Mighty Mouse Versus Yosemite Sam
It’s kinda funny to contemplate what local establishment figures and their one-mind sympathizers imagine about reform groups. Former school committee member (and foiled town council candidate) Michael Burk likens Tiverton Citizens for Change to a false Mighty Mouse and whispers spooky insinuations that would surely spark laughter in anybody with a reasonable understanding of the scope of town government:
On September 15, 2008 Mr. Gerald Felise contributed $1,000 to the TCC. However, on October 7 the TCC filed a CF-5 with the Board of Elections stating they would accept donations of no more than $100 from any individual and no more than $1,000 from all contributors combined. Yet they still didn’t report any contributions/expenses until November 17 – 13 days after the election and two months after Mr. Felise’s contribution.
Rhode Island law prohibits political contributions from corporations. The TCC’s Novemer 17 filing listed Mr. Felise as an individual donor with his home address as 896 Fish Road. His business, eCo Industrial Park Corporation of Rhode Island, also has an address of 896 Fish Road.
Jump ahead to the December 11 Sakonnet Times. Mr. Felise is proposing a “Giant ‘eco-development'” on both sides of Route 24. Did Mr. Felise, obviously a strong TCC supporter and probably a member (they don’t release their membership list), present this to a meeting of the Planning Board or the Town Council as would be the appropriate first step? No, he chose to present it to “a meeting of invited town officials and residents at the company’s offices at 896 Fish Road” the Friday after Thanksgiving. The timing of this was so close to the TCC’s purported election victory that it seems rather odd to me. Mr. Nelson would like us to think that he and the other leaders of the TCC knew nothing of this proposal prior to Election Day.
The first part is an accusation that we’ve already covered. Trying to hit the ground running in mid-summer — and having no expectation of large or numerous donations — TCC opted for the easier route requiring less time filing reports. Mr. Burk doesn’t bother to explain this, but that’s the purpose of a CF-5: to minimize unnecessary paperwork, not to forswear large donations.
But we did receive that one large donation — and many smaller ones — so campaign finance law required us to begin filing regular reports. That’s the process described on the CF-5; there’s no actual or intimated violation involved. Owing to some confusion during a very hectic time, however, our first report missed the deadline, so several of us spent a late night filling out forms. Nothing nefarious.
That night, as it happens, was the first time I’d ever heard Mr. Felise’s name, and to my knowledge, nobody active in TCC was aware of his plans. I don’t believe that any of us had so much as met the man. As odd as the timing may appear to Mr. Burk, that’s all there is to it. The tale that he weaves tells the reader much more about his and others’ paranoia than about TCC or (I can only surmise) Mr. Felise.
One needn’t have memorized the group’s secret knock to have observed its formation: The results of the financial town meeting brought several previously known trouble-makers (me among them) together with existing non-establishment groups (notably the retirement communities) and some newly aggrieved residents. In the handful of months leading up to the election, we recruited and endorsed candidates mainly with the next FTM in mind. The calendar left us very little room to address anything else.
Now that the election is over, we hope to begin exploring the multiple issues that ultimately contribute to the budgets that the town passes each year, but the effort hasn’t yet begun. We haven’t discussed, for example, whether Mr. Felise’s development is something that TCC ought to back. When we do take the matter up as a group, enough of us are sufficiently idealistic that large donations are unlikely to be of more than passing interest. Moreover, when we put forward arguments on any issues, interested residents will be able to judge them on their merits, with due consideration of our own finances.
For Michael Burk’s part, the merits of Mr. Felise’s project seem to hold no relevance. Some conspiracy is necessary to explain the rapid emergence of a vocal taxpayer group, and a businessman wishing to invest in the town makes as good an evil conniver as any. Nevermind the individual histories of the group’s members. Nevermind the fact that Mr. Burk proclaims no evidence apart from what we have made available.
Nobody active with Tiverton Citizens for Change believes that we have all the answers. All we have are voices and an interest in using them to offer arguments that we feel haven’t been adequately made in the past. We don’t see ourselves as swooping in to get Tiverton “well in hand,” as Burk quotes from the Mighty Mouse theme. We’re more interested in asking questions, offering suggestions, and doing what we can to keep individual egos and personalities from dictating the direction of our town.
We’re a bit more like Bugs Bunny than Mighty Mouse, I’d say — trying to get through each episode with little more than a sense of humor and a knack for dodging the throes of absurdity.
So fire away, Mr. Burk, for the plot needs its Yosemite Sam.