its own version of the Boston Tea Party as councilors get bombarded with Saugys, tacos and vegan treats.