The Bristol County Water Authority board is scheduled to try again today to elect new officers at an annual meeting that was postponed for a month on May 30.
The board postponed its election of officers because of an allegation that Barrington board member Allan Klepper, who was to be nominated for chairman, did not fulfill his fiduciary responsibility on an eminent domain land taking in 1996.
The allegation involves a taking of land from a former water authority board member who allegedly benefited financially from that transaction.
Marina Peterson of Bristol, a water authority watchdog and head of the East Bay Patriots organization, made that allegation in a comment to a blog post on Patch on May 29. Her accusation derailed the election of new board officers when the water authority’s legal counsel suggested the board postpone the election until Peterson’s accusation could be investigated.
The board agreed. See Patch story.
The agenda for tonight's regular monthly meeting, to precede the election, lists the allegations under old business. It will be addressed by Executive Director Pamela Marchand.
Peterson said previously that she is not accusing Klepper of a crime or of breaking the law. She said he simply did not do the due diligence necessary as a board member at that time to fulfill his fiduciary responsibility for ratepayers.
Klepper’s response to the allegation has been that “I don’t know what I’m accused of. But she’s questioning my integrity. I would like to get to the bottom of this.”
“Bring it on,” said Klepper. “Let’s go to the Ethics Commission tomorrow.”
Peterson said that public documents in the Warren Town Hall show BCWA took by eminent domain a piece of land owned by a former board member, Richard Alegria of Bristol, through a former company he owned, Market Street Land Corporation.
A check by Patch of those records confirms that real estate transaction in early 1996. Klepper signed off on that transaction as secretary as he signed off on most BCWA documents in that position.
She alleges that the transaction made a sizable profit for the corporation while the water authority acquired a piece of land it may or may not have needed to protect its watershed.
She believes Klepper was aware of or should have known about the questionable circumstances of the transaction with a former board member, and he should have questioned them before signing off on the document.
In short, she believes Klepper did not fulfill has fiduciary responsibilities, and for that reason he should not be a nominee for the next chairman of the board.
Klepper acknowledged in a Patch story that Alegria was on the board with him for several years. But he believes the well-known Bristol developer and former state Senator was off the board at least several years before the 1996 eminent domain taking.
Klepper said also that he is well aware that BCWA took some Warren land by eminent domain to protect the watershed near the Kickemuit Reservoir. And he recognizes that he would have signed off on any documents approved by the board for such as a taking because he was the board secretary at that time.
Gary Morse of Barrington, another frequent critic of the water authority, describes the transaction this way in a comment to Peterson’s blog.
“There were two properties involved in this transaction, one being on the Kickemuit, and one not on the Kickemuit. There was one owner of both lots.
That owner applied for a subdivision to the Town of Warren on the lot not on the water. The record shows that the Town of Warren let it go through without Warren Planning Board approval (that is in the record).
On January 31, at 1:11 in the afternoon, the subdivision was filed with the town of Warren by the original owners. According to the continuing records, one minute later, the land containing the subdivision (i.e. the land not on the Kickemuit) was purchased by a former BCWA Board member via his company.
Within a month, the BCWA Board voted to take this subdivision and the other lot on the water via eminent domain under the Bristol County Water Supply Act. Mr. Klepper in his capacity as secretary signed off.
Six months later, a bill for the first piece of property being the subdivision land was submitted to the RI Water Resources Board for payment, but marked up by around $90K from the purchase price in January.”
Peterson also believes that Klepper’s election would simply overlook the need for continued change, “new eyes, new people” in charge of the water authority.
“Why old school when the water authority is supposed to be taking on a new face, a new persona?” Peterson said. “You can’t put in a chairman who was there with all the questionable things going on.”