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Old Over New For Water Board

Board of the Bristol County Water Authority elects Allan Klepper of Barrington, its oldest member, as chairman after an allegation about him is debunked and the board's newest member, Robert Allio of Barrington, takes his hat out of the ring.

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.

Gary Morse June 27, 2012 at 10:49 AM
Here is the biggest fact in this controversy: in 2012, the Kickemuit Reservoir is being mothballed as a water source because it is too polluted to be a reliable raw water source. So the story last night about this 1996 land taking being of watershed value to rate payers was simply that, a story. The price paid for the land was not $400,000 as reported since the record in the Warren Town Hall shows it was $280,000. The tax stamps don't lie. Neither Ms Marchand or Ms Mack could explain that inconsistency in their story last night. Then the question I hadn't thought of before: why did BCWA go to court to defend a land taking that only had marginal value and probably shouldn't have been taken in the first place? That had to have cost rate payers a bundle. In short, this controversy actually got bigger last night. Rate payers lost in 1996. The issue was not "debunked". The Board simply wanted to move forward and chose to ignore facts accepting a pretty story instead. We can only hope that the BCWA legacy is behind us, and we can finally have faith in our new BCWA Board. Time will tell if transparency will finally be the norm at BCWA.
Gary Morse June 27, 2012 at 11:28 AM
One huge question overlooked last night, and never mentioned by Ms Mack in this so called objective review, was how Judge Patricia Hurst even heard this case in 1996 given Judge Hurst also owns property along the Kickemuit and could be subject to a land taking herself. Should Judge Hurst have recused herself from hearing the case? We won't know because BCWA's attorney at the time didn't challenge this matter. Rate payers paid the steep price.
Gary Morse June 27, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Being an ardent critic of BCWA, and not being convinced that anything was debunked at last night's meeting, I can also say that there is noticeable signs of "transparency life" beginning at BCWA. In last night's meeting, Director Allio and the other new board members were on target in every point made. Push back in several key areas that have needed pushing back for a long time included: pension truth in numbers; a BCWA strategic plan; improving the communication with the community; fixing a pro forma annual audit; posting documents on the BCWA website; and a real RFP for legal services. The new board members appear to be in tune with a new direction. It is hoped that this new direction will spill over to the legacy board members. We owe much to the new board for putting in place the seeds of change.
marina peterson June 27, 2012 at 04:31 PM
The fact remains that the Warren Town Hall has recorded that the property in question was assessed a recorded tax stamp amount of $840 plus $280 which, according to Town officials, equates to a purchase amount of $280,000 for Market Street Land Corp (i.e $4 tax per thousand). There was no explanation for this discrepancy given by management. (Management claims they have a purchase and sales agreement for the price $400,000). Things just don't add up.
Jack Baillargeron June 27, 2012 at 11:21 PM
As a Member of the " the court of public opinion to decide.” BS

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