New: Block Files Criminal Complaint Against State Properties Comm.
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
Block is charging that the committee has committed multiple open meeting violations, including the lack of posting meeting minutes. See statement from Block below.
The committee is chaired by Ronald Renaud in the Department of Administration, and consists of representatives from the department, the Attorney General's Office, and General Treasurer's Office. In addition, Block is charging that the two public seats on the committee have not been filled -- and have remained open -- in the past 18 months.
Parole Office Location Revisited
Following the move, public opposition arose to the awarding of the contract. On January 6, Licht announced that the State Properties Committee would re-open the process to seek proposals for a new space for the Providence Office of Probation and Parole, and issued the following statement:
"Out of respect for the concerns raised by the downtown business community, the Department of Administration (DOA) has decided to again seek proposals for space for the Providence Office of Probation and Parole. The DOA previously had conducted an open competitive bid process during the Summer of 2000 and only received one response from the Urban League, which is the existing landlord."
He continued, "Recently, the Urban League has entered into an agreement to sell its property, and the facility is no longer available. Due to the lack of bids, the DOA and the Department of Corrections proposed to relocate these offices in an existing building that houses other State of Rhode Island functions."
Created in 1953, the State Properties Committee, in cooperation with Departments, Boards, Bureaus, Commissions and Agencies of the State, exists for the purpose of acquiring, administering and disposing of interests in land and other real property for the improvement of State Government.
Statement from Block
"Denying the public its right to learn what the board is doing and who is making the decisions is exactly the kind of secretive behavior that brought us the 38 Studios fiasco," said Block in a State House press conference Tuesday. "The Open Meetings Act requires all public bodies to post minutes of their meetings on the Secretary of State's public web site. For ten meetings during 2013 no minutes have been filed; for one other meeting, minutes were filed well beyond the law's 35-day deadline.
"It's actions like this that give Rhode Island its reputation as the 'Who You Know' state, when we need to become the Transparent Government state. And the Governor, Attorney General and General Treasurer have all violated the public trust by allowing them to happen." The Properties Committee includes members appointed by the Governor, a voting member designated by the Attorney General and a non-voting member designated by the General Treasurer.
"It was at one of these meetings that this committee of administration insiders made the decision to award a no-bid lease for the state Probation and Parole office to set up shop at 40 Fountain St. in the middle of downtown Providence at more than triple the cost of its current rent," said Block. He noted that two board positions for public members have gone unfilled for a year or more, leaving the board with only state employees as members.
"Yesterday's last-minute decision to put the lease for Probation and Parole offices out to bid is a welcome recognition that the original process was completed without proper public oversight. This is the kind of thing that happens when public agencies ignore the Open Meetings Act and try to conduct their business in secret.
"Totally aside from the questionable wisdom of bringing dozens of convicted criminals into the state's retail, financial and entertainment hub every day, this lease raises serious questions about the administration's stewardship of taxpayer money. Why was there no bidding process? Couldn't the state have gotten appropriate space for lower rent in a depressed commercial rental market? With no public members and no minutes we have no way of knowing."
Block called on Governor Chafee to immediately name two qualified public members to the committee and to remove and replace his current appointees.
He called on Attorney General Kilmartin to penalize the committee for its multiple violations of the open Meetings Act.
And he called on Treasurer Raimondo to fulfill her oversight duties over the committee.
Block promised that, as Governor, he would issue executive orders holding state employees accountable if they violate the Open Meetings Act and extending from 48 hour to 96 hours the advance notice deadline for posting of agency meeting schedules and agendas.
"The public deserves to know what its government is doing, and to have the right to have its voice heard in a timely fashion - before decisions are made, not after.
Editors' note: The charges levied by Block are against the committee, and not any one individual as noted above.
Related Slideshow: 13 Biggest Stories of 2013
38 Studios Defendants Fight Back
In a blistering response to the State of Rhode Island's lawsuit over 38 Studios default on $75 million in state funding, the defendants led by former Red Sox great Curt Schilling, then-Economic Development Corporation Director Keith Stokes, and prominent Providence law firm Adler Pollock & Sheehan denied the charges in October, attacked the State's suit -- and blamed Governor Lincoln Chafee.
Race to the Top Money
In August, GoLocal reported that half of the $19.1 million of funds spent so far for the Race to the Top—the competitive federal grant program meant to spur innovative education reform and boost student achievement—had gone to local school districts in Rhode Island, according to U.S. Department of Education data.
About $9.5 million of the funds had flowed into local districts by June 2012, according to the latest available federal data at the time. The second largest expenditure, according to the breakdown, was $6.8 million for contractors, constituting more than a third of the total.
In October, GoLocal then reported who was getting the most – and the least – Race to the Top money.
More than half of all school districts were seeing between $100,000 and $500,000 of those funds while top recipients are netting several million. Those receiving the most were the state’s most urbanized districts, including Woonsocket, Pawtucket, and Providence. In all, about $44 million out of the $75 million had been set aside for local districts and schools at the time of reporting.
Pool Closings – and Providence Reactions
Tensions flared this summer when temperatures in the city rose into the 90s, and kids in the city where pools used to be were wishing they were still there -- both for cooling off, and staying safe.
Shay Rivera, a supervisor at the Davey Lopes Recreation Center, where the pool was closed this summer, told GoLocal, "The teens will roll up in little packs on bikes. They'll find out the pool's not open and they'll take off. We're not stupid, we know what's going on. They're going to do something."
The pool controversies of 2013 landed a spot on GoLocal'shttp://www.golocalprov.com/news/13-biggest-blunders-in-rhode-island-of-2013/" target="_blank"> list of biggest blunders for the year – but was also one of the year's biggest stories, too.
Read one of the original coverage pieces here: Providence Youth Outraged at Pool Closings.
Caprio Running Again
Caprio's announcement that he would be seeking a return to the General Treasurer's post in 2014 was one of 2013's biggest stories.
A GoLocal story on April 19 outlined the performance of Caprio's track record as General Treasurer, including the fact that Rhode Island paid among the lowest pension fund investment management fees in the country in 2010 under Frank Caprio's direction, according to a report issued by the Maryland Public Policy Institute.
Caprio was then Managing Director of the Providence offices of Chatham Capital, an Atlanta-based Venture Capital & Private Equity firm. Caprio served in elected office for 20 years including his term as General Treasurer of State of Rhode Island (2006-2010).
Following the development, political pundits weighed in on Caprio's chances in 2014. Read the story here.
Return of Dean Starkman
In July, GoLocal24, the rapidly growing digital media business delivering local news and information to midsized markets, named Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Dean Starkman as a contributor and editor-at-large.
Starkman helped lead The Providence Journal to the Pulitzer Prize for Investigations in 1994, which was then followed by work at the Wall Street Journal as a reporter and as an editor and writer at Columbia Journalism Review (CJR),
"GoLocal is an exciting addition to the news ecosystem -- an ambitious net plus to journalism resources. It produces stories that otherwise would never be told and adds crucial coverage to important beats, especially the State House, at a time when legacy news organizations, including my longtime former paper, the still much-esteemed ProJo, have suffered from the great digital disruption engulfing all media," Starkman told GoLocal.
And so Starkman returned -- but this time to digital media. Read the big announcement here.
Most and Least Diverse High Schools
What were Rhode Island's most—and least—diverse high schools in 2013? GoLocal's rankings this year had the answer.
Diversity continued to be one of education's most talked-about topics--how well are high school students prepared for a complex, racially and ethnically diverse society? How diverse, really, are the hallways and classrooms of each public and charter high school in the state?
Utilizing data filed by each school with the Institute for Education Science's National Center for Education Statistics, GoLocal researchers assessed each RI public and charter high school's overall racial balance (for more on the methodology, go here.) The more balanced a school's enrollment was across all race categories as named by the NCES, the higher it ranked.
Restaurant Health Code Violations
In case you missed it – although that would be rather hard, given it was one of the best-read GoLocal stories all year – the Rhode Island Department of Health inspected nearly 60 full-service restaurants in the greater Providence area over the last year, and two establishments were found to have exceeded 30 violations in just one inspection each.
Full-service restaurants comprise just one of over 30 categories of establishments the Department of Health inspects, which includes schools, hospitals, assisted living facilities, colleges, pharmacies, and liquor stores, among others.
New England College Super Rankings
GoLocalProv's 2nd Annual Super Ranking of the Top New England Colleges 2013 not only rendered a fresh and compelling snapshot of the 86 best colleges in the region, but also showed a variety of interesting moves among the schools since the previous year's ranking.
To rank New England's colleges and universities in its super ranking, GoLocal looked to quantify a well-rounded snapshot of each college and university in New England. To do so, GoLocal utilized a combination of rankings derived from national sources, including US News & World Report, the Princeton Review, Forbes Magazine, and Washington Monthly, as well as Inside College, the Daily Beast, and College Prowler.
Researchers captured rankings from the previous two years that were available on each site, noting specific rankings where applicable as well as letter grades on some sites (College Prowler) and yes or no mentions in other venues (Inside College). These rankings, grades and mentions were translated into numerical values based on GoLocal's proprietary formula.
Siedle Pension Report
One of the biggest stories of 2013 was when high profile Forbes columnist Edward Siedle, along with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) announced they would be unveiling the findings of a months-long investigation into the Rhode Island pension system.
"I think Rhode Island taxpayers will be blown away by these findings, if they understand what's going on, and I think I've put it in language that they can," said Siedle. "This is a shot across the bow of the hedge fund takeover of public pension funds across the country, which has been going on for close to ten years now."
Siedle unveiled a 100 plus page report that called for a federal investigation regarding a number of issues relating the "withholding of material information and misrepresentations regarding state pension costs, as opposed to a lack of knowledge about the exponential growth and magnitude of the fees (tied to Wall Street Hedge Funds)."
Specifically, Siedle says that the SEC should "investigate ERSRI’s failure to disclose skyrocketing investment expenses, questions surrounding ERSRI’s Point Judith venture investment, and ERSRI investment consultant conflicts (and) payments from money managers."
Rhode Island's Top Hospitals
What are the best hospitals in New England--when it comes to what patients think? Traditionally, hospitals are rated and ranked on a combination of sound technical care, adequate resources, and impressive statistics. But an increasing emphasis is being placed on perhaps one of the more important measures: the patient’s perspective.
With that in mind, GoLocal sifted through and analyzed the results from a government-sponsored survey of more than 50,000 patients in 176 hospitals in New England, and emerged with the first-ever patient-based ranking of the region’s top hospitals in January. http://www.golocalprov.com/health/new-englands-best-hospitals-rated-by-patients/" target="_blank">To see what those results were, go here.
Of course, U.S. News and World Report offered up their own rankings as well, later in the summer. Here's how RI hospitals fared then.
Clay Pell for Governor
Clay Pell, the grandson of Senator Claiborne Pell, whose legacy includes the Pell Grant, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Pell IV appears to be following in his grandfather's footsteps in both civil -- and military -- service.
In October, GoLocal broke the development that Pell was seriously considering a run for Governor in Rhode Island in 2014.
"The possibility of Clay Pell entering the Democratic gubernatorial primary raises more questions for me than I have answers for. Certainly the Pell name has a great deal of political cachet in Rhode Island, but the Pell name hasn't been on a ballot since 1990 -- a political generation ago," said Jennifer Duffy with the Cook Political Report.
One of the biggest stories of 2013 will only get bigger in 2014. Read the story here.
Rhode Island's Top High Schools
GoLocalProv's Fourth Annual "Top High Schools in Rhode Island" 2013 ranking crunched thousands of pieces of data from RI's 49 public, charter and technical schools statewide to reveal how our communities' schools provide for their students.
With school quality a cornerstone of real estate values and a crucial element of civic pride, this quantitative analysis of each school provides the only comprehensive view of the secondary school educational landscape in Rhode Island.
One of GoLocal's most popular stories, year in, year out, has been Top High Schools. See who ranked where in 2013 here.
Most Rich and Influential Rhode Islanders
Since GoLocalProv was launched in 2010, we have developed a number of comprehensive annual rankings – Top High Schools, Best Communities, and New England College Super Rankings. This year, we were able to develop a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of wealth and economic influence in Rhode Island.
GoLocalProv teamed with WealthEngine — the leading provider of sophisticated wealth identification and prospect research solutions -- to put together the first-ever list of the rich and powerful in Rhode Island.
In October, GoLocal unveiled its comprehensive ranking of those Rhode Islanders that have the greatest wealth coupled with the greatest influence in our state, and beyond.
If you somehow missed it....here it is: Rhode Island’s 50 Richest and Most Influential.