That's a Wrap
Before we turn the page to 2019, Jim Hummel has new information on five investigations that played out over the course of this year. They range from three councilman who will not be returning for another term and the ongoing rideshare wars at T.F. Green Airport, to the fate of a bail commissioner with a criminal record and a resolution submitted by a Providence City Councilman in direct response to a Hummel Report investigation that ran in the Providence Sunday Journal.
I’m Jim Hummel, before we turn the page to 2019, we have new information on a handful of our Hummel Report investigations from 2018 - beginning with the latest in the ridesharing wars at Green State Airport.
The standoff between Uber and airport officials continues, but customers using Lyft now have a better option for pickups. Over the past two months The Rhode Island Airport Corporation has created an additional lane in what it calls ‘the outer roadway’ - located between the short-term lot and the lanes directly adjacent to the terminal, for Lyft drivers to pick up their customers. It’s the same roadway where shuttle buses and taxes wait for their customers.
And that means passenger no longer have to walk to the short-term lot, or pay the $6 minimum fees for drivers to enter.
The Lyft passengers are now tracked through geofencing technology and Lyft pays the airport $4.50 per passenger, down from the $6 it was paying a year ago. Meanwhile the word ‘Uber’ is nowhere to be found on airport property since the rideshare company reached a deal in June to pick up its airport passengers at the privately-owned Red Beam Garage C. It’s adjacent to the airport-owned Garage B, but a 200-foot walk from the terminal with no good sidewalk to get there. Uber passengers pay a $3.36 surcharge to be picked up at Garage C.
Several Uber drivers tell The Hummel Report there is still confusion among passengers not familiar with Green Airport, and difficulty getting to the pickup location at Garage C, especially with the weather worsening. The drivers complain that the airport’s signs direct passengers to ‘rideshare’ companies, implying Uber might be available when it is not.
“Our relationship with Lyft is working out very well and Lyft passengers now enjoy the benefits of curbside drop-off and pick-up,” airport spokesman William J. Fischer told The Hummel Report. “Uber users still enjoy the option of curbside drop-off at the airport without a fee.”
Meanwhile, revenue from the short-term lot, where rideshare companies previously were required to pick up all passenger, has steadily declined since July, when the airport received just shy of $185,000. It was down to $141,716 in October, the latest figures available.
The saga involving vacant DOT- owned property in Warwick has taken a new twist: We reported earlier this year the state’s Emergency Management Agency had plans to move its headquarters there. Now we’ve learned another high-profile agency may be claiming it instead.
This former printing company on Colorado Avenue was supposed to be the new location for the DOT’s materials testing lab when the Federal Highway Adminstation put up millions to buy it in 2012.
But Peter Alviti pulled the plug on the project when he became DOT in 2015. When the feds started asking for their money back DOT started talking with the Rhode Island EMA about buying the property and moving its headquarters from Cranston.
Since our report that deal fell through, but now the state Board of Elections located for decades at 50 Branch Avenue has its eye on Colorado Avenue. The executive director tells the Hummel Report elections is being displaced by the state Medical Examiner’s office and needs new space.
Still unanswered: how the state will pay for what is expected to be an expensive renovation. It is unlikely the board will be moving there until after the 2020 elections.
In 2018 we investigated sitting councilmen in three different communities. After our stories ran: two decided not to run and another was defeated in November.
Johnston Town Councilman Richard DelFino III came under public fire for helping force a popular local restaurant out of business after the owner had hosted a fundraiser for his opponent. DelFino convinced his fellow councilmen not to renew The Music Man’s licenses to operate, saying there were parking problems in a parking lot shared by eight other businesses.
DelFino did not file papers in June to run for reelection. In August, the Stephen Hopkins Center for Civil rights filed a lawsuit against the councilman seeking unspecified damages.
In North Smithfield, Alberto LaGreca, who had served on the town council for nearly two decades, finished 7th in a five-way race for re-election. Our investigation revealed he had defaulted on a taxpayer-funded loan that had a balance of nearly $90,000 when LaGreca’s seafood processing business went bankrupt in 2014.
Smithfield voter Linda St. Angelo emailed The Hummel Report last month saying: “I am embarrassed to say that as a longtime Smithfield resident I was not aware of this information. Thank you for education me and many of my neighbors. Clearly this made a difference on Election Day!”
In East Providence, the term of embattled first-term councilman Brian J. Faria will end January 7, after he did not file papers to run for reelection. Our investigation in April discovered Faria had an extensive criminal record dating the 1990s. In June, the city’s police chief issued an explosive report that chronicled Faria’s erratic behavior and abusive conduct with city employees.
Faria then found himself in Superior Court answering to the city’s demand for him to return hundreds of pages the councilman took from City Hill during an 11-hour overnight stay in April. Superior Court Judge Maureen B. Keough found him in contempt of court and has ordered the soon-to-be former councilman to pay the city’s legal fees for its attempts to recover the documents. The city is in the process of determining what the dollar figure will be.
We reported in October that former Johnston state senator Christopher Maselli had been working as a bail commissioner in local police departments on behalf of the state’s District Court, despite spending two years in federal prison on bank fraud charges. That did not sit well in the communities where he was assigned.
District Court Chief Judge Jeanne LaFazia, who was aware of Maselli’s criminal record and defended appointing him, found all of the communities he was assigned to no longer wanting his service after the story. Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena and State Police Col. Ann Assumpico dropped him after learning about his background.
Cranston Mayor Allan Fung directed his police chief, Col. Michael Winquist, to contact the judge with his concerns, telling The Hummel Report in October: “We believe it is inappropriate for (Maselli) to serve in this role after being convicted of bank fraud.”
A spokesman for Fung said last week, “(Judge LaFazia) approved his request to no longer assign him to the Cranston Police rotation of bail commissioners. Cranston Police is directed to no longer use him.”
Court Spokesman Craig Berke said in an email last week ‘’(Maselli) has not been reassigned to any other communities and he is not currently working anywhere as a bail commissioner.”
Last month’s story about taxpayer-funded cell phone use by Providence City Council members prompted one council member to submit a resolution earlier this month. And that caused a heated debate among some of his colleagues on the council.
Our investigation showed bills from city-issued cell phones had $1,000 in international charges, regularly overages on minutes and dates and taxpayers spending hundreds of dollars to replace phones with no questions asked.
Councilman Sam Zurier submitted a resolution at the Dec. XXX meeeting, supporting a November directive from Council President David Salvatore that all council members review their bills and reimburse the city for international calls or overages.
That sparked a heated discussion during the council’s last regularly scheduled meetings of the year. Councilwoman Sabina Matos, who is poised to take the gavel next month as council president from Salvatore, said she believed the matter should have been handled administratively and not in the form of a resolution.
Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris, who has logged phone calls of three and four hours, said she was insulted by Zurier’s putting the resolution on the docket. After a lengthy discussion, the council voted down the resolution.
We hope you have a great holiday season. We’ll be ready to hit the ground running in 2019 - and if you have a story idea or tip that you’d like to pass along, email me directly - and confidentially - at Jim@HummelReport.org.