1st Quarter Update
Three months into 2014 brings with it new information on a handful of our investigations. From the fate of the troubled Central Coventry Fire District and an early prison release for a corrupt ex-mayor to an update on nagging computer problems for hundreds of potential subscribers at HealthSourceRI. Jim Hummel has the very latest.
Three months into 2014 we have updates and some final chapters written on several of our investigations. Beginning with troubles in one fire district that we first uncovered nearly two years ago.
After multiple votes by taxpayers to pull the plug on the Central Coventry Fire District - and legal efforts by the union to stop it, the judge overseeing the case has scheduled a liquidation for May.
But it may not be over. Legislation has been filed that may salvage the district in some form and the union is asking for an emergency stay to prevent the liquidation. But that’s a lot of ifs. One this is clear: Central Coventry can’t and won’t continue as it has since it was formed in 2006.
Former Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau, who went to prison in large part because of our reporting in 2009, got an early prison release in February - but it wasn’t a get out of jail free card by any means.
Moreau admitted to taking gratuities from a contractor doing city business, including a furnace for his house that we first reported on four years ago. But a federal appeals court overturned the law he was charged under in another case.
Last month he reached a deal with the U.S. Attorney’s office: Moreau admitted to a new charge of bribery - in exchange for getting out of prison immediately, after serving half of his two-year sentence. He remains a convicted felon.
Our story in December prompted the city of Providence to crack down on a property owner with an illegal parking lot. But we asked: will the city put some bite behind its bark when it comes to fines?
Stephen Puleo and Michelle Boutin had used this lot on Gano Street for tenant parking for the better part of the last decade despite a Superior Court decision prohibiting it - and numerous threats by the city to penalize him. But those threats were empty - until our story ran.
Just weeks after our story ran, the city went to court and the owners have agreed to stop allowing the parking, but the city had threatened a million dollars in fines. That process is part of a lawsuit the city filed against them now working its way through Superior Court.
Motorists in Coventry are getting some relief after the DOT late last year leveled out a six-inch bump right in the middle of a popular state highway.
It’s a bump that seemingly won’t go away. The state DOT has tried to fix it several times, but heavy truck traffic on Route 3 at Reservoir Road has caused the pavement to keep bubbling up.
Crews came out last fall to level the pavement and put a new coat of asphalt down. And as of last week it looked good. The real test will come in the summer when heat has contributed to the buckling of the highways.
We discovered hundreds of potential subscribers having major problems signing up for medical coverage through HealthSourceRI. That prompted the director pledging to do better. So we went back to find out - has it gotten better?
We profiled Barrington businessman Mike Kelly, who had been enrolled and disenrolled repeatedly, even though he had paid his premiums. He spent dozens of hours on the phone with representatives at the call center with no luck HealthSourceRI Director Christine Ferguson admitted the agency was having stubborn computer problems similar to Kelly’s with 850 people.
A spokeswoman tells the Hummel Report that number has gradually been whittled down over the past eight weeks but several hundred subscribers are still having problems. Kelly reports tells us he has had no problems over the past three weeks.
Finally, it’s taken two years, but renovations to the one of the parking lots next to the State House are now complete.
Two years ago we reported on a failed attempt to realign and install a gate in the lower lot adjacent to the State House, used primarily by legislators and staff. The gate was too narrow for some larger vehicles, but the Chafee administration pulled the plug on further funding because of budget problems.
That changed last summer when the lot was redesigned and expanded, and the entrance completed. It’s been functioning without problem since the beginning of the session.
We’re off to a great start in 2014, largely because of the feedback and tips we get from you. Keep the emails coming to firstname.lastname@example.org and join us back here next week for a brand new investigation.