A Hummel Report Investigation
Since we launched The Hummel Report in mid-October many people have asked that we give them periodic updates on our investigations. So this week, as
2009 draws to a close, Jim Hummel takes a look back –from our first piece on a police officer who has been on paid leave for 13 years…to a building on the state prison grounds that sits vacant, even though the government spent $17 million to refurbish it.
- I’m Jim Hummel…one of the most frequent complaints I’ve gotten from viewers over the years is: `Why don’t you ever update your stories?’ So this week, as the book closes on 2009, we pause to take a look back at the highlights of the first three months of `The Hummel Report’ and the impact our stories have had.
We launched `The Hummel Report’ in October with a look at longtime Woonsocket police officer Allen Renaud, who has been on paid sick leave for 13 years because of a series of mistakes by the city - pulling in more than a million dollars – much of it tax free.
Susan Menard: ``He’s been an albatross on the city’s neck since 1997.’’
With Woonsocket Mayor Susan Menard opting not to run again, Renaud’s case became a topic during the campaign to succeed her. In our report, we asked why the city doesn’t try to negotiate a settlement with Renaud – who has a court order backing him – to get him off the books.
The new mayor, Leo Fontaine, tells the `The Hummel Report,’ he has ordered a full review of the case and hopes to have a report back to him sometime early in the New Year.
- Hummel: The federal stimulus program certainly got a lot of attention this past year – and we took at look in October at the Rhode Island D.O.T’s plan to use $9 million of the stimulus to replace road signs.
All of the signs along Routes 10, 37 and two short sections of Route 95 are scheduled to be replaced next year, regardless of the shape they are in. The state says it is following new federal traffic mandates that require highly-reflective signs to help motorists see better at night, particularly with an aging driving population.
So why, we asked, is the state still lighting sections of the highway where it has already spent millions of dollars on the new reflective signage?
The D.O.T., which spent $4 million last year to light the highways, tells The Hummel Report it is still studying the issue and not ready to recommend turning out the lights anywhere in the state just yet – despite the potential for cost savings.
- Hummel: – In late October we took a road trip to Block Island, where we looked into allegations that the island’s harbormaster had a conflict of interest and was using his position to line his own pockets.
On this island of a thousand year-round residents, the harbormaster is one of the most influential positions. And although there have been rumblings about Christopher Willi over the years, few have been willing to speak publicly about him.
But this summer, charter boat owner and year-round resident, Steve Miller had enough – and took his concerns off island, filling a complaint several months ago with the Rhode Island Ethics Commission – saying Willi let a charter boat company owner improperly use his own slip, taking a cut of the profits.
Miller: ``There’s absolutely no doubt that you are not allowed to benefit from your position. You’re not allowed to do business with somebody you have a supervisory capacity over.’’
In early November Willi filed a response to Miller’s complaint, denying many of the allegations. Town Manager Nancy Dodge tells the Hummel report the council has scheduled a disciplinary hearing for Willi in early January. We’ll keep you posted on what happens.
- Hummel: In November, we told you about a building on the grounds of the state prison that remains vacant – even though the government has spent $17 million to convert into a prison reintegration center. That drew a swift response from one state senator.
The plan was to take this formerly vacant building at the A.C.I. and turn it into a facility that would help prepare 175 problem inmates nearing parole…for re-entry into society. But five years later it remains unoccupied – although we found the lights on during the day and the building fully heated. Even the freezer in the kitchen fully running.
The department says it doesn’t have the $11 million needed to actually run the building, and now wants to turn it into a women’s facility. That prompted state senator John Tassoni to propose using the building this winter as a homeless shelter. Tassoni tells The Hummel Report he never got a response from either the governor’s office or the corrections department about his idea.
A spokeswoman for the prisons says it never received Tassoni’s request, adding the federal money for the project dictates it be used specifically to expand prison bed space. Oh – by the way – the day after we interviewed Director A.T. Wall, he told he had ordered the lights turned off during the day.
- Hummel: So those are the major updates. We look forward to a big year in 2010 – and once again need your help. If you see government waste or corruption let us know and we’ll check it out. And join us back here next week for a brand new edition of `The Hummel Report.’