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City of Providence Covers Up Permit File for Solomon Restaurant

Friday, May 16, 2014


Wes Rib House, owned by City Council President Michael Solomon. The City refused to show if a permit for recent work was on a file on Thursday.

A GoLocal investigation into City Council President and Mayoral candidate Michael Solomon's recent renovation construction at his restaurant, Wes' Rib House, raises serious questions about violations of public access -- and cover up.

According to sources, Solomon failed to take out required building permits as required by law for the rehab to his restaurant, which had previously been cited for health code violations.

GoLocal went to the office of Inspections on Thursday to ask to see the permit on file, but was told by city officials that they could not release the information for ten days, citing "privacy concerns."

"If you appealed this to the Attorney General, I don't think there would be judge who would say this is an unwarranted invasion of personal property -- see the permit," said John Marion with Common Cause of Rhode Island. "You have to tape a permit to your window so everyone knows you're doing renovations. That's the whole point of the public display."

After being blocked from access to Solomon's file by Taveras administration officials, GoLocal sent another GoLocal staffer Thursday afternoon to ask for the complete file for work being done on the contested Lippitt House property at 200 Hope Street -- including permits and stop work orders -- and was granted immediate access in its entirety to the contents of the file. 

Taveras' Ortiz Refused Access to Document

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras spokesperson David Ortiz said, "The Solicitor's Office determined that the file contains account numbers and other personal financial information that needs to be redacted in accordance with the state's public records law. They weren't able to review the file today, but will handle your request in the same manner they handle all requests for public records."

Solomon's camp maintained Thursday that all paperwork had been filed and in order. 

"Michael has reached out to the general contractor who is responsible for pulling the necessary permits, and he has assured Michael that all paperwork and permits are in order," said Solomon spokesperson Peter Baptista Thursday afternoon.

City Blocks Basic Information Request

The City legal department, who denied access to a file where the existence of document was in question.

After a clerk at Inspections took the initial request for the permit on Thursday, Kevin Mahoney with the Department returned with the file in hand, but said that he would have consult with the legal department before proceeding.

Fifteen minutes later, Mahoney returned to say he had been told that due to "sensitive information" contained in the file, including "checks", the information could not be made available for ten days, per the directive of the city's legal department.

Despite repeated requests by GoLocal to simply see the permit and no other information contained, Mahoney refused, citing the legal department's directive.

GoLocal then inquired with the legal department, and was told by a clerk, who would not give her name, that because of "parts of the permit that needed to be redacted," the information would not be released for ten days, per the directive of Kate Sabatini with the office.

"They should provide materials upon request, whether they're obligated is another question. The law does give them ten days," said Steve Brown with the Rhode Island ACLU. "There are many documents however that should be immediately available."

Role of APRA in Information Requests

"I've never pulled a permit, but I've asked for tax records," said Marion. "There's a clerk, you go back to the cabinet, they give it to you."

"Individually identifiable information is the rub," said Marion. "Under a narrow reading you could say that a Governor's veto, due to the signature, would be 'identifiable.' But again, this is public building permit, that the public is supposed to see on display," continued Marion. "I don't defend what [the City] did at all."

Marion noted that in 2012 a number of changes were made to the Access to Public Records Act, but couldn't address all possible scenarios.

"In 2012, we had a whole bunch of changes," said Marion. "We looked at the 'balancing test,' which the Journal is challenging with the Chafee records. The balancing test is that the public interest has to be weighed against the unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, but that's for records that otherwise might not get released. We couldn't enumerate time frames for all the types of documents out there."

Marion said it was "valuable" to him to hear of the "real-world" applications of APRA.

"The public needs to know how the media is trying to do things in the public interest, and how they're being stonewalled by government," said Marion. "I'm kind of tired hearing these stories. Until an official goes, "OK, here's the file," until that attitude changes, we haven't really made much progress."


Related Slideshow: 10 Questions Taveras Has to Answer When Running for Gov of RI

Prev Next

#10 Fundraising

Can Taveras Keep Up with the Big Boys and Girls in Fundraising?

In America today, one issue that is a factor in nearly every election is fundraising. To date, Taveras has yet to demonstrate any consistent ability to keep up with the leading fundraisers in RI.

Taveras will have to compete with General Treasuer Gina Raimondo, who has $2 plus million on hand and a likely run from Clay Pell (grandson of US Senator Claiborne Pell and whose wife is Olympic skater Michelle Kwan).

Raimondo is on pace to raise $5m and Taveras presently has just $692,000 on hand and would be on pace to raise less than $2 mliion. 

Pell's family has access to nearly limitless dollars - back in the 1990's Pell's grandfather was ranked as one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

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#9 Curse

Can Taveras Break the Providence Mayor's Curse?

For more than 60 years, no Providence Mayor has been successful running for Governor of Rhode Island. You have to go back to the 1950 election when Dennis Roberts was elected Governor.

Since Roberts, a number of Providence Mayors have taken their shot at running for Governor and each has failed mightily.

Most notably, Buddy Cianci's run against J. Joseph Garrahy - Cianci got less than 30% of the statewide vote.

Joe Paolino was expected to win the Democratic primary in 1990, but was beaten badly by Bruce Sundlun and then Warwick Mayor Frank Flaherty.

Sundlun went on to win the general election and Flaherty was later named to the state Supreme Court.

Taveras will have to break a very long curse.

Prev Next

#8 Hire or Fire

Can Teachers Trust Taveras - and Will Voters Trust His Relationship with the Teachers Unions?

In the midst of the city's political meltdown, Taveras just into his first few months in office fired all the teachers in Providence.

Taveras received strong public support, but within months he capitulated to pressure from the teachers' unions.

Three years later, he is emerging as the candidate of the teachers' union leadership. Will teachers trust him in a statewide race and will voters trust him if he is perceived as too close to union bosses?

Prev Next

#7 Hispanics

Will Hispanics Vote as a Block in the Primary for Taveras? Are They Influential Enough in the General?

Conventional wisdom is that Angel Taveras will get a big boost from the Hispanic voting block in the primary, but more recently Council members Luis Aponte, Danian Sanchez and Sabina Matos have all openly battled with the mayor on his tax increases and efforts to close pools in low income wards around the city.

While Taveras can rebound and the impact may be large in the primary, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic in the general election is just 7% according to Pew Research:

  • Rhode Island’s population is 12% Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic population share nationally.
  • There are 54,000 Hispanic eligible voters in Rhode Island—which ranks 35th in Hispanic eligible voter population nationally. California ranks first with 5.9 million.
  • Some 7% of Rhode Island eligible voters are Hispanic, the 13th largest Hispanic eligible voter population share nationally. New Mexico ranks first with 39%.
Prev Next

#6 Temperament

Can Taveras Handle the Campaign Pressure and the Office Pressure of Governor?

Taveras had no experience as a chief executive in business or government before taking office in 2011 in Providence. He has increasingly gotten into some very non-productive scrapes.

In 2012, his law office delivered a document to GoLocalProv as part of a FOIA request and those documents included the social security number of every retiree of the City. Instead of taking responsibility he sent his lawyers to court to try to block GoLocal from writing about the mishandling of social security numbers. The judge ruled against Taveras.

In 2013, Taveras has tried to demolish a commuity swimming pool in South Providence because, according to Councilman Danian Sanchez, Sanchez would not vote for Taveras' tax increase.

Will Taveras be able to prove to voters he has the right stuff?

Prev Next

#5 Base outside Prov

Can Angel Taveras Build a Political Base Outside of Providence?

While Taveras has a strong political base in Providence, it is unclear if he can build a strong political network in critical Democratic strongholds like Woonsocket, Pawtucket, East Providence, Johnston and North Providence.

It is well known that both Democratic Mayors in North Providence and Johnston have had a strained relationship with Taveras.

This strain has played out over critical matters like mutual emergency aid and in 2012, North Providence, Johnston and East Providence all cancelled emergency aid compacts with Providence.

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#4 Women Voters

Can Taveras Compete for Women Voters?

When Taveras ran for Mayor he won the critical block of East Side Democratic women. Part of his success with this critical block of voters was the support he enjoyed from Democratic power Myrth York. 

The two-time Democratic nominee for Governor went all in for Taveras in 2010, but she no longer is active in the inner circle and reportedly would have supported Governor Lincoln Chafee in the primary.

Taveras will need to compete with Raimondo who has already signed former EMILY's list bigwig Kate Coyne-McCoy.

Prev Next

#3 Star Power

Can Taveras Keep Up with Clay Pell's Star Power?

In 2010, Taveras ran under the motto of "from Head Start to Harvard."  His claim on the American dream proved a successful juxtaposition to two Democrats who had the same political base - Federal Hill (Steven Costantino and John Lombardi).

Now, Taveras may face the fresh-faced Clay Pell. His bio exceeds Taveras as he can claim the legacy of his grandfather's work and hit the circuit with his superstar wife, Olympian Michelle Kwan.

Prev Next

#2 Issues and Vision

Can Angel Taveras Articulate a Vision for Rhode Island?

Taveras earned good scores for managing the City of Providence's financial crises, but never seemed to develop major policies for economic development, schools, parking, crime, reducing the cost of government or improving the efficiency.
The Superman building's closure happened on his watch, technology company Dassault Systèmes is moving out of Providence, and no major employers were recruited into the city other than the scrap yard on Allens Avenue.
Taveras will need to define a forward looking vision for Rhode Island.
Prev Next

#1 Crime and Education

Can Taveras Explain His Record on Crime and Education?

The biggest problem for Taveras is his record in Providence.
Most people care about the basics - their jobs, education for their children, how safe their neighborhood is.  These vary questions could be Taveras' Achilles' heel.
According to GoLocal's study of the FBI crime data, Providence is ranked #2 for violent crime per capita in Rhode Island.
The condition of Providence's schools may be worse. Of the 24 schools ranked as poor (de facto failing) in Rhode Island by the Department of Education, 6 of them were Providence Schools and in the rankings of the best high schools in the state, most of Providence's schools consistently litter the bottom of the rankings.
Taveras lead the city to win the $5 million Bloomberg award. But in a Governor's race one of Taveras' opponents is sure to ask, "Mr. Mayor, are you going to bring the same policies you used on crime and education in Providence to the rest of the state?"

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