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The Hummel Report

You’re Fired!

The ex-head of Providence Water conceals one key detail from her new employer

A year ago this month the head of the Providence Water Supply Board was shown the door.

Pamela Marchand had been the general manager of the state’s premier water agency for six years, only to arrive at work one day and find out it would be her last. She was being terminated immediately. But nobody would say why, or how much it would cost ratepayers to buy out her contract.

Ten weeks after she was fired, Marchand signed a three-year contract as the new executive director of the Bristol County Water Authority. She called her new position a dream job and nearly every one of the board members who voted unanimously to hire her thought Marchand had left her previous job voluntarily.

Marchand was going to an agency a tenth the size of Providence and taking a 30 percent pay cut, but apparently no one in Bristol County thought to ask why. The Hummel Report has learned that ratepayers will shell out more than a quarter of a million dollars to buy out Marchand’s contract by the time it runs out early next year including salary, car allowance, medical and dental payments and unused vacation and holiday pay. She was earning $180,000 a year at the time of her departure.

It took us six months – and a change in the state’s open records law – to obtain the details of her termination. The board refused to comment at the time of her firing and denied our initial request last spring for her contract and termination agreement, saying it was not obliged to produce it under state law, even though public money was involved.

The General Assembly modified the open records law in June to include public employee contracts, and we resubmitted our request. We received the numbers and found out Marchand was terminated without cause, but the paper trail offered no explanation as to why.

Board Chairman Brett Smiley would not answer us directly when we pressed him for a reason.

Smiley: “We made a determination that it was in the best interests of Providence Water and in the best interest of the ratepayers to bring on a new general manager.”

Hummel: “But those ratepayers are picking up $250,000 and many are saying if it’s a shift of a opinion, if it’s a direction the board wanted to go, don’t they deserve an answer what the reason is? We’ve gotten no reason at all.”

Smiley: “The ratepayers of Providence Water have the least expensive water in Rhode Island and we’ve just gone into our fourth year without requesting a rate hike. So I think the ratepayers of Providence Water are getting excellent water at an amazing value that no other system in the state can provide and should be really pleased with the water that they’re getting and the price they’re paying for it.”

Inside sources tell the Hummel Report that Marchand had a falling out with the new administration and that Mayor Angel Taveras wanted her out.

So the authority sent a termination notice to Marchand on December 19, 2011, effectively immediately. That meant it had to pay her for 14 months of salary, translating to $207,000. In addition Marchand received $700 in car allowance; $2,675 in medical and dental payments; $4,769 in holiday pay; and $41,000 for unused vacation time for a total of $256,144.

Marchand became a leading contender for the Bristol County Water Authority job following her termination. We were able to reach seven of the nine members who voted to hire her. Only Allan Klepper, who headed the search committee and is now the board chairman, knew Marchand had been terminated. The other six we reached said they did not know she had been fired and apparently no one asked.

The board chairman at the time, John Jannitto, tells the Hummel Report that he thought “she was fed up with what was going on [in Providence] and decided to move out and go to a smaller water authority. That’s the impression she gave.”

Jannitto was quoted at the time of Marchand’s hiring as saying: “She was not removed.” And that if Marchand had been terminated, the board would have found out about it in the vetting process. He told us that if he had known she was fired, it might have changed his mind on hiring her.

Klepper and several other board members we spoke with said they have been pleased by Marchand’s performance in her first eight months on the job. Klepper added that she has extraordinary experience in the water management field. She is earning $125,000 a year in Bristol County.

Marchand, though her personal lawyer, declined our request for an interview. So we paid her an unannounced visit to her office last month, where she refused to answer our questions and asked us to leave the offices, which are in a public building.

“This is not a discussion,” she told us, before shutting a door and walking away. “You are not welcome here.”

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.com. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.com.




The Hummel Report

In the Hot Seat
The alarm is sounded on Pawtucket Fire Marshall Steven Parent

Captain Steven Parent is a 25-year veteran of the Pawtucket Fire Department and for the past two years has served as the city’s fire marshal. He makes $64,000 a year.

Sixteen months ago, Parent added his girlfriend’s daughter to his family medical plan, joining his ex-wife and two daughters on the City’s Blue Cross plan.

We asked the captain about it as he arrived for work earlier this month. His  response? There’s a simple explanation.

“Because we were planning on getting married and unfortunately we had some family issues, a serious accident in the family,” Parent said. “It kind of pushed it all back. So, that’s basically what it came down to.”

A year-and-a-half later, Parent still hasn’t gotten married, although we spotted his City-issued car regularly at his girlfriend’s house in Smithfield. The girlfriend’s daughter was on the family plan for nearly a year, costing the City thousands of dollars in claims. When The Pawtucket Times interviewed him, after our story ran, he referred to her as his “fiancée.”

Parent told us he got approval from the personnel office at the time – that he questioned whether he could actually put her on his plan before the marriage, and that the City agreed to it.

But Mayor Donald Grebien says there are inconsistencies in Parent’s account and has asked the police department to look into it. The mayor says a detective has been assigned to investigate.

“Clearly, he never should have been put on the Blue Cross, no matter what the circumstances,” Grebien says. “For someone to get on Blue Cross, they have to provide a marriage certificate… We’ve gone back to the former employee who put him on, had the discussion with her. There are dual conflicting stories out there.”

“What the former employee said, is that she remembers it happened but they were under the presumption that this was his daughter from a previous marriage,” he states.

Grebien says the former human resources director may not have been getting the straight story from Parent when he approached her, which is why the mayor has called in the police.

The City of Pawtucket is self-insured, meaning it pays directly for all claims made on its policies. Grebien says the girlfriend’s daughter cost the City just shy of $3,000 for the 10 months she was on the family plan. That includes $2,775.58 for claims to Blue Cross, $115.29 in pharmacy claims and a $72.27 administrative fee the City paid to Blue Cross.

Last month – eight days after we interviewed him – Captain Parent wrote a check to reimburse the City for the girl’s medical expenses.

Hummel: “So, are you saying that instead of anticipating, saying `I’m going to get married – it’s going to be a couple of months down the line,’ he should have waited until it actually happened?”

Grebien: “Absolutely, and the employee shouldn’t have put him in whatsoever. The former employee is saying that… her recollection is that [Parent] came in and she was under the impression this was his daughter from a previous marriage, because at that time his ex-wife was still being covered.

If you went in there even with the story of having the intent of being married in August and you said, okay, ‘Filing deadline, open enrollment, is July, it’s a month’s time,’ you still have to know in your mind as an individual – if something changes, and you didn’t get married in August, the bulb’s got to go off.”

So where does it go from here?

“If we can prove there was intent, clearly we’re going to go after whatever recourse there is,” Grebien said. “My opinion, it’s above the $500 rule so it could be as aggressive as a felony.”

But we won’t know that until the police investigation is complete. And in the meantime, Captain Parent remains on the job.

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.com. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.com.




The Hummel Spotlight

Editor’s note: The Hummel Report has launched a monthly feature called The Hummel Spotlight, focusing on people and organizations making a difference in the community.

 

PROVIDENCE – It is a finely tuned operation between periods in Melissa Moniz’s classroom, as her 6th- graders head out the door and the 5th-graders settle in. Moniz, a math teacher, knows each girl in school by name. That’s because she’s taught all of the 60 students who are enrolled here.

 

The school is Sophia Academy on Branch Avenue. It is a private, non-denominational institution geared toward a very specific group: 5th- through 8th-grade girls from low-income homes, most with single parents.

 

And nearly all are from Providence, including Moniz, whose father came here from the Dominican Republic. She went to Mount Pleasant High School, then on to Brown University, where she was a pre-med major.

 

But after her freshman year, Moniz found she loved teaching more than medicine and came to Sophia nearly a decade ago, making her the veteran of the faculty. She sees herself in many of the girls. “I’m a young woman of color; I can relate to a lot of things that they experience in their day-to-day lives, whether it’s food or different sayings that we say in our culture.”

 

Gigi DiBello became Sophia’s head of school five years ago, after working at the Highlander Charter School in Providence and before that, heading the women’s center at Brown.

 

“Here, I think the kids feel understood, they feel respected,” DiBello said. “We don’t yell and they feel heard. So it’s less of an adversarial situation and it’s more of, ‘We’re in this together, because you’re a girl and you’re going to grow to be a woman, and I’m a woman and we have to kind of watch each other’s backs.’”

 

Sophia Academy was founded 12 years ago by Mary Reilly, a Sister of Mercy from South Providence who spent six years in Central America and saw abject poverty. She had a dream of reaching girls, beginning in the 5th grade, and trying to break the cycle of poverty.

 

The expectations are high here: the girls have excelled on standardized tests and most go on to prominent high schools.

 

As a private school, Sophia relies on donations and grants to cover its $900,000 annual budget. And while each family is expected to contribute something toward tuition, it’s on a sliding scale and covers only a fraction of the total budget. That gave Gigi DiBello some pause when she came here in 2007.

 

DiBello: “If the mission is good and the founder is solid and there’s the inspiration piece there, it makes sense. That stuff will take care of itself if you put together a solid team. But the money part was daunting. This is an independent school and most independent schools are built on a model where tuition is what feeds the school, so it’s a pretty sound business model even during a difficult economic crisis.”

 

Hummel: “And at the Bay Views, the Hendrickens, the Exeters, the St. Andrew’s, usually there’s a pipeline of money.”

 

DiBello: “Correct.”

 

Hummel: “And that’s the antithesis here.”

 

DiBello: “And that’s exactly right. Our model kind of turns that upside down so our tuition makes up 3 percent of our total budget.”

 

And, DiBello says, Sophia faces a set of challenges different from many other independent schools. The academy is taking a big step as it plans to move from its current location – renting this building from St. Edward’s Church on Branch Avenue – to a new location in South Providence, where most of its students live.

 

Sophia is buying the old ALP building on Elmwood Avenue and expecting to move in within the next two years. The Board of Directors has raised nearly half of the $1.5 million goal.

 

“We’ll be in that building within two years and we’ll own that building. It sends a really strong message to our donors, to our families, to our teachers that we’re here, we’re here to stay, we’re here to have a foothold in the community,” DiBello said.

 

Moniz said she can’t imagine teaching anywhere else. “I absolutely love being with the students and learning about them. I always say to the girls, ‘This is a two-way street. So I’m going to give you something, you’re going to give me something back in return. We’re going to go back-and-forth.’ I teach everyone. The 8th graders I have now I have had since 5th grade. I get to see their growth; I get to see how they develop as young women and also as students. And it’s just a beautiful thing to be able to witness.”

 

If you know of a person or organization that deserves the spotlight, send an email to spotlight@hummelreport.com.




The Hummel Report

Barrington has the reputation as one of Rhode Island’s most affluent towns: a waterfront community, chock full of wealthy people who live in upscale homes.

 

And while that is true for some parts of this 15-square-mile community, there’s another side to the story. Longtime resident Gary Morse has friends living in Barrington who are struggling to make ends meet.

 

“There is the illusion that everybody in Barrington is wealthy when, in fact, one-third of the entire town could qualify for affordable housing and one-third of the houses in Barrington actually fall into the affordable guidelines,” he said.

 

Morse, who has been critical of the council’s handling of affordable housing projects over the past decade, says the issue is not wealthy people trying to keep others out; rather equity for those who live in what could be considered affordable housing, but don’t get tax breaks and other benefits given to projects like these. “Some of the people who are living in those developments are actually making more money than the people who have to do the subsidizing,” he said.

 

Using an intricate formula set by the state, Morse calculates that one-third of all of the houses in Barrington would qualify as affordable housing under the state’s definition from laws passed in the 1990s and amended in 2004. For a family of four, the affordable house price would be about $315,000 or less.

 

The law mandates that 10 percent of a community’s housing stock be affordable, but doesn’t allow for the houses Morse figured in because in order to qualify by the state’s definition, they have to be subsidized in some way by the municipality and have at least a 30-year deed restriction on resale or re-rental. That means Barrington officially has only 160 affordable units in town.

 

So while a modest, affordable house in town could be paying nearly $4,000 a year in taxes and is subject to the town’s periodic revaluation, a house in one of Barrington’s affordable housing developments, as defined by the state, has assessments that are locked in for 30 years. The only increase comes as the tax rate increases, but the assessments don’t.

 

Town Council President June Speakman was elected a decade ago as the town’s first affordable housing development, Sweet Briar, was in its infancy. Speakman says she doubts the town can achieve the state mandate of 10 percent affordable housing.

 

“I think it’s a noble goal and one that we’ve been moving toward diligently, and the state has acknowledged that, but it’s very hard in this community to get to 10 percent given that it’s built out and the property values are high. You really need a significant intervention into the market to make it happen and that’s hard to do,” she said.

 

Sweet Briar was the town’s first major development and it was controversial from the start, with many residents concerned it would strain schools and town services. Local officials fought a losing battle against it all the way to the state Supreme Court. And in 2008, 47 rental units went up for low and moderate income residents. Morse said as construction was nearly complete, the East Bay Community Development Corporation (EBCDC), which developed the project, came to the town for help.

 

“The management group for Sweet Briar, the EBCDC, came to the town council and said, ‘Look, we’ve put in this project, but we can’t make it work without property tax subsidies paid for by the local residents,’” he said.

 

So the council at the time voted to give developers a significant tax break. Speakman voted for the tax break in late 2008, based on a legal opinion that Morse says was a stretch of the law.

 

Hummel: “In reality, doesn’t that really put the council in a tough position? It’s holding the council hostage, is it not? Because what if you had turned them down on that?”

 

Speakman: “Yeah, well, I didn’t see it as being held hostage. I saw it as helping us move toward our goal of getting that project completed.”

 

What many don’t know is that after 30 years, the deed restriction goes away and the units can be sold or rented by the owners at market value after receiving decades of tax breaks. The affordable housing issue is likely to dominate much of the council’s time after the election as several projects are in various stages of planning and development, including the most recent off Sowams Road called Palmer Pointe.

Morse says the law needs to change. So we asked Speakman whether she had thought about going to the state to ask for relief.

 

“My understanding of the General Assembly’s view of this legislation is that the suburban communities need to share in the housing of people of modest incomes,” Speakman said. “That the urban areas have done their share, many at 30 or 40 percent of housing rented or owned by people of low or moderate incomes, and the suburban communities need to share in that. So the state would be less friendly, I think, toward helping more because the urban communities believe they helped enough in housing these populations.”

 

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.com. Or email Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.com.




The Hummel Spotlight: Sophia Academy

The Hummel Report

Editor’s note: The Hummel Report has launched a monthly feature called The Hummel Spotlight, focusing on people and organizations making a difference in the community.

PROVIDENCE – It is a finely tuned operation between periods in Melissa Moniz’s classroom, as her 6th- graders head out the door and the 5th-graders settle in. Moniz, a math teacher, knows each girl in school by name. That’s because she’s taught all of the 60 students who are enrolled here.

The school is Sophia Academy on Branch Avenue. It is a private, non-denominational institution geared toward a very specific group: 5th- through 8th-grade girls from low-income homes, most with single parents.

And nearly all are from Providence, including Moniz, whose father came here from the Dominican Republic. She went to Mount Pleasant High School, then on to Brown University, where she was a pre-med major.

But after her freshman year, Moniz found she loved teaching more than medicine and came to Sophia nearly a decade ago, making her the veteran of the faculty. She sees herself in many of the girls. “I’m a young woman of color; I can relate to a lot of things that they experience in their day-to-day lives, whether it’s food or different sayings that we say in our culture.”

 

Gigi DiBello became Sophia’s head of school five years ago, after working at the Highlander Charter School in Providence and before that, heading the women’s center at Brown.

“Here, I think the kids feel understood, they feel respected,” DiBello said. “We don’t yell and they feel heard. So it’s less of an adversarial situation and it’s more of, ‘We’re in this together, because you’re a girl and you’re going to grow to be a woman, and I’m a woman and we have to kind of watch each other’s backs.’”

Sophia Academy was founded 12 years ago by Mary Reilly, a Sister of Mercy from South Providence who spent six years in Central America and saw abject poverty. She had a dream of reaching girls, beginning in the 5th grade, and trying to break the cycle of poverty.

 

The expectations are high here: the girls have excelled on standardized tests and most go on to prominent high schools.

 

As a private school, Sophia relies on donations and grants to cover its $900,000 annual budget. And while each family is expected to contribute something toward tuition, it’s on a sliding scale and covers only a fraction of the total budget. That gave Gigi DiBello some pause when she came here in 2007.

DiBello: “If the mission is good and the founder is solid and there’s the inspiration piece there, it makes sense. That stuff will take care of itself if you put together a solid team. But the money part was daunting. This is an independent school and most independent schools are built on a model where tuition is what feeds the school, so it’s a pretty sound business model even during a difficult economic crisis.”

Hummel: “And at the Bay Views, the Hendrickens, the Exeters, the St. Andrew’s, usually there’s a pipeline of money.”

DiBello: “Correct.”

 

Hummel: “And that’s the antithesis here.”

DiBello: “And that’s exactly right. Our model kind of turns that upside down so our tuition makes up 3 percent of our total budget.”

And, DiBello says, Sophia faces a set of challenges different from many other independent schools. The academy is taking a big step as it plans to move from its current location – renting this building from St. Edward’s Church on Branch Avenue – to a new location in South Providence, where most of its students live.

 

Sophia is buying the old ALP building on Elmwood Avenue and expecting to move in within the next two years. The Board of Directors has raised nearly half of the $1.5 million goal.

“We’ll be in that building within two years and we’ll own that building. It sends a really strong message to our donors, to our families, to our teachers that we’re here, we’re here to stay, we’re here to have a foothold in the community,” DiBello said.

Moniz said she can’t imagine teaching anywhere else. “I absolutely love being with the students and learning about them. I always say to the girls, ‘This is a two-way street. So I’m going to give you something, you’re going to give me something back in return. We’re going to go back-and-forth.’ I teach everyone. The 8th graders I have now I have had since 5th grade. I get to see their growth; I get to see how they develop as young women and also as students. And it’s just a beautiful thing to be able to witness.”

 If you know of a person or organization that deserves the spotlight, send an email to spotlight@hummelreport.com.

 




The Hummel Report: Affordable Housing in Barrington Defined

Barrington has the reputation as one of Rhode Island’s most affluent towns: a waterfront community, chock full of wealthy people who live in upscale homes.

And while that is true for some parts of this 15-square-mile community, there’s another side to the story. Longtime resident Gary Morse has friends living in Barrington who are struggling to make ends meet.

“There is the illusion that everybody in Barrington is wealthy when, in fact, one-third of the entire town could qualify for affordable housing and one-third of the houses in Barrington actually fall into the affordable guidelines,” he said.

Morse, who has been critical of the council’s handling of affordable housing projects over the past decade, says the issue is not wealthy people trying to keep others out; rather equity for those who live in what could be considered affordable housing, but don’t get tax breaks and other benefits given to projects like these. “Some of the people who are living in those developments are actually making more money than the people who have to do the subsidizing,” he said.

Using an intricate formula set by the state, Morse calculates that one-third of all of the houses in Barrington would qualify as affordable housing under the state’s definition from laws passed in the 1990s and amended in 2004. For a family of four, the affordable house price would be about $315,000 or less.

The law mandates that 10 percent of a community’s housing stock be affordable, but doesn’t allow for the houses Morse figured in because in order to qualify by the state’s definition, they have to be subsidized in some way by the municipality and have at least a 30-year deed restriction on resale or re-rental. That means Barrington officially has only 160 affordable units in town.

So while a modest, affordable house in town could be paying nearly $4,000 a year in taxes and is subject to the town’s periodic revaluation, a house in one of Barrington’s affordable housing developments, as defined by the state, has assessments that are locked in for 30 years. The only increase comes as the tax rate increases, but the assessments don’t.

Town Council President June Speakman was elected a decade ago as the town’s first affordable housing development, Sweet Briar, was in its infancy. Speakman says she doubts the town can achieve the state mandate of 10 percent affordable housing.

 

“I think it’s a noble goal and one that we’ve been moving toward diligently, and the state has acknowledged that, but it’s very hard in this community to get to 10 percent given that it’s built out and the property values are high. You really need a significant intervention into the market to make it happen and that’s hard to do,” she said.

Sweet Briar was the town’s first major development and it was controversial from the start, with many residents concerned it would strain schools and town services. Local officials fought a losing battle against it all the way to the state Supreme Court. And in 2008, 47 rental units went up for low and moderate income residents. Morse said as construction was nearly complete, the East Bay Community Development Corporation (EBCDC), which developed the project, came to the town for help.

“The management group for Sweet Briar, the EBCDC, came to the town council and said, ‘Look, we’ve put in this project, but we can’t make it work without property tax subsidies paid for by the local residents,’” he said.

So the council at the time voted to give developers a significant tax break. Speakman voted for the tax break in late 2008, based on a legal opinion that Morse says was a stretch of the law.

 Hummel: “In reality, doesn’t that really put the council in a tough position? It’s holding the council hostage, is it not? Because what if you had turned them down on that?”

Speakman: “Yeah, well, I didn’t see it as being held hostage. I saw it as helping us move toward our goal of getting that project completed.”

What many don’t know is that after 30 years, the deed restriction goes away and the units can be sold or rented by the owners at market value after receiving decades of tax breaks. The affordable housing issue is likely to dominate much of the council’s time after the election as several projects are in various stages of planning and development, including the most recent off Sowams Road called Palmer Pointe.

Morse says the law needs to change. So we asked Speakman whether she had thought about going to the state to ask for relief.

“My understanding of the General Assembly’s view of this legislation is that the suburban communities need to share in the housing of people of modest incomes,” Speakman said. “That the urban areas have done their share, many at 30 or 40 percent of housing rented or owned by people of low or moderate incomes, and the suburban communities need to share in that. So the state would be less friendly, I think, toward helping more because the urban communities believe they helped enough in housing these populations.”

 The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.com. Or email Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.com.

 




Celebrities Crowd Guest List for RI Comic Con

If you think you hear characters from Futurama around Providence next month, you’re not hallucinating. If at some point, you think you’ve seen the crew of the original Battlestar Galactica cross the street DownCity, you still won’t be hallucinating. And if you see Chewbacca walking through the Providence Place Mall … well, you get the idea.

Rhode Island ComicCon is coming to Providence.Rhode Island’s first comic book and media convention is scheduled for November 3 and 4 at the Rhode Island Convention Center.

Legendary voice actor Billy West will be among the event’s many recognizable guests. West launched his career in the early 1980s performing daily comedic routines on Boston’s WBCN. He left the radio station and became a writer and cast member on The Howard Stern Show during the early to mid-1990s, where he gained nationwide fame with his impersonations of Larry Fine and late Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott. West created the characters of Ren & Stimpy, and most recently, Fry and Dr. Zoidberg on Futurama.

The two-day RI ComicCon will debut with a myriad of guests from comics, movies, animation, wrestling and television. It will host the first New EnglandBattlestarGalactica Reunion with Dirk Benedict (Starbuck), Richard Hatch (Apollo), Noah Hathaway (Boxey), Herb Jefferson Jr. (Boomer), Anne Lockhart (Sheba), Felix Silla (Lucifer) and LauretteSpang (Cassiopea).

“I’m feeling very excited for the event,” says producer Steven Perry, “The area really needed a show like this. I’ve been producing similar events for four years forAltered Reality Entertainment, and I’ve been a collector for over 30 years. We really wanted to take on a much bigger show.”

From the Star Trek franchise, John DeLancie(Q) and Gary Graham (Soval) will be appearing as well. Other fan favorites scheduled to appear include Nicholas Brendon (Xander from Buffy), Peter Mayhew (the legendary Chewbacca – see separate interview in this paper), Lee Meriwether (Catwoman), Mark Goddard (Maj. Don West from Lost in Space), Gil Gerard (Buck Rogers) and Larry Thomas,the “No Soup for You” guy from Seinfeld. Dozens of others are slated to appear, along with over 100 comic book artists.

“It’s really exciting to do one on this scale,” says Perry, “with so many artists, and over 50 celebrities.”

The weekend will also include a Magic the Gathering tournament on Saturday and a Pokemon tournament on Sunday. Saturday also features a special viewing of “CODE NAME:  BLAST OFF”, the story behind the legend of GI Joe with Tristan Rudat and Ron Rudat, the original artist for the cartoon, who’s also responsible for creating COBRA, GI Joe’s nemesis. Sunday’s events include a game of CLUE with the original cast of the VCR/board game and a Costume Contest for kids and adults.

 

Rhode Island Comic Con is also participating in the SUPERCON 2K Video Game Competition. The competition will continue throughout the entire weekend.A portion of the convention’s proceeds, and donations from a special auction, will benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Rhode Island Comic Con is being produced and organized by Altered Reality Entertainment. In the past three years, the entertainment company has produced events including the Southcoast Toy and Comic Show and the Southcoast Paranormal and Psychic Faire. Current sponsors of RI Comic Con include Dave & Busters,Boston Area Toy Collectors Club,Gamer Soda, Papa Gino’s and GameStop-Providence. Tickets to RI Comic Con are currently on sale through Ticketmaster. For more information on Rhode Island Comic Con, visit www.ricomiccon.com or on Facebook.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for Jawas in the crosswalks.




On Call

Providence City Council members’ cell phones cost taxpayers big bucks

For more than a decade, it was a perk that had largely flown under the public radar: Use of a city-issued cell phone for every member of the Providence City Council, if they wanted one. That, on top of an average $19,000 yearly medical benefits and a pension (in some cases two) if they wanted in on it. All for a part-time job.
The cell phones, which have morphed into Smart Phones with full internet and email access, cost taxpayers an average $100 per month per line as part of a family plan for the dozen city council members who have opted to take them, plus six city council office staffers. The total bill in April was $21,600. A dozen of the 15 council members have a city phone. The other three — including Council President Michael Solomon — use their own, at their own expense.
They became an issue this past winter when the council’s newest member, Carmen Castillo, turned a few heads in the city council office when she racked up close to $1,500 in extra charges in just four months. Castillo won a special election last fall to fill the seat of the late Miguel Luna.
“Sometimes I get 200 calls in a day and for the first couple of months, I say ‘Oh my God this is crazy,’” Castillo said in an interview with the Hummel Report. The councilwoman wound up reimbursing the city $832 for what she determined to be personal calls.
So what happened?
Castillo said when her line was added to the council’s “family plan” of minutes, she was not included in the pool, which meant each call she made or received cost money. She also had transferred her personal cell phone number — the one everyone had for her as a contact — to the city phone, including family and friends, some of whom are in the Dominican Republic. And those international calls added up quickly.
Hummel: Did you have any discussion with anybody in the city that you really need to separate personal, business, potentially long-distance oversees?
Castillo: Not really. But you know, when I decided to take my personal phone, it’s (confusing) to get (a) different number.
Hummel: Was it a lot of calls? Was it calls out of the United States? How did it add up to hundreds of dollars of charges?
Castillo: First of all, when I get my phone, I’m not in the same plan for the city council. My minutes, if you pass a certain number of minutes you can get really get really, really expensive minutes. The most money is the city don’t put me in the same thing with the other city councilors.
Hummel: You weren’t in the big family plan.
Castillo: I’m out.
Hummel: You were part of the family, but you really weren’t part of the family
Castillo: Exactly.
The larger issue is whether Providence city council members should have taxpayer-funded phones at all. The Hummel Report spoke with every member on the council, and they defended the use, saying it is a necessary tool, especially those who are not given office space or voicemail at City Hall.
“My phone is my office,’’ first-term councilwoman Sabina Matos told us. “I believe we do need it. That’s how we communicate with the constituents. As long as we’re using it the right way and as long as we have a plan that doesn’t allow for abuse, we do need the cell phone. If we didn’t have the cell phone we should have a voicemail system set up in the city that we could check.”
Wilbur Jennings, also a first-term councilman said: “If there’s any emergency in my ward, or an emergency in general, they can always have access to me and get in touch with me.”
Hummel: Should the council be doing this when we’re in such tough budget times? What would your answer to that be?
Jennings: Well I tell you what. I’ll tell them: ‘We’re doing this for. We’re doing this for the people out there, for the taxpayers, it isn’t about doing anything personal for me or for my wife my brother, son or daughter.’ We’re doing it for the taxpayers and that’s what it really comes down to.
City Council President Michael Solomon was elected in 2006.
“They told me that I’d have a cell phone made available to me and at the time I didn’t think I needed one with my business and I have a plan that has plenty of minutes on it so I decided not to take the cell phone,’’ he said.
But Solomon doesn’t begrudge his fellow members using the city-issued phone, saying it’s a sign of the times.
“I think the council members put a lot of time in and some of them that’s their bloodline to their constituents. I think, obviously, it’s a tool you need. You wouldn’t ask a carpenter to go build a house and not give him a hammer, so I think it’s just one of the tools the council members use to keep in touch with their constituents.”

The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.com. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.com.




Bay Commission Winds

Environmental agency puts turbines to good use

Wherever you go on the Providence waterfront these days, they are impossible to miss: Three massive wind turbines that have changed the landscape of the Providence River.
So who, you may wonder, put them up, and why? And why are they not spinning yet?
Thomas Uva oversees the turbine project for the Narragansett Bay Commission, which handles the wastewater for 10 communities and 70 percent of all households that have sewers in Rhode Island. The commission handles 30 billion gallons of sewage annually, spending $4 million per year on electricity.
Uva: We depend on electricity. Wastewater treatment plants are the largest users in the country.
Hummel: Even a small rate increase that might cost me $20 in my house, translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars for you.
Uva: Absolutely, absolutely and that translates into the 10 cities and towns we send bills out to, so anything we can do to stabilize our electric rates helps our ratepayers.
So the commission began exploring wind energy six years ago. It’s taken that long to go through feasibility studies, zoning approval and to figure out the economics.
Uva: We did extensive studies on wind energy. We put up meteorological towers so we could measure wind speed throughout a two-year period almost. So we had plenty of wind data, so we knew this was a potential good site. Not a site an expensive developer might go in to build in, but because we could use the energy here. It was very cost-effective and a good opportunity for us.
Hummel: Did your gut tell you that you thought the wind was good or were you surprised when the results came back?
Uva: No, I wasn’t surprised. It’s windy here every day. The way the wind comes up Narragansett Bay it’s almost like a funnel and it blows the wind right up the bay right over our facility.
And that’s one of the big differences between this project and a failed proposal in North Kingstown, last year, that ultimately collapsed under the weight of public controversy. The turbines are located in an industrial area, but the commission reached out to those living miles away in residential neighborhoods as well.
Uva: And we sent letters out to 300 of our neighbors and we had two public meetings. In addition to the letter, we sent a survey out asking if they favored wind power and overwhelmingly the surveys that were returned to us were in favor of seeing wind turbines go up in the area.
The project will cost $12 million and is being financed through revenue bonds. The commission expects to have it paid off in 12 years and the life expectancy of the turbines is 20 to 25 years. No federal money is involved and because some of the parts were manufactured overseas the commission could not use stimulus money.
Uva: There’s one turbine manufacturer in America that makes these size turbines and that was General Electric. They wouldn’t even talk to us. They want to do large wind farms. They don’t want to do small projects like this.
Hummel: So three turbines to them was not worth their time?
Uva: They wouldn’t even talk to us.
This project is also different from the controversial turbine the town of Portsmouth put up several years ago — with the purpose of selling all of the electricity it produced back to National Grid. The Narragansett Bay Commission estimates it will be able to supply 40 percent of the power it needs power from the three turbines — and sell back any excess to the grid during off-peak use times.
The 363-foot turbines arrived in pieces by boat and by truck in January and the commission put together this time-lapse video together when they were assembled over the course of five days in February. They are located in a big triangle on the commission’s property at Field’s Point.
Hummel: Tell me why it takes so long, from February to June or July, when you get them online.
Uva: It’s similar to building a house and when you build a house you pour your foundation and build the walls and you put the roof in and button up the house. Then you have to go inside and put up your sheetrock, put in your insulation, put in your wiring and electricity. And that’s where we stand right now.
The commission is also building a huge central link that will take in the electricity produced from all three turbines and distribute it.
Uva: Jim, if you can’t put up wind turbines in this industrial area, Field’s Point, you can’t put them up anywhere in Rhode Island. It’s not going to happen. I view these as three beautiful flowers that have blossomed in piles of coal, salt and scrap metal and I can’t wait to see them start spinning and generating power for our ratepayers.
Uva expects the three to go online sometime this summer.
The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.com. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.com.




Paying the Freight

Wickford Junction proves a costly startup project

Despite the state being on the hook for a potential cost of $50K per month, D.O.T Director Michael Lewis says Wickford Junction makes long-term sense for Rhode Islanders.

From Route 102 in North Kingstown the 4-story building it’s hard to miss. A clock-tower overlooks brand new entrance roads, fresh landscaping and a gleaming glass elevator.
The brand-new Wickford Junction commuter rail station is impressive. And it should be, with a price tag of $44 million taxpayer dollars.
At a dedication ceremony last month, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, all of whom spoke glowingly about the future of transportation and being able to secure stimulus money, among other federal tax dollars, to build the new station.
“All of those 30-second commercials you may have seen during the last campaign about the fact the stimulus didn’t work were wrong. It worked,” LaHood said to an applauding audience of hundreds that had gathered for the grand opening.
The service had been years in the planning and execution, and extends commuter rail service provided by the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority to South County.
While federal tax dollars covered $36 million of the total cost, Rhode Island’s taxpayers kicked in $8 million in bond money, which means there will be interest costs as well. The project is a public/private partnership between Rhode Island’s Department of Transportation and Bob Cioe, who developed the adjacent Wickford Junction shopping center.
Cioe had reason to smile as construction workers who benefited from the $25 million price tag of the garage alone came up to receive awards for their work. The state paid Cioe $3.2 million for the land that houses the 4-level, 1,100-space parking garage. And Cioe’s company will also be paid to operate the facility. If for some reason it doesn’t work, the state owns the building and Cioe walks away.
What you don’t see in the press releases is how much it will cost taxpayers to maintain the station. The state is paying Cioe’s company a $15,000 per month ‘management’ fee. It is also paying a $15,300 monthly parking operator fee. And an estimated $8,400/month electric bill.
Throw in trash and snow removal, landscaping and other costs and the bill to maintain the facility comes to $56,000 per month. That’s $672,000 a year. The D.O.T. is banking on the $4/day parking fee and other revenue generated from concessions inside the station to initially generate up to $10,000 per month. That still leaves the state responsible for more than half a million in operating expenses every year. A D.O.T. spokesman tells the Hummel Report D.O.T applied for a federal grant to cover those costs.
We sat down last week with D.O.T Director Michael Lewis to take a closer look at how the project came together – and the total cost to taxpayers.
Lewis: The only way you can pull these things off is it has to be a win-win. We are not operators of transit systems or parking garages. It’s not what the state does best. Maintenance is not our strong point and I don’t mean that in a demeaning way, that’s not what we’re funded to do.
Hummel: If the revenues are not making it, is the state on the hook for paying that?
Lewis: Yes. In the agreement, we all recognize this will be a startup. It’s not going to be Day No. 1, 1,500 people. People have to get used to it; people are dedicated to their cars. Some people don’t know Wickford Junction exists.
Because Amtrak owns the Northeast rail corridor the state had to pay the railroad to do all of the work along the tracks, including signaling and installation of the 850-foot platform, which contributed to the total cost of $44 million. The parking garage itself and the roads leading in and out — built by a private company — cost about $25 million. There is a charging station in the garage for Hybrid cars and a glass elevator spanning the four levels.
And, a lot of room for parking.
Hummel: What do you say to the person who looks at that and says, ‘1,100 spaces. This place is humongous. Do we need something this big?’
Lewis: Well, first of all, I would say that’s 1,100 cars that are not on Route 4 and Route 95. I think that’s good thing. We can go up more floors. I think that in time that’s going to be maxed out and people are going to be looking for more space there.
Hummel: What about the building itself, $24 million for, in effect, a parking deck. It’s a lot of concrete and it’s 1,100 spots it’s $24 million.
Lewis: You know, it’s about $7 million less than we thought it was going to be. You know nothing is free, nobody gives these things away, you don’t take them off the shelf at Home Depot on sale, public transportation facilities are expensive. I had nothing to do with the planning of this…But I absolutely think it’s the right thing to do. It provides that access to Boston market for people, you can live in South County and look for job opportunities in Boston and vice versa.
The Hummel Report is a 501 3C non-profit organization. If you have a story idea or want make a donation to the Hummel Report, go to www.hummelreport.com. Or mail Jim directly at jim@hummelreport.com.