The Hummel Report

Investigative Reports That Get Results

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Mid-Year Update

Do you ever wonder what happens after our investigations are posted? Sometimes the results are immediate, others take time. This week it’s the Hummel Report mid-year update - new information on a handful of our reports dating to last fall with developments, in some cases, directly resulting because of our investigations.

SCRIPT:

 

As we near the mid-way point of 2018 The Hummel Report has new information on some of our previous investigations dating to last fall and beginning in East Providence.

The state Elections Board in May affirmed a city Board of Canvassers decision to hold elections for city council and school committee this fall, and that the council terms would be for four years.

Our investigation in April showed a majority of the council wanted to double the two-year terms members were elected in 2016 to serve, a move that would eliminate the need for reelection this fall. Their decision was based on a city referendum, overwhelmingly approved in 2012 but never implemented, to extend council terms from two to four years.

The story prompted both the Board of Elections and the state Attorney General to step in.

Since then, Ward 4 Councilman - one of the council members who favored implementing the four-year terms now - finds himself in trouble again. Faria, who has a lengthy criminal record dating to the 1990s, was subpoenaed to appear before his fellow council members on Wednesday to answer charges stemming from an investigation by two attorneys hired by the city solicitors.

Faria didn’t show but the city’s police chief described in vivid detail the results of an investigation that he said shows Faria intimidated, harassed and swore at city employees, manipulated the city’s Facebook page to paint himself in a favorable light and spent 10 hours overnight at City Hall in April copying 250 pages from the law department.

 

In January we told you about a dispute between the Rhode Island Airport Corporation and Uber, which was upset over a $6 pickup fee for its customers at the airport. Well May 1st, Uber discontinued at Green in protest - and that move has hurt both sides.

We found that revenue from the short-term parking lot had increased 45 percent, or $640,000, in one year largely because the airport corporation doubled the minimum price to $6 - directing all ride sharing drivers to pick passengers up in the lot.

Uber cried foul, saying the $6 was the highest fee in the country. Airport officials countered that Uber customers are not charged for drop-offs and, when averaged out, the rate was competitive with other airport, adding that the increased revenue was needed to offset other losses caused by ridesharing services.

In late April Uber announced it would no longer offer service at Green beginning May 1, as a protest to the pickup fee. Figures provided by the airport show that revenue for May was down nearly 12 percent, or $27,000, from April and off 7 percent from March.

Lyft and Airport Taxi have largely filled the gap left by Uber, with some passengers arranging to be picked up just off airport property.

As for negotiations to get Uber back at Green: Spokesmen for the airport and for Uber said they had nothing to report.

 

Remember the state rep who filed a bill to dismantle the Smithfield Land Trust that he helped created two decades ago? Well that proposed legislation has had a chilling effect on one potential donor.

Rep. thomas Winfield told us he was concerned about the way the trust was operating, including some questionable property purchases over the past decade. The trust’s chairwoman told us she was concerned that if the bill passed, putting land trust operations in the hands of the town council, it might have a chilling effect on potential donors. The Hummel Report obtained an email that town resident Dyanne Smith sent in early May to each council member.

Smith described herself as a grandmother in her 60s with deep roots in Smithfield, hoping to preserve her family’s property dating to the 1840s through the land trust. She wrote  “The thought of the Land Trust being disbanded and the Town Council taking control of those undeveloped lands should be make every citizen of Smithfield who cares about historic preservation sit up and take notice. Should the council gain control of those properties, what is to stop them from deciding that development is `in the best interest’ of the town, and taken them by eminent domain, even against the wishes of the families relinquishes them for their historic value.”

Winfield tells the Hummel Report the bill, which was held for further study after a committee hearing in May, is unlikely to pass this year and the land trust recently implemented changes to how it operates. Council President Paul Santucci told us the changes should address some of Winfield’s concerns, while leaving the land trust intact.

 

The Rhode Island Department of Emergency Management is on track to move its headquarters from Cranston to a vacant building in Warwick owned by The Department of Transportation in Warwick - a move that was prompted, in part, by pressure from federal officials.

Our investigation revealed in February that federal officials, who funded purchase of a building at 55 Colorado Avenue for a DOT materials testing lab, were putting pressure on the state to do something with a property that has sat vacant since the purchase.

When Peter Alviti Jr. took over as DOT director in early 2015 he balked at the $14 million price tag to renovate the building into a testing lab, a cost that had tripled since the first proposal in 2012. Alviti put the project on hold, but officials with the Federal Highway Administration last year began putting pressure on DOT to do something with the building.

Meanwhile, EMA Director Peter Gaynor, who expressed interest in the building said this week his agency is working on final details to purchase and renovate the 52,000-square-foot former printing plant off Jefferson Boulevard into office and training space. But DOT plans to retain much of the 6.5 acres of land adjacent to its highway maintenance facility on Lincoln Avenue. Spokesman Charles St. Martin said DOT has decided to ``redesign current space’’ in the basement of its Smith Street headquarters for the materials testing lab, at a cost of $2.5 million.

Gaynor said last week he expects to move into the new EMA site sometime later next year.

 

Finally last fall we told you about a non-profit museum in a state-owned building that offered no access to the general public.. Because of our story, that’s about to change.

The Fort Burnside Communication and Coastal Defense Museum in Beavertail State Park is a 27-room fort, built as a lookout during World War II and featuring three-foot thick concrete walls. Its longtime caretaker Mark Beezer registered it as a non-profit museum with the state of Rhode Island more than a decade ago, but told The Hummel Report the building is not equipped for handicapped accessibility and that he travelled extensively for his job.

But, the said, he’d like to open it up for scheduled tours like the one he gave us.

A spokeswoman for The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which oversees the facility, said last week  that Beezer has received a request from a local Boy Scout group for a tour and that several National Guard officers have asked to hold communications drills involving several mobile units. Beezer said he is working to accommodate both groups and during the last week of June will host an annual emergency preparedness test sponsored by a local ham-association.

 

And if you have a tip or a story suggestion you’d like to pass along, send it directly and confidentially to me at Jim@HummelReport.org