The Will of the People?
A decision by the majority of the East Providence City Council to extend their current two-year terms to four years - based on voter approval of the change six years ago but never implemented - has some crying foul. The move would allow sitting members to bypass having to run again until 2020. The Hummel Report discovered one councilman who favors the move has good reason not to want to face voters in November.
Click here to see the 2018 police report.
Voters in East Providence will go the polls for the first time this fall to elect a full-time mayor to lead the city. And they’ll be voting to fill five city council seats. Or will they?
Three members of the city council say voter approval of a change from two- to four-year council terms back in 2012 - but never implemented - gives them the authority to extend their current terms to 2020 and bypass facing re-election this fall.
Critics are crying foul, saying Councilman Brian Faria is pushing for the change because he has an extensive criminal record that dates to the early 1990s - something his opponent chose not to raise in the 2016 election, with Faria squeaking out a narrow victory.
The record includes time in state and federal prisons on drug charges, as well as convictions or no contest pleas to malicious destruction of property, assault, obtaining money under false pretenses over $500 and a dozen charges of driving on a suspended license.
In January Faria was pulled over by an East Providence police officer for a malfunctioning headlight. The councilman didn’t initially stop. When the patrol officer finally caught up with him, Faria said: ``Do you know who I am? I sit on your pension board.’’
Mourato: ``I don’t like the way the city politics are, the direction it’s going right now.’’
Ricardo Mourato plans to challenge Faria for the Ward 4 council seat this fall. He has watched Faria during his first term on the council - but initially met him 20 years ago in a much different setting.
Mourato: ``I’m not good with names, but I don’t forget faces. I remember him as being an inmate of the Wyatt Detention Facility while I worked there in the same housing unit.’’
Mourato, a sergeant and 18-year veteran of the Bristol Police Department, previously worked as a correctional officer at the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls in the late 1990s.
One of his inmates: a young Brian Faria.
Mourato: ``Everyone makes mistakes and I know people that have made mistakes as far as breaking the law, but you never hear from them again. They’ve made that mistake, they’ve paid their due and they don’t even want to get a speeding ticket, that’s it. And that’s a lesson learned. Plenty of good people like that. But when you continue to do the same things over and over again and you demonstrate - you show your true colors - that shouldn’t be tolerated.
We made numerous attempts to contact Faria, with no response.
The two-year/four-year council term issue heated up earlier this year when former Councilwoman Chrissy Rossi brought it up at a council meeting. Rossi was on the council when the voters in 2012 approved increasing the terms to four years. The solicitor at the time, Timothy Chapman, who would go on to become city manager, determined the city needed General Assembly approval to make the change.
In 2013 legislation passed the House but was killed on the Senate floor. Rossi could never get her fellow council members at the time interested in trying again to enact the longer terms. She has brought it up unsuccessfully each session since.
The council that was elected in 2016 had a more sympathetic ear. Joseph Botelho, Anna Sousa and Brian Faria agreed with Rossi that the city, under a home rule charter, does not need any other approval to extend the terms.
Botehlo has done extensive research on the issue.
Botehlo: ``We don’t need to send these to the General Assembly. We just don’t.
Hummel: ``Why did you think that?’’
Botelho: ``Because we have a home rule charter and I was on the council from 1984 to 1990 and had a deep understanding of what a home rule charter is. What we could do, what we couldn’t do.’’
Botelho has spoken passionately at recent council meetings.
Botelho: ``A rightly-elected charter amendment, voted on by the people, is misdirected to the General Assembly for approval, and then surreptitiously killed, in a way that it looks like everybody said they could pass it, what does it look like to you? It was an effort to really steal a vote from the people.’’
Burnett: ``There have been a number of things that have happened just since I’ve been following East Providence politics and the government that really don’t make sense to me, so when all of a sudden they said `I’m going to sit in for another two years’ it was like: Enough. Done. No.
Samantha Burnett is managing Mourato’s campaign and that of one other council candidate, so she went to the council for answers earlier this month after learning the majority believes no election is necessary this fall. She said the ballot in 2016 told voters they were deciding on candidates for a two-year term.
Burnett: ``There’s a huge conflict of interest in this. I really feel that if they would like - I think it’s great they want to extend their job and continue to serve the city for another two years. But, do it for the will of the people. And if the will of the people back in 2016 was a two-year term - that’s what people voted on and they can go back to 2012, but to me it seems odd. So why not just go ahead and run again in 2018 and if you want you get a four-year term then?’’
Mourato: ``They don’t want to face their opponents, is that a possibility? They don’t want to campaign and go through that process of campaigning as I’m finding out myself, it’s a lot of work. From the outside as a person sitting there that’s what it seems to me.’’
Hummel: ``For those who are advocating for the 4-year take effect right now, do you think that’s a conflict of interest for them?’’
Mourato: ``I believe it is a conflict of interest. It’s clear in the charter that as a sitting council, for the example, you cannot give yourselves a raise. You can vote for a raise for the incoming council and if they decide to run again and if they win that election so be it, they benefit from that.’’
Faria, 45, served a year in federal prison on a drug possession charge in the late 1990s after being charged by the U.S. Attorney’s office with conspiracy to distribute cocaine; that followed a three-year sentence from a Superior Court judge in 1994 for possession of a Schedule 1 controlled substance.
And he had another felony drug conviction in 2008.
While the majority of Faria’s criminal activity took place more than a decade ago, he had another encounter with the East Providence Police in January. According to police reports obtained by The Hummel Report, Faria was driving north on Pawtucket Avenue on Jan. 18th, just before 7 p.m. when Patrolman Scott McGregor noticed a headlight on Faria’s black Cadillac was out.
The patrolman activated the lights on his cruiser and Faria turned into a Dunkin’ Donuts on Warren Avenue, parked, looked back at the cruiser and began walking into the coffee shop. McGregor ordered Faria back into his vehicle, at one point having to put his hand on the councilman’s shoulder to guide him to the Cadillac.
``Faria became irate as to why I was pulling him over,’’ McGregor wrote in his report, saying he asked Faria for license and registration. ``Faria initially refused and flashed a badge saying `you know who I am.’” McGregor, who had been on the job three weeks, said he didn’t know who he was.
Faria could not produce a registration or proof of insurance. ``Faria flashed his badge a second time and said he was a city councilman. He stated to me `What a great representation of this city! Do you know who I am? I sit on your pension board,’” McGregor quoted Faria telling him. McGregor’s report was corroborated by Patroman Michael Pendergast, who was serving as a field training officer and riding in the passenger’s seat of McGregor’s cruiser.
McGregor eventually let the councilman go, but not before giving him a notice and demand tag to get the headlight fixed, a warning for not producing a registration and explained what he needed to do if he was stopped in the future.
Hummel: ``Do you think he’s advocating for the four-year term because he’s concerned he might not win?’’
Mourato: ``From an outsider, someone looking in, someone sitting out here looking in, that’s what it seems like. If I were in that position I’d say, you know what I don’t want to give anyone that doubt. I don’t want anyone to say I’m afraid of my opponent, or I’m trying to benefit from this. The right thing to do, I’d say from this election forward the four-year term is going to be implemented.’’
Botelho says the council term issue should probably be decided by a court, especially with only two months left to the candidate filing deadline. Earlier this month, a majority of the council voted to have the city clerk codifiy - or amend - the charter to reflect a 4-year term.
As for his critics?
Botelho: ``I think those people conveniently want to overlook the original sin, so to speak, of the election being robbed from the people. Sometimes I think we’ve being vilified for trying to clean this up. We didn’t start the problem, okay? I’m not the kind of guy that likes to look the other way. If I find that there’s an issue we need to clean it up or it’s going to continue to be an issue over and over and over again.’’
Mourato has a different take.
Mourato: ``This whole thing can go away, as far as litigation, possible pending lawsuits from maybe the candidates or whoever. No one will disagree by saying start in this election moving forward. No one. And then the will of the people will be met.’’
In East Providence, Jim Hummel, for The Hummel Report.