The Bristol County Water Authority board of directors picked an old member to be its new chairman Tuesday evening at its annual meeting after an allegation about his service on the board was debunked.
Allan Klepper of Barrington, who has served on the often controversial board since 1989, was elected by a 7-1 vote with one absent member. The only nay vote came from Ray Palmieri of Warren, who had nominated Robert Allio of Barrington, the newest member of the board, to be chairman.
“Thank you for putting your trust in me,” said Klepper after being elected. “I am well aware of what’s been said. We’ll see how it moves. It’s a great opportunity. I hope to make the most of it.”
Kepper avoided a showdown of the oldest versus the newest members of the board when Allio declined the nomination by saying “I will cast my support for Mr. Klepper.”
“In my judgment, Mr. Klepper has the background and qualifications to serve as chairman,” said Allio. “He has a long history of relationships, and I think he understands the issues we face. It is my belief that Mr. Klepper can address them.”
Allio made that comment while acknowledging that Klepper has served as a board member during the time periods that it failed to address certain issues, “and he carries responsibility for those decisions.”
Indeed, Palmieri said: “The public has a perception that the baton is being passed from one old member to another old member. We need new faces here.”
One of the decisions referred to by Allio made up the allegation leveled by Marina Peterson, a BCWA watchdog as the head of the East Bay Patriots, that Klepper failed in his fiduciary responsibility when the board took by eminent domain a piece of land that reportedly benefitted a former board member, Richard Alegria of Bristol.
Peterson made that allegation in a comment on a blog she wrote for Patch. Because Klepper did not fulfill his fiduciary responsibility, he should not be elected chairman, Peterson said.
The allegation postponed the election of officers for a month while BCWA Executive Director Pamela Marchand investigated Peterson's allegation. She provided the results to the board during the regular monthly meeting that preceded the election.
Marchand said the taking of the piece of land in the watershed for the Kickemuit Reservoir in Warren was part of a new water quality protection program launched in 1994 by the Water Resources Board. The BCWA assessed various properties around the watershed for possible taking by eminent domain.
Market Street Land Corporation, owned by Alegria, had a purchase-and-sale agreement for $400,000 for a Warren lot that was to be subdivided into house lots. An appraiser assessed its value for the BCWA at $250,000, which was later reduced to $232,500.
Alegria sued the water authority in 1995, claiming the land and his expenses to subdivide it had a value of $427,000, Marchand said. The court ordered a new assessment, which produced a new value of $380,000. The water authority was ordered to pay that amount plus interest and costs that made the judgment $406,000.
Judge Patricia Hurst said in her decision, according to Marchand, that Alegria “was unaware” that the board was thinking of taking the land “and he did not benefit” from the taking.
Klepper said the court ruling allowed Alegria to recoup his expenses only.
“He did not make a windfall,” Klepper said. “The fact that Alegria owned the property had nothing to do with the taking.”
Every board member knew Alegria as a former member, not just him, said Klepper, who, as secretary of the board in 1996, attested to the unanimous vote of the board to take the land.
“Accusing me of doing something wrong, I object to that,” he said.
Klepper also said he took the results of the investigation to the RI Ethics Commission for an advisory opinion, as he said he would. But the commission does not issue advisories on 17-year-old cases, Klepper said he was told, and the commission did not receive a complaint from anyone so there was nothing it could do.
“So I can’t say I’ve been absolved by the Ethics Commission,” Klepper said. “It will be up to the court of public opinion to decide.”
First, of course, it was up to the BCWA board to decide on him as their chairman. Klepper took over as the chair immediately, and he appointed William Gosselin of Warren as vice chairman.
Other new elected officers are Kevin Fitta of Barrington as secretary, Frank Sylvia of Bristol as treasurer and Joe DeMelo of Bristol as assistant secretary.