Editor’s note: As we head into the New Year, The Hummel Report has new information and developments on a handful of investigations from 2012.
All Fired Up
Taxpayers of the Central Coventry Fire District were lined up out the door in the auditorium at Coventry High School in early December, where court-appointed receiver, Richard Land, painted a grim picture of the district’s financial condition. And Land had this bombshell: several years ago, district officials overestimated expected tax revenue by $700,000 – and they repeated the mistake for two more years, largely accounting for a $2 million deficit.
Land also said the district’s practice of charging commercial properties at a higher tax rate than residential property is illegal, meaning homeowners will face a significant tax increase when they gather in February to consider a budget. That is, unless they decide to pursue dissolving the five-year-old district altogether.
More than a year ago, The Hummel Report first sounded the alarm on a tax-payer-funded business loan program in Providence with an exorbitant default rate. It’s become so bad that the federal agency providing the money has moved in to clean up the mess.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) met in November with city officials to review the loan portfolio and practices of the Providence Economic Development Partnership. By mutual agreement, the city will stop issuing new federally funded business loans until HUD can straighten out a mess that has been years in the making. HUD is picking up the $375,000 tab to do the review, meaning federal taxpayers are on the hook for Providence’s mistakes.
The three wind turbines along the Providence waterfront sat motionless for the better part of 2012. But this fall, they finally began spinning. Many wondered if it would ever happen, but on October 24 it finally did. The first of three turbines started spinning as employees of the Narragansett Bay Commission and the crews that installed the windmills looked on.
Since then, all three have begun generating power that will help pay off the $12 million project over the next decade. The electricity will power much of the plant, and any excess will be sold back to National Grid.
Too Close for Comfort
Last spring we found 15 registered sex offenders living within 300 feet of schools in the city of Providence, an apparent violation of state law. In one case, a Level 2 offender’s back deck was 100 feet from the front door of an elementary school in the city’s North End.
Our investigation prompted a flurry of court activity, with the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) jumping in on behalf of the sex offenders. But the ACLU lost its first round in court in November.
A Superior Court judge ruled that the state law prohibiting sex offenders from living near schools is constitutional. The ACLU filed suit after the Providence Police gave the offenders we identified 30 days to move or be arrested. The ACLU says it is likely to appeal the ruling and the police will hold off on eviction proceedings until it is ultimately hashed out in the state Supreme Court.
Wrestling for Answers
In February we discovered bureaucratic red tape keeping two boys from wrestling for their high school team. That story broke the logjam just as the season was ending. Now the boys are back on the mat, looking forward to their senior years.
Xavier Lopez and Jonas Xiong missed their entire junior years because the Rhode Island Interscholastic League and the Providence School Department said their move to a charter school barred them from wrestling at Hope High School even though they had done so the previous two years. The charter school has no wrestling program.
Our story last spring prompted the league to grant the boys an emergency waiver, and they were allowed to wrestle at the state tournament. Because they had not competed for most of the year, they were eliminated in the early rounds. But Lopez and Xiong have been training since then with the Hope squad team and are ready for a full season as seniors this winter. Lopez is a co-captain of this year’s squad.
Changing of the Guard
We’ve come full circle in Central Falls, where three years ago a Hummel Report interview got the ball rolling on a federal corruption case into the administration of then-Mayor Charles Moreau. Moreau is heading to prison next month and voters elected a new leader in December.
James Diossa, the 28-year-old city councilman who was frozen out during the Moreau administration, got his vindication on December 11, when he won in a landslide over Moreau’s former police chief Joe Moran. Diossa took 66 percent of the vote.
He was sworn in on New Year’s Day, six weeks before Moreau learns how long he’ll being going to prison on the federal corruption charges that forced him to resign.
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