A two-bedroom state-owned house, off the beaten path, in one of the most beautiful parks in Rhode Island: It's a great location for anyone working in the park. Especially if it doesn't cost anything to live there. This week Jim Hummel tells us why one state worker has been getting a free ride for more than a year - and why that's coming to an end.
It is just before 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon in May and Angela Spadoni is leaving her job for the day with the state Department of Environmental Management.
Spadoni, a full-time employee based at Colt State Park in Bristol, spent most of this day clearing the nearby East Bay Bike path before punching out at the park office with other full-time and seasonal workers.
Spadoni, it turns out, has the easiest commute of everyone, arriving home in a matter of minutes.
That's because *home* for the last 16 months has been just a mile across the park - at the state-owned caretaker's house near one of the entrances to Colt State.
It is a two-bedroom house on the edge of the park. Over the past year, the state has spent thousands of dollars on repairs and upgrades. DEM officials say it is worth the investment to have someone on site to respond to emergency situations as they arise in the heavily-travelled park.
Standup: But the Hummel Report has learned that Spadoni, whose uncle Robert Paquette, is the head of DEM's Parks and Recreation Division, was living here for 15 months rent-free.
We've also learned that the state picked up the tab for her heating oil and electricity, totaling thousands of dollars.
We tried to ask Spadoni why.
Hummel: ``How's it going?''
Spadoni: ``Pretty good.''
Hummel: ``Can I talk to you a second, my name's Jim Hummel.''
Spadoni: ``No, I'm all set. For what?''
Hummel: ``I just wanted to ask you a question, but I don't want to interrupt your phone call.''
Spadoni: ``No I'm all set. Thank you.''
Hummel: ``I just had a question. We're doing a story on the caretaker's house here.''
Spadoni: ``I don't have a comment.''
Hummel: ``Do you live there?''
Spadoni: ``Excuse me, sir.''
Hummel: ``Can I just ask you a question?''
Spadoni: ``No. I'm saying no.''
Hummel: ``I'm asking you if you live in the caretaker's house?''
Spadoni: ``I'm saying no, I'm not talking to you.''
Hummel: ``Yes, or no?''
And with that, she took off, with a fellow DEM worker who several months moved into the house with her.
That's because beginning June 1st the state signed a lease with Spadoni and finally began collecting rent. The HUD fair market value for the house is $953 a month, significantly more than the previous tenant - also a DEM employee - was paying.
DEM says Spadoni was the only one to express interest in living there when it became available in early 2009.
So while the fair market value is nearly $1,000 a month, the state gives her a 15 percent discount for surveillance; another 15 percent discount for responding to off-hours situations; and a 5 percent discount for what it says is the nuisance of living in a state-owned park.
That reduces the rent by $337, for a total of $625 a month.
So what about the 15 months she didn't pay?
DEM Director Michael Sullivan was unaware of the situation until we brought it to his attention last week. He sat down with us a few days later.
Hummel: ``So she's living there since February '09 but the lease is not signed until June.''
Hummel: ``What's the issue with the delay?''
Sullivan: ``I've asked the same question and my conclusion is it was bureaucratic incompetence. It should have been addressed in a quick fashion. We had an employee who moved out, some slippage of time is acceptable to me, but 15 months slippage is not.''
Hummel: ``How much was Ms. Spadoni paying before she signed the lease?''
Sullivan:`` My understanding is she has not paid anything, but I have directed staff to make sure she pays for the full 15 months of occupancy. There's no freebie here. Unacceptable to me.''
But we've learned the back rent will not be based on the $625/month she is now paying, but $324/month, the amount a previous tenant had paid before Spadoni moved in. At that rate she will owe the state $4,800.
In addition she must pay back more than $1,700 in heating oil and $1,225 for electricity paid for by taxpayers.
That means Spadoni, who makes just under $32,000 a year will be on the hook for $7,759 in back rent and utilities.
The state is ordering her to pay up by mid-August.
Hummel: ``Does the fact that Mr. Paquette is related to Ms. Spadoni have anything to do with this situation?''
Sullivan: ``If it did, then it would be inappropriate.''
Sullivan says his investigation into the situation is far from over.
Sullivan: ``Any deviation from an acceptable practice is going to be met with the wrath of Kahn. Unacceptable, and if anybody was receiving a benefit other than what they should have been receiving it will be met with the firmest of discipline.''
In Bristol, Jim Hummel, for the Hummel Report.