March Madness at Town Council on Monday: Arsenic, marijuana, and skateboarding

The Portsmouth Town Council has a full bracket of PCC-sponsored mayhem on Monday, and I would urge all citizens interested in respect for science, medicine, and the right of our children to play as they wish in our public parks to attend.

Under old business, Paul "Transparancy" Kesson has an agenda item to "request that the Council Direct the Town Solicitor to prepare and ordinance limiting contaminates in fill material to the levels existing on land to be filled." Yes, the Council clearly knows better than the RI DEM, the Federal government, and the international scientific community about safe levels of arsenic. If you care about science, the right to use compost, or our taxes (see my previous posts) you'll want to encourage the Council to think long and hard about this one.

Okay, well, maybe just think long.

Then, former PCC director "Cheshire" Kathy Melvin has requested an agenda item, "Request Council Involvement in Approval Process for Locating Marijuana Center in Portsmouth Industrial Park." While I suppose it's possible that Ms. Melvin wants to urge the Council to speed the process along to get medical relief to those who need it, my gut tells me that's not what's going to be requested. Where were Ms. Melvin and the Council when CVS and RiteAid were stocking store shelves in our town with oxycodone? I'm shocked. Shocked, I say.

And to round out the trifecta of wacky, Portsmouth Police Chief Lance Hebert has an item, "Request Council Direction on how to Proceed re: Signage - Skateboarding at Island Park Playground/Police Dept." If you've read the coverage in Patch, you'll know that a new sign banning skating appeared in the Island Park playground, and my guess is that the Chief is going to ask the Council for an ordinance to back it up. Journalists are always looking for hidden connections, and while correlation is not causality, the fact that some of the most vocal landfill wingnuts are also the core of the anti-skate crowd makes me go, "hmmm." Not that the drumbeat of "who approved the aresenic" rhetoric about Town Administrator Bob Driscoll could have scared him into putting up a no-skating sign. I would never believe that. Nope. Not me. Remember that Descartes fundamental axiom is more properly stated as Dubito ergo sum, which makes much more sense when you think about it.

I'll admit, I haven't been going to Council meetings. Given the 4-member PCC bloc, it just hasn't seemed worth trying to reason with them. But these are issues that touch everyone in the community, and even if they're intent on corkscrewing Portsmouth into the ground, I think they should hear from us. Hope to see you there.

Full disclosure: I was a member of the Island Park working group that attempted to find a mediated solution on the skate park, and I was on the side of the skaters.

Localblogging, 02871, skate, Landfill capping, marijuana

IP kids (finally) enjoy a day at the skatepark [update]

IP Kids Skate for Free
Lori Rinkel at Greenside Skatepark.

The Island Park Recreation Association (IPRA) held its first "Kids Skate for Free Day" at the Greenside Skatepark in Middletown this morning, and 22 kids showed up and spent three hours carving the ramps and bowl of the recently opened course. Organizer Lori Rinkel said she was pleased with the turnout, and called the event a success.

In addition to the skating, Rinkel held a raffle for equipment, clothing, and stickers, and provided skateboards and helmets for kids who needed them.

The entire event was free of charge for all skaters living in Island Park, paid for out of donations made over the past two years into the skate park fund.

[Update: Adding disclosure]
Full disclosure: Since we live in Island Park, Jack was one of the kids who got to skate for free, as well as receiving a skateboard and helmet. This was the same benefit given to an entire class — all kids in Island Park — but I wanted to clearly disclose.

Localblogging, 02871, skate

Court freezes skate fund donations

Click image for pdf

The question of what to do with funds raised for Portsmouth's Island Park skate area has ended up in court, with a restraining order being issued today and a hearing set for May 7, according to Denita Rossi, the attorney representing skate group leader Lori Rinkel.

At issue is $7,518 raised over the last year by skate supporters which was deposited into an account controlled by the Island Park Crimewatch organization. With the project currently on hold, skate supporters have asked that the funds be turned over to the Town. Rossi said that both sides were represented by attorneys who have been attempting to work out a resolution.

"We have been in negotiations for weeks," said Rossi, in a phone interview this afternoon. "Then the most recent response was that they would only turn over the funds as long as there wouldn't be a skate park in Island Park."

It was at this point, Rossi said, that they sought a temporary restraining order to "make sure that these funds would be protected in safe keeping as the skate park debate moves forward." That order was granted by Newport Superior Court Judge Nugent this afternoon.

Localblogging, 02871, skate

Big night at Portsmouth council tomorrow

Even if you're not going to the Portsmouth Town Council for the wastewater management plan discussion, there are at least two other items regular readers may care about on the agenda: the Island Park skate area and some PCC proposals to revise the Town Charter.

Tailgunner Gleason has submitted an agenda item "Revisit Island Park Crime Watch/Playground Committee Issue." That's all it says, so what this one's about is anybody's guess, although anyone interested in the skate area will certainly want to be there (and it's before the wastewater discussion, so it will happen at a reasonable hour...)

And then, under new business, Portsmouth Concerned Citizens prez Larry Fitzmorris has a request for the Council to approve four changes to the Town Charter: Charter Review, Elimination of the Straight Party Lever, Recall of Local Elected Officials, and Two Year Terms for the School Committee. While I don't think charter review is necessarily a bad thing (depending on who gets to be on the committee), and I can at least understand the arguments for eliminating the straight party lever (though I don't personally find them compelling), the other two seem to me unlikely to increase the effectiveness of local government.

Let me put it as politely as possible: The PCC's history with Tent Meetings makes me very suspicious of their intentions around a recall ordinance. 'Nuff said.

And as someone who has been a regular attendee at school committee meetings for the past three-and-a-half years, I can tell you that the learning curve is much steeper than it is for the Council. And I'm also unsure how this would square with RI General Law 16-2-5: "In cities or towns having biennial elections the committee shall be divided as equally as may be into two (2) classes whose several terms of office shall expire at the end of four (4) years from the dates of their respective elections."

I'm sure that one could argue the proposed change falls under section 401 of the Town Charter, which says that state election law controls "excepting those provisions which are inconsistent with the provisions of this Charter affecting the form of government." But as I've said before, IANAL. However, I think there should be a requirement for significant evidence to support such a change to the Charter, and I'll be most interested in what the PCC brings to the podium tomorrow night.

Full disclosure: I live in Island Park, and I care about wastewater and the skate area. And as a supporter of our schools, I value accountability in their governance, but not at the potential cost of decreased effectiveness.

Localblogging, 02871, skate

Skate supporters: CDBG hearing Monday night

On Monday evening, the Portsmouth Town Council will discuss this year's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) proposal, and one of the items listed is funding for improvements to the Island Park playground, including, according to a source familiar with the process, "playground improvements to include a skate area."

If you're a supporter of the skate area, please be there tomorrow to speak up for including this project in the grant request. If you can't be there in person, send a note to the council (e-mails below).

Opponents of the skate area have already been communicating with the Council, based on documents obtained by hard deadlines, and I would anticipate there will be a...uh...vigorous discussion.

Just to review a few facts: Funding for the skate area was included in last year's CDBG proposal, so this is nothing new. This is a competitive process, and the money comes from the Federal department of Housing and Urban development. While support would prioritize projects that impact housing (like Church Community Housing Corporation, who manage the senior housing facility, Anthony House, where the PCC have their meetings), improvements to a playground for a low-to-moderate income area such as Island Park are certainly within the scope of such grants.

Also, as a member of the ad-hoc committee which met last summer in a failed attempt to find an acceptable solution, I want to be very clear about what the committee decided. When we could not come to consensus on any of the solutions that were proposed — and supporters progressively backed down from the original design for an true skate park to a small asphalt surface with equipment that could be removed after a trial period — we agreed to table the question of the skate area. As an ad-hoc committee.

Let me say that again: As an ad-hoc committee, asked by the Council to meet, but with no official standing, we tabled consideration *by our committee* because we could not reach consensus.

This was not an official committee of the town, and it had no decision-making authority. There were no elected officials on the committee, and no open meetings requirements. This was not a decision-making body.

Any argument proceeding from the premise that the skate area is somehow "tabled" — which I have heard tossed around at subsequent meetings — misunderstands the role of advisory committees.

Can't be there? You can reach the Town Council at these e-mail addresses (,,,,, and their phone numbers available on the Portsmouth Web site.

Previous coverage can be found here.

If you're on Facebook, check out the "Support the IP Skate Park" group.

Full disclosure: If it isn't completely clear from the above, I am a supporter of a skate area for our kids in Island Park, and was a member of the ad-hoc committee last summer.

Localblogging, 02871, skate

Skate equipment gone, IP kids upset

Empty basketball court in Island Park

All the homemade skate rails and ramps have been removed from the basketball court in the Island Park playground. Today, there is only a smooth, empty asphalt surface.

But the process did not go without a hitch. According to Portsmouth Police Chief Lance Hebert, folks who had built the gear were advised by the town that it had to be removed due to liability concerns. As the ramps were being removed last night, Hebert said "officers responded for a disturbance."

One witness told me that a group of youths were congregating on Highland Avenue expressing their dissatisfaction at this turn of events. Hebert said, "A complaint was filed by a person who lives adjacent to the park which is being investigated by police at this time."

"Our main goal as a Police Department is to keep the peace in that area as best we can," Hebert said.

I join Chief Hebert in urging that all sides to keep this process peaceful and respectful of our neighbors and our community. There is a political process underway, and if people want to speak out, I would urge them to continue to put pressure on the Town Council.

For my part, I agree that liability concerns need to be addressed. However, this turn of events makes me question whether a long-term solution — like a promised facility in the old Town Dump — represents a complete answer, since it would be years off. That doesn't meet the needs of our kids right now.

Localblogging, 02871, skate

Council to anti-skaters: show us the money

The Portsmouth Town Council this evening tabled a request from skateboard area opponents to abandon plans for the Island Park playground. By a 4-3 vote, with Dennis Canario, Huck Little, and Karen Gleason in the minority, the Council moved to table any action pending the return of all donations to the Town for safekeeping.

"We took an action," said Jim Seveney, referring to the original approval last February. "Money was collected. The priority at this juncture is for the town to understand the status. The donors, I'm sure, are wondering what happened to it."

The Council seemed unmoved by Brian Whittier's argument that Portsmouth's zoning regulations would be violated by siting a skating area in the playground. "According to zoning laws, playgrounds are special uses," said Whittier, who enumerated the guidelines such use must meet: not detrimental, compatible, not a nuisance or hazard. "These are all issues that are going on," said Whittier.

Perhaps I read Article III section D (4) of Portsmouth's Zoning Regulations wrong (which is always possible; IANAL) but here's what it says:

"Notwithstanding any other provisions of this ordinance to the contrary, any structures, buildings and land owned, leased or used by the Town of Portsmouth may be erected, enlarged, or used by the Town of Portsmouth in the performance of its governmental functions, in any district, and said structures, buildings or lands so erected, enlarged, or used shall be exempt from the provisions of this ordinance."
Full Zoning Ordinance

After the vote, the Council took a 5-minute recess, and opponents of the skate area approached the dais to continue arguing their case with the Council. When a reporter tried to take a picture, he was told, "We don't need blog stuff here," and "Go sit down with your friends."

I've been scrupulous in not quoting things said outside public meetings. These were people talking to the Council, in chambers, during a recess. I've been covering Portsmouth politics for more than three years, and I've never had anyone speak to me like that during a session. I'll let you judge how this goes to credibility.

Following the recess, there was an interesting discussion sparked by Larry Fitzmorris of the Portsmouth Concerned Citizens (PCC). He asserted that the modification of an agenda item he had requested back in January was a violation of the Charter. His original agenda item, he said, had explicitly asked the Council to end consideration of sewers, but the amended item said only "Address Council Re: wastewater management district."

This change, said Fitzmorris, "Essentially defeats my right to address the Council," since, he said, it is within the Council President's role to limit discussion to the agenda item. And, as someone who's sat through a few of these meetings, I can tell you the way an agenda item is cast is particularly important when it comes to what the Council may *vote* on, since according to RI Open Meetings Law, the subject must be properly advertised.

Town Solicitor Andre D'Andrea argued that it should be within the purview of the Council to determine appropriateness and wordsmith the actual items. The public, even in the Charter and the procedures enacted later, "is limited to the right to ask," said D'Andrea. "In what form [it is placed on the agenda] is within the sound discretion of the President and the Clerk." While he seemed to admit that in this case, he might have phrased the item better when rewriting it, he continued to maintain the right of modification. "The right to petition government is not the same as the right to publicity."

Former Town Councilor Len Katzman, who had drafted the procedure in 2006, spoke in support of Mr. Fitzmorris's position, and noted that his original proposal had been "That the Town Clerk may not refuse the request without consulting with the Town Administrator, Town Solicitor, and President. It shouldn't be one person's solitary discretion." He urged the Council to revisit the rule and spell out what the procedure was for denying a request. "It should be hard," said Katzman, "But it should be written down."

In other business, Tailgunner Gleason moved that the Council should release the Woodard & Curran wastewater report — which had already been released last month.

When another council member questioned the form of her motion, she said, "You're making a mountain out of a molehill." There was general laughter.

Localblogging, 02871, Town Council, skate

IP Skate area at Council Monday night

The agenda for Monday night's Portsmouth Town Council meeting features an old business item asking the Council for a decision on the skate area in Island Park -- please be there, or if you can't make it, let the Council know how you feel.

Old business item three, requested by "B. Whittier" is "Request for a Decision on the Placement of a Skate Park in Island Park/Formation of a Portsmouth Skate Park Committee." Looks like the the Council is going to be forced to take a position. Here's what I hope they will consider.

At the community meeting requested by the Council last week, there was no agreement to be found. Despite the best efforts of several elected officials, the same stalemate prevailed: opponents of the skate park refused to budge.

I have struggled with reporting on last week's meeting. It was not, in a very real sense, an official public meeting, and so reporting on the intemperate characterizations and angry rhetoric would serve no purpose. They are my neighbors, and although they said things which I consider to be hurtful and misinformed, the expectation of public dissemination implied by an "open meeting" does not attach.

What I think the community *should* know is that there was no compromise. All the concessions have come from the supporters of the skating area. In the course of several negotiating sessions, we abandoned the original design, changed the location within the park, and scaled the footprint way back.

The kids of Island Park have already created a makeshift skate area on the basketball court in the playground with home-built rails and ramps. The proposal on the table is to move them onto a same-sized area with safer equipment. The skate area will be subject to a probationary period for evaluation, and the equipment can be removed if there are issues.

The essence of compromise is that *both* sides are expected to be a little unhappy. I would expect that the Council, in seeking a fair resolution to this issue, ensure that both sides give a little. I hope you'll consider attending the meeting Monday to help the Council make their decision.

Can't be there? You can reach the Town Council at these e-mail addresses (,,,,, and their phone numbers available on the Portsmouth Web site.

If you're on Facebook, check out the "Support the IP Skate Park" group.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the leadership team of the IPRA and (pretty obviously) a supporter of the skate park.

Localblogging, 02871, skate

Island Park Skate meeting tonight at Town Hall

Residents of Portsmouth's Island Park neighborhood will meet at Town Hall tonight at 7pm to discuss a proposed skating area in the local playground. Elected officials will be on hand, but the meeting is community-driven, and the goal is to gauge support for the project in order to report back to the Town Council.

Andrew Kelly, provisional president of the recently formed Island Park Recreation Association (IPRA) sent an e-mail to members and supporters this morning:

As you are all aware, we have been trying to raise the funds ($7,522.18 to date) to put a small skate park (about the size of the basketball court) in the playground here in Island Park. Now that there has been opposition to this recreational area, the Town Council at their Dec. 14th meeting asked ALL residents of Island Park to get together to discuss the options available that would work for everyone. We have worked diligently trying to compromise with those opposed and are hopeful, with your support, that we can put this small area in, thereby giving the basketball players back their court!

Our children are counting on you. Please don't think it doesn't matter if you aren't there. IT DOES!!
— via e-mail from Andrew Kelly

As Kelly's e-mail notes, the kids of Island Park have already created a makeshift skate area on the basketball court in the playground with home-built rails and ramps. The proposal on the table is to move them onto a same-sized area with safer equipment. The skate area will be subject to a probationary period for evaluation, and the equipment can be removed if there are issues.

Can't make the meeting? You can reach the Town Council at these e-mail addresses (,,,,, and their phone numbers available on the Portsmouth Web site.

If you're on Facebook, you can follow the skate group here, or Island Park residents may wish to join the free, open forum hosted on

Full disclosure: I am a member of the leadership team of the IPRA and (pretty obviously) a supporter of the skate park.

Localblogging, 02871, skate

Wed 1/27 Island Park skate meeting -- please be there!

On Wednesday, Jan 27 at 7pm in the Portsmouth Town Hall, all interested Island Park residents (and friends) will meet to discuss the proposed skate area in the IP playground. This is the meeting requested by the Town Council in December (see prior coverage here.)

If you want our local kids to have a safe place to skate, please show up and support this project.

The supporters of the skate park have tried to negotiate in good faith. We scaled back the proposed size (now no larger than the existing basketball court), abandoned any multiple levels for a flat asphalt or concrete surface, and proposed mounting small pieces of equipment so that they can be removed, if necessary, after a probationary period. We have been very willing to talk about position within the IP playground to minimize noise.

Lori Rinkel and her team raised over $7,000 from the community for this project. During last year, which was a damned tough time to raise money. Our community voted with their dollars.

Now, please, let's finish the job next Wednesday. There will be members of the Town Council on hand, and we need to show our support.

Can't make the meeting? You can reach the Town Council at these e-mail addresses (,,,,, and their phone numbers available on the Portsmouth Web site.

If you're on Facebook, you can follow the skate group here, or Island Park residents may wish to join the free, open forum hosted on

Full disclosure: I am a supporter of the skate project and a member of the pro-skatepark group. I was a member of the ad-hoc committee tasked by the Council to seek a mediated solution, and I'm very sad that we were unable to find common ground.

Localblogging, 02871, skate