The Hummel Report: Mid-Year Update

Editor’s note: The Hummel Report’s mid-year update has new information on a handful of previous investigations.

Uneasy Adjustment — In April we profiled Larry Rzepecki of Pawtucket, who was charged more than $200 by National Grid after he left the utility to start receiving his electricity from American Power. The Grid called the charges a billing adjustment to make up for the lower rates Rzepecki and others paid for their power early in the year.

The practice caught the attention of Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, who last month, along with representatives from the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office, urged the Public Utilities Commission to eliminate the charge, and to refund the close to $1.5 million dollars former customers have paid since January after making the switch.

McKee told us at the hearing that the adjustment charge has had a chilling effect on customers who are considering making a change in supplier. Rzepecki, who also spoke at the PUC hearing, told us he never would have switched, had he known about the charge.

The PUC is expected this month to eliminate the charge, but it’s unclear whether former customers will see any refunds.

Major No-Show — Our story late last year on Pawtucket Police Major Bruce Moreau spending work days on the golf course has prompted the city council to soon require that every city vehicle be equipped with a GPS system.

Our four-month investigation found Moreau on the golf course, at his own house and his parents’ house on days city records say he was working, sometimes pulling in overtime as well. We found his city-issued SUV regularly at several area golf courses and he told us golf is one of his hobbies.

The city council in May voted to do something that has been talked about for years: spend more than $100,000 to install GPS systems in every city-owned vehicle — including all police cars and even the mayor’s car. The installation should begin later this summer. Meanwhile, the Rhode Island State Police is investigating potential departmental violations against Moreau after finding there was not enough evidence to charge him criminally.

Welcome to Providence … Watch Your Step — There is great news for riders of AMTRAK: after five years of talk, officials are finally making much-needed improvements to the exterior of the Providence train station, which for years has looked like a war zone.

Rutted concrete and graffiti has greeted train passengers on the city side of the Providence station for years. We first reported on the conditions more than five years ago, but city, state and federal officials argued about who should pay for the improvements.

Finally, the state Depart of Transportation, using federal funds, awarded a $6.9 million contract for a year-long overhaul of the station’s exterior. The work, which began in April, has resulted in significant detours around the station, but the project is expected to be finished next spring.

A Delicate Balance — Plans for a proposed Oyster Farm in a South County a cove drew swift and loud opposition from neighbors. Now we’ve learned that the plan is on hold.

The original plan by Narragansett resident David Bartley called for creation of a 2.9-acre oyster farm just east of Ram Island in Narragansett’s Champlin Cove. But many who use the waters argued it infringed on boating, water skiing and other activities in that offshoot of Point Judith Pond. And they contacted the state’s Coast Resources Management Council to oppose it.

CRMC’s David Beutel says he has spoken with Bartley periodically since our story, first hearing that Barley planned to reduce the size of the proposed farm. But Beutel says he has heard nothing recently, effectively putting the project on hold.

Fall From Power — Last month was the closing chapter to a series of investigations we’ve done since 2011 on former House Speaker Gordon Fox, who earlier this year pled guilty to corruption charges. Next month he begins a three-year sentence in federal prison.

Fox admitted he accepted a bribe in exchange for voting for a controversial liquor license when he sat on Providence’s licensing board. For his admission the government recommended 36 months in prison. And that’s what Fox received when he was sentenced Jun 11 by Judge Mary Lisi. The former speaker reports this month to begin that sentence.

The Hummel Report first began looking at Fox’s role in a troubled city loan program three years ago. Fox was the closing attorney for dozens of the loans and we reported the feds cracked down after a 63% default rate on one of the programs. Last month WPRI.com reported that the fallout from that program continues, and that the city is writing off an additional $1.5 million in taxpayer-funded business loans that have failed.

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization that relies, in part, on your donations. If you have a story idea or want make a donation go to www.hummelreport.org, where you can also see the video version of this story. You can mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.org.

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