Wired: 2000 Through 2001, A Book by Paul Caranci

Monday, April 24, 2017

 

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Paul Caranci

Each week, GoLocalProv will publish a chapter of the book Wired: The Shocking True Story of Political Corruption and the FBI Informant Who Risked Everything to Expose It, by Paul Caranci. 

The book details how Caranci gambled his thirty-year political career, his reputation, and his family’s safety in his quest to restore good, honest government to a community that needed it most by going undercover with the FBI for 17 months to exposed corruption. 

Buy the book by CLICKING HERE

2000

FIXING OLD PROBLEMS

During the legislative session of 2000 I was notified by the Governor’s office that the newly-created vendor fine structure imposed under the terms of the North Providence Tobacco Ordinance might run into a “snag” because it conflicted with the fines imposed under R.I. General Law. To remedy the problem I drafted legislation strengthening the state laws and once again imposed on a local legislative friend, this time Doc, to introduce it. He did, and despite strong opposition by big tobacco lobbyist, the bill passed. As a result, Rhode Island touted one of the strongest tobacco law enforcement standards in the Country. 

Protecting the Environment

While I don't believe that recycling alone will resolve all solid waste issues, I do believe a well-run, comprehensive recycling program can prolong landfill space, reduce disposal costs and provide a host of other environmental benefits to the state and municipal governments. During the years that I worked at the R.I. Solid Waste Management Corporation, I assisted with the development of the Curbside Recycling Program that mandated the participation of all 39 municipal governments in Rhode Island. In 1994, when I was first elected to the Town Council, North Providence was the only municipality in the State not participating. At my insistence, Mayor Fossa initiated the local program. We had a “ribbon cutting” of sorts to inaugurate curbside recycling in town with the elected officials and the press on hand to witness the recycling truck collect its first blue bin of recycled material from the curb. As the sanitation worker emptied the contents of the blue bin into his truck Fossa whispered to me, “This better fucking work!” It did work. The town diverted about 13% of its waste from the Central Landfill in Johnston at a cost of $32.00 a ton, and moved it into the recycling stream where we were paid almost $8,000 a year for participating.

Six years later, it was time to implement maximum recycling and start diverting even more types of waste products from the landfill and into the recycling trucks. I began advocating that mission. I pointed out that North Providence was 2nd to last in the state capturing only 13% of its waste stream while other communities with expanded recycling were averaging 20%. Two of the municipalities collected 24%. By my calculations our town was currently avoiding $85,000 a year in disposal cost while collecting $7,700 in incentive grants from the R.I. Resource Recovery Corporation (RRC), the new name given to the former R.I. Solid Waste Management Corporation. I estimated that with maximum recycling, we could increase those numbers to $192,000 in avoided disposal cost and $13,000 in incentive grants. I also suggested that the town require condominium complexes to participate in the maximum curbside program. At the January meeting the Council voted unanimously to request that Mayor Mollis implement the proposals.

Preserving Open Space

Also in January, I drafted state legislation that would allow North Providence to establish a municipal land trust. Doc Corvese introduced the Act and asked that I procure a Council resolution of support typically requested prior to General Assembly consideration of such amendments. North Providence, a town starved for open space, still had some undeveloped lots of considerable acreage. A land trust, I reasoned, would provide the mechanism to preserve some of that open space for enjoyment by all current and future town residents.

Typical of the way Bob Ricci reacted to one of my proposals, rather than passing the resolution so that the General Assembly could consider the legislation, he voted to support Councilman Simone’s motion to forward it to the Ordinance Committee for further review. While on the surface this might not seem like a bad idea, there are actually several reasons why it was. 

First, the Ordinance Committee, under the parameters of the Town charter, is charged with the review of proposed ordinances, not resolutions. This was the first time in my tenure on the Council, perhaps the first time in town history, that a resolution such as this was referred to that Committee. 

Second, the R.I. Legislature is a part-time body with adjournment typically taking place at the end of June. I viewed the unnecessary step of forwarding the land trust resolution to the Ordinance Committee as a delaying tactic meant to prevent the proposal from reaching the General Assembly prior to adjournment.

Third, the state legislation was merely authorizing legislation that allowed North Providence to establish a land trust. The actual establishment of the trust required the Town to pass an ordinance in accordance with the process. That would have been the proper time for the Ordinance Committee to opine prior to a public hearing. A referral to Ordinance Committee at this juncture was simply another attempt to kill one of my proposals. Simone and Cook argued that the General Assembly does not require a Council resolution of support from a municipality and they preferred to have the actual wording of the resolution reviewed. They were clearly wrong on that issue and because Eileen Cook worked for the General Assembly’s research division, she knew, or should have known, that their statement was inaccurate.

I realized that once again I would need to bring my case directly to the people. I issued a press release in which I stated that North Providence lost to developers many opportunities to provide residents with protected natural areas. The release read, in part:

“Now, we are facing the prospects of a town with very limited access to natural spaces. A land trust is a conservation organization involved in helping protect natural, scenic, recreational, agricultural, historic, or cultural property. The town’s few parks are frequently crowded, and sports activities dominate. Many of our rivers and ponds are polluted, overgrown, encroached by buildings, and/or buried underground in pipes. We’ve lost several ponds and lakes to development in the 1950’s and 60’s. Despite that, we still have open space. If preservation action isn’t taken now, the space may be lost forever.”

I quickly scheduled a date with North Star reporter Greg Pare to accompany me on a tour of all of the potential open space worthy of preservation. The tour highlighted tens of acres that were currently wooded, but also included many developed plats that were wooded 15 years ago. I told the reporter that if something were not done quickly, fifteen years from now all of the open space we viewed on the tour would be developed with houses, condominiums and business developments. I believe I was able to convince him. A couple of front-page stories and a favorable editorial later and we were ready for the March Council meeting. The editorial that preceded the meeting began:

“Town Councilman Paul Caranci has proposed that North Providence establish a land trust. Reactions in town apparently range from support to ridicule. The derision seems to be based on the fact that the community is already thickly settled. There is nothing humorous about the councilman’s proposal. In fact, it makes very good sense. Would the skeptics have the town wait longer before taking steps to preserve the quality of life here? If ever a community needed to be thinking about how to keep its neighborhoods livable, it is this one. It isn’t too late to shield what open space the town still has…”

The editorial concluded, “Form the land trust.” The Council voted unanimously to forward the resolution to the General Assembly. The Legislature passed it unanimously and the Governor signed it clearing the way for North Providence to pass the ordinance allowing the formation of the land trust. The town Council did just that on September 8, 2000.

Bringing the Council Home

I was learning how to defeat those on the Council who would obstruct thoughtful and necessary quality-of-life proposals for political purposes. But it was wearing me out. Working for many months, a year or more on one proposal so meritorious, that in any other community it would probably be supported with little debate, was exhausting. It was also slowing me down and limiting my ability to address more issues. 

One solution I considered to resolve this issue was to televise the Council meetings on cable TV. Although we now had a population of about 33,000, we seldom attracted more than 20 people to any single Council meeting. The lack of viewers meant that regardless of how worthy my proposal, or how unreasonable the Council’s lack of support, no one would know. If my Council critics' antics were televised, I believed Bob Ricci’s supporters would be more restrained in their opposition to good proposals and perhaps less likely to offer unreasonable and illogical arguments in support of some of their own erratic votes. 

I visited the local cable station and worked out an arrangement that included sufficient airtime to broadcast each Council meeting in its entirety four times a month. I worked with the director of the high school audio-visual department to borrow a camera and tripod to record each meeting, and I secured a volunteer to actually tape the sessions. 

Making the process work required the purchase of a blank VHS tape before each meeting, verifying that the volunteer videographer could attend the meeting, retrieving the videotape recorder and tripod from the high school after school hours on the day of the meeting, taping the meeting in its entirety without edits, returning the camera equipment back to the high school before the start of the next day’s session, labeling the VHS tape and delivering the final product back to the cable television station. 

It was a time-intensive undertaking that required permission from my employer to leave during the day and make up the time before or after normal work hours, but would be worth the effort if it succeeded in preventing the councilmembers from their unwarranted obstruction of my proposals. The final hurdle was devising a way to convince the other Council members to go along with the plan. To accomplish that I drafted a press release and an agreement form that I personally delivered to the home of each councilperson. I explained how this initiative would be a great opportunity to demonstrate to the voters the Council’s commitment to transparency. I showed them the press release that credited the entire Council with the proposal and, despite having to chase Bob Ricci for a few days, I eventually added his signature of approval to that of all the others. 

The program ran into its first problem almost immediately when I received a call from Bob Cooper, Executive Secretary of the Governor’s Commission on Disabilities. Though I was serving on the Commission’s Board of Directors, I was unaware that broadcasting the Council meetings could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act because it did not provide equal access to those with hearing impairment. In the past, Cooper said the government required closed captioning or an interpreter who could sign. Either of these options carried an enormous price tag and would mean an end to the program that was just approved. 

Fortunately, after several months, we were able to work out a compromise that required us to film a printed message at both the start and the end of each meeting proclaiming that anyone with a hearing impairment could request a full, unedited transcript of the meeting. Such transcripts had always been available because the Council paid a court stenographer to make a verbatim record of each meeting. No one ever requested a copy under the terms of this program. 

The December 5th meeting was the first to be recorded and was broadcast over Cox Communications local access channel 18 on Saturday December 9th and 23rd at 12:00 Noon and on Sunday December 17th and 31st at the same time. Interested residents who were unavailable during those hours had the opportunity to video record the broadcast for viewing at their leisure. North Providence Town Council meetings were now available to virtually every resident without the need for them to leave their home. 

Correcting History

In addition to all the other issues that I was dealing with at the start of this new year, I added one more that originally started as a tongue-in-cheek attempt to correct the history books by giving North Providence the proper credit for being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Thomas Greene, the Town Historian, alerted me to the issue in December of 1999. By February 2000, it had developed into a very serious battle of wits between the officials of two municipalities. 

The Industrial Revolution began in 1790 along the banks of the Blackstone River when Samuel Slater built his cotton mill. At the time of construction the parcel of land on which the mill was built belonged to the Village of Pawtucket, which was located in the Town of North Providence. Decades later, on May 1, 1874, North Providence ceded that portion of the town to the newly chartered Town of Pawtucket that later gained prominence as one of the state’s major cities. Since then, it is the City of Pawtucket and not the Town of North Providence that history credits as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. 

I wrote to publishers of several encyclopedias and school history textbooks as well as some authors of historical works advising them of this fact and asking that future editions of their books credit the Village of Pawtucket, Town of North Providence as the birthplace of the revolution. I received some responses asking for proof. That’s when the entire episode went public.

Front-page stories complete with large color photographs of me and Tom Greene, appeared in the North Star, the Pawtucket Times and the Providence Journal. The debate began to get serious and grow legs with reporters digging through old deeds and the curators of the Slater Mill Museum challenging our theory. Even Rehoboth, a Massachusetts town located across the Pawtucket banks of the Blackstone River claimed that the land that the mill was built on once belonged to that town. Consequently, they too laid claim to the birth of the Industrial Revolution. The mayor of Pawtucket wrote advising that if I felt the mill was in North Providence, perhaps I could get the town to allocate some money toward the maintenance and support of the Slater Mill Museum. I quickly explained that I had no interest in running the historic site, only in obtaining the proper credit of North Providence’s contribution to the Industrial Revolution. 

In the end, it was the original deed that proved that Tom Greene and I were right as the deed verified that the development was recorded in the land evidence records of the Town of North Providence even though the historic deed was now stored in the land evidence records of the Pawtucket City Hall. The furor ended almost as fast as it began, but it provided a good lesson on the political volatility of sensitive historical issues even when the alleged facts proved to be accurate. 

Saluting the Armenian People

The Armenians are a proud people and they have made a significant contribution to the history of North Providence and Rhode Island. They have also played an important role in my early successful election efforts. Friend Donna Melikian served for several years as my campaign chairwoman or coordinator. She helped out significantly with many of the campaign events. Likewise longtime Zoning Board member, Azarig (Ozzie) Kooloian was extraordinarily helpful in my 1994 campaigns. 

One day, in early 1994, I received a call from Ozzie telling me that he noticed from my brochure that I had selected an Armenian woman to head my campaign. Indeed I had, I told him. Well, he said, if you have her prepare a list of all the Armenian voters in your council district, I will call them and ask them to support you. Donna Melikian prepared the list and I presented the names of about 150 eligible voters with Armenian last names to Ozzie. I thought if he even called 25 of them it would be a tremendous help. Ozzie must have called them all! On election day, while standing in front of my home polling place at McGuire School, at least 30 or 40 people stopped to tell me Ozzie called them and they would be supporting me. I was incredulous at the loyalty of those I spoke with but also at the tenacity of Ozzie Kooloian for taking the time to do such a wonderful thing on my behalf. I vowed then and there that win or lose I would try to do something for the Armenian people of North Providence.

Steve Elmasian, one of my campaign supporters, played a significant role in that community and in the Armenian National Committee. I asked him one day while attending a fund raiser for Secretary of State James Langevin, if there was something that I could do to honor the Armenian community locally. He suggested that I hold a flag raising ceremony on April 24th commemorating the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Turks in 1915. 

While each year the Italians and Irish of the Town are honored with a flag raising ceremony on March 18th, the day between St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day, nothing was ever done to celebrate the Armenian community.

I drafted a proposal and presented it to Mayor Mollis who was very happy to accommodate the request. On April 24, 2000, North Providence held the first of what has become an annual event in our town. Mayor Mollis presented resolutions and I was a keynote speaker at the event. I spoke of the contribution of the Armenians in North Providence. I noted the accomplishments of small businessman George Bozigian whose HKB Pioneer Food Market had been a staple in the community for years, and of mega business owner John Haronian who operated widely successful Douglas Drug and Douglas Wine & Spirits, very large and profitable business enterprises in Town. I noted how Paula Markarian had just become the High School’s valedictorian. I recounted the contributions of Providence Post Master and local resident Harry Kazarian and many others. 

Three local survivors of the genocide and 150 people attended. Tears filled the eyes of many of the attendees as holocaust survivor Moushegh Derderian raised the flag high above Town Hall. The North Breeze editorialized,

“…That North Providence has stepped up and done its part is highly commendable. Residents can be justly proud of the sensitivity and enlightenment of those who brought the ceremonies about. It is good the memorial will be continued every year from now on.”

Thanks to Steve Elmasian and other members of the Armenian National Committee the flag-raising idea has spread and is now an annual celebration/commemoration in all thirty-nine R.I. municipalities. Forty-five states raise the Armenian flag over their State House each year from Maine to California and the event has now developed into a solid fund raising opportunity for the Armenian National Committee which sells flags in honor of deceased Armenians throughout the country.

I have made many friends in the Armenian community both in and around North Providence. I was happy and proud to have been a part of an event that commemorated the atrocities the Armenian people faced and to honor their contributions to the town. I am equally proud to have been part, albeit a small part, of a movement to recognize that the events of 1915 were in fact an attempted genocide, something the Turkish government denies to this very day. 

Taking on Noise

As is the case with many council people around America, the members of the North Providence Council received constant complaints about noise in North Providence. The cause of the complaints include loud music emanating from bars and clubs that are located too close to residential areas, loud motorcycles passing along neighborhood streets, construction noise that begins too early in the morning, the sound of loud garbage trucks collecting curbside waste during the pre-dawn hours, and patrons congregating outside business establishments at closing time which in North Providence can occur as late as 2:00 in the morning. I’ve even gotten complaints about the sound of loud church bells on a Sunday morning and barking dogs left unattended for hours on end. Noise is everywhere. Good solutions to the noise problem are not. 

I conducted extensive research into the issue. I looked at problems and solutions from England to Canada and drafted a noise ordinance that provided a constitutional solution based on common sense, but not too intrusive on the affairs of businesses and others that would be subject to its restrictions. 

The proposal established certain hours of operation for some businesses and required actual decibel meter readings from bars and other establishments providing entertainment in residential areas. It also recognized the need for the town to purchase two distinct types of decibel meters; one that would measure ordinary noise and the other that would detect and measure sounds that cause vibrations such as the base notes in loud music. There is not one meter that will detect both types of noise and since the town did not have the one that detected base notes, complaints to the police department were generally reported as unsubstantiated after an officer was dispatched to the site.

The draft was four months in the making, took into account the position of the ACLU, and included information from the Noise Institute located at Rutgers University in New Jersey. It addressed every conceivable eventuality in a manner that was enforceable and could withstand court challenge.

Naturally it was dismissed by Bob Ricci who opted instead to advocate for “police officers to rely on common-sense judgments rather than having to measure sound levels with sophisticated equipment. Now,” Ricci boasted after passage of his version of the noise ordinance reforms, “if someone is blasting music and a police officer hears it, the offender can be given a $100 ticket. Other cities and towns have had success with it. If anyone questions the legality of the ordinance, let him challenge it. We think it will stand up in court. Either way, they will get the message.”

There was only one problem with Ricci’s approach. It didn’t meet constitutional muster. The police cannot issue a ticket that, if challenged in court, will have to be defended on the basis of common sense. Every citizen enters a courtroom, even a municipal courtroom, with the presumption of innocence. The town must prove that the alleged violator is guilty. In order to prove that one violated a law, there must be established a clear set of standards that constitute a violation. Volume that is unreasonably loud to one person may actually be quite low to another depending on his hearing ability. Likewise, noise to one person may be music to another. “Reasonableness” would not be a legal standard sufficient to prove a violation of law. In order to cite a violator, the town must produce a unit of measure; in this case, a decibel meter reading. In an effort to discredit my research however, Ricci and his Council allies were all too willing to sacrifice the quality-of-life of the residents of North Providence. 

Five months after the noise ordinance was enacted the town was understandably not enforcing it. Residents expecting relief were annoyed and they contacted the Providence Journal. Reporter Richard Salit noted in an October 19th article,

“In May, the town council suited up to defend against an auditory assault on residents’ quality of life. Armed with a freshly inked noise ordinance, they said they would no longer succumb to those who would rev motorcycle engines mercilessly, induce seismic activity with car stereos or otherwise create a gratuitous din. But nearly five months later, not one person has been cited with violating the noise ordinance. …At issue is the opposition of the ACLU. After the Council passed the ordinance, the ACLU issued a statement criticizing it. Executive Director Steven Brown, informed of the law by a resident, said it relied too heavily on the subjective impressions of police officers rather than measurements taken by a sound meter. That feature is exactly what council members hailed when they voted for the new law. Brown, however, called the law ‘blatantly unconstitutional’ and said his agency would challenge it in court on behalf of anyone cited as an offender. [Police Chief William] Devine said yesterday that the ACLU threat concerned him, as did some of the language in the ordinance. He said he never passed the ordinance on to his officers, as he does with other laws passed by the council. The chief said he first wants Town Solicitor Mark Welch, who drafted the ordinance, to review it and possibly forward some proposed amendments to the council.”

Bob Ricci expressed his concern that the ordinance was not being enforced, but Devine questioned the wisdom of enforcing something that would be immediately challenged. Ricci countered, “If someone actually sues the town and wins, the town can hire a noise consultant to revise the ordinance.”

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It is unjustifiable to me that the Council would require enforcement of something deemed “blatantly unconstitutional” by a group with unlimited resources and a fairly good track record of mounting successful challenges to these type laws. Now the Council was forced to look at revising it, when they were already presented with and rejected an ordinance that was drafted with the assistance of both the ACLU and the Rutgers Noise Institute, one that was virtually guaranteed to pass constitutional muster. To say that I was irked would be an understatement.

To my knowledge there has never been a citation issued for a violation of this ordinance and to this day, the Town is struggling with the same noise issues that I tried to address in 2000.

By this time in my political career I had developed a reputation for being a pit bull on quality-of-life issues. Margie would frequently tell me that I needed to back off a little and allow some room for compromise. I was willing to compromise, but not on issues that involved principle. And, I certainly could not compromise if it meant supporting a concept that was either ineffective or unconstitutional such as the Ricci noise ordinance proposal. 

By this time, many residents now called me with their problems, even those who lived outside my district. They would frequently tell me that they knew I wasn’t their councilman, but I was the only one who cared enough to get results for them! 

Making the Sidewalks Accessible

In January 2000, while there was still snow on the ground, I was made aware that telephone poles and traffic signal stanchions in Centredale impeded wheelchair access to recently installed curb cuts making the sidewalks around the Centredale by-pass inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. The sidewalk improvements were made by the State Department of Transportation. Ironically, the area in question was within just yards of the Elmhurst House, an independent living facility housing many wheelchair-bound residents, and the North Providence Senior Citizen Center, also a facility frequented by people with mobility issues. The placement of the poles in the center of the 4 feet wide curb cut, leaving only 2 feet on either side, made it impossible for a wheelchair-bound person to access the sidewalk forcing the resident to travel in the street where three lanes of fast moving traffic shared the roadway. A quick review of some other areas of Centredale revealed similar problems. 

I penned a letter to State Transportation Director William Ankner asking if DOT would move the stanchions that were impeding access. He didn’t respond. I then got busy with other issues and the sidewalk problem temporarily fell off my radar screen. By July, the lack of action by DOT including their lack of response to my letter began to irritate me. I added the concern to the August Council agenda and notified the press of the problem. Also in July I asked the Governor’s Commission of Disabilities to intervene. They agreed to help facilitate a response. 

By late July I had gotten the attention of DOT. Ankner insisted he knew nothing of the problem until he was made aware of it on July 27th. He expressed regret that the state had installed new sidewalks in Centredale that inadvertently blocked access to the wheelchair ramps with streetlight poles. He said neither he nor his staff had any recollection of receiving my letter but vowed to take corrective action. 

Ankner made good on his promise. By August the State widened the sidewalks thereby allowing access to those with mobility impairment. Looking back, it was certainly possible in such a large bureaucracy that the letter I sent to Ankner was misplaced or overlooked. Rather than call the press, I should have called the DOT. Quite possibly, my frustration with local officials who constantly opposed my programs without valid reason may have contributed to my over-reaction. In retrospect, I wish that I’d handled the situation differently. Regardless, the end result was that the people of North Providence with mobility issues were finally able to navigate along passable sidewalks in Centredale.

Taking on Speeders

For several years the Council has been asked by many residents to address the problem of speeding on local roads. Each time a resident complained, the Council petitioned the mayor to allow the Police Department to post a radar patrol on the street. A Patrol would be posted for a day or two, give several warnings, write a number of citations and then move on to another location. Armed with only two radar guns in a town with about 20 miles of streets, the police effort was near futile. Further, the police complained to the Council that just as they get set up at a location, they get a priority call that forces them to leave.

The preferred Council solution was to use stop signs to slow the traffic on town roads. The first few stop signs seemed to help, but soon stop signs started to appear everywhere. Four-way stop signs were erected at 4-way intersections, three-way stop signs at 3-way intersections and duel stop signs in the middle of roads that didn’t even have intersections. Some longer streets had as many as 8 or 9 stop signs in a quarter mile stretch. The situation became so outrageous that most residents started ignoring the stop signs completely making the flow of traffic less safe and more dangerous than it was when speeding was the only problem. 

Virtually everyone was complaining and some residents openly threatened to pass right through the stop signs without stopping. In October I responded by developing a 5-point proposal to address the speeding/stop sign situation. 

Ironically, at that same October meeting the Council entertained five proposed ordinances for the erection of new stop signs and three additional requests for ordinances to be drafted for consideration of new stop signs at a subsequent meeting. The North Breeze reported my admonition to fellow council members that erecting stop signs solely for the purpose of controlling speeding was both confusing and dangerous as, “Stop signs in North Providence don’t mean stop anymore, they mean slow down.”

My 5-point plan for street traffic safety required: 

1) A complete inventory of all local streets by the Traffic Division of the Police Department to assess the adequacy of current speed limits and the location of stop signs with a recommendation for appropriate changes; 

2) The use of rumble strips and speed bumps where the police deem appropriate;

3) The acquisition and use of portable radar trailers that post the speed of passing motorists; 

4) The creation of neighborhood speed watch program; and, 

5) Aggressive, targeted enforcement with special detail police called back on overtime to set up radar patrols. 

 

Under my proposal the program would be self-sustaining through revenue generated from the enforcement of the laws. If the speeding problem reached a point where there was no longer enough revenue to support the program then the speeding problem would have been solved and enforcement efforts could be cut back. 

The Council took up the ordinance at the October meeting and promptly referred it to the Public Safety Committee where it was never heard from again. Mayor Mollis promised me that he would take action on some elements of the proposal without passage of a Council ordinance. I insisted that the proposal would not work if approved piecemeal, but rather was intended to be enacted as one comprehensive plan. Despite my admonitions, the mayor eventually adopted pieces of the proposal, such as the use of a radar board and the purchase and installation of portable speed bumps. Those items were effective in reducing the problem but did not resolve it. A year later, in October 2001, I renewed my call for adoption of my program in full after, according to Richard Salit of the Providence Journal, “…A car traveling on Fruit Hill Avenue jumped a curb, sent a fire hydrant soaring, hit a parked truck, struck a tree and then rolled over several times. As it came to rest in the yard of Councilman Zambarano, one tire actually dislodged and bumped into his front door.” 

Needless to say, speeding was involved! I thought that perhaps the mishap at his front door would engender at least the support of Zambarano and perhaps he would be able to convince Ricci, Sisto and Cook to support my proposed ordinance. I was wrong again. The proposal was referred to Ordinance Committee in November where, once again, it died.

Attempting to Eliminate 2:00 Closing Times

At the November 8th Council meeting I floated the idea of eliminating the 2:00 A.M. closing time for liquor serving establishments in Town. State law established a 1:00 AM closing time but allowed municipal governments to grant extensions to licensees for an extra hour. North Providence was one of only a handful of municipalities that took advantage of that option. Consequently, bar patrons from surrounding areas would flock to North Providence once the bars in their town closed. An hour later, those patrons, some more inebriated than when they arrived, departed from our local clubs with loud chatter, heated argument and, in some cases, fistfights.

Several restaurant and bar owners attended the Council meeting to object that the lost hour would devastate their business. Ricci and Sisto agreed. The owners suggested that we simply deny such a license to those nightclub owners that cause the problem, but state law doesn’t allow the town to impose that strategy. Under R.I. General Law, once a town decides to allow the extended closing time for one establishment it must allow it for all such establishments within its borders. Regardless, my motion to eliminate the 2:00 closing time failed to get a second despite having a great deal of popular support throughout the town. 

Election ‘00

The year 2000 was an election year and Peter Simone and I faced a challenge from Michael Rollins. Rollins was a familiar face who in prior elections opposed United States Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Bob Ricci for the council-at-large seat. State law did not prevent someone from running for more than one office even though he could be sworn into only one office even if successful in both races. 

Though Fossa challenged Mollis for the third time, it was a relatively uneventful election and all of the incumbent candidates won resounding victories. The only drama was in the friendly competition among the district council candidates to be the top vote getter of their respective districts. A recent change to our Town charter increased the two-year Council terms to four-year terms. To prevent all the Council seats from expiring in a single year, the top vote getter in each district would receive the first four-year term while the second place finisher would have to wait until after the 2002 election cycle to begin a four-year term. As in the past, Peter Simone edged me by 50 votes giving him the first four-year term. In the other districts, Sisto and Cook received the first four-year terms over Burchfield and Zambarano respectively.

2001

INAUGURATION DAY IV

The new-year began with all the promise and possibilities that the inauguration of local elected officials begets. However, the enthusiasm had waned for me, making this event anti-climactic and somewhat mundane. What was once a very exciting day was now a day marred by the promise of more infighting if I hoped to enact proposals that I deemed beneficial to the quality of life in North Providence. 

The Council is described in the town charter as a part-time body, but it sure seemed like a near full time job to me! Between meetings, meeting prep, constituent phone calls, issue research, proposal writing, press release drafting and issuance, constituent meetings and fact finding sessions, it was difficult to keep up. Add to that the need to find ways to actually garner support for my programs in the face of unwarranted political opposition and so many other responsibilities that local office required, and I worked an average of 25-30 hours a week on council duties alone. When this is divided by the $8,000 annual stipend, the average hourly salary was between $5.12 and $6.15. It should be obvious that those who are elected to office and perform their duties responsibly do not choose public service for the money!

Protecting the Integrity of the Village Commercial Zone

One of the first major issues confronting the Council in the new year was a proposal to locate a 7-Eleven at the site of the old Ronci Mill on Smith Street at the corner of Atlantic Blvd. The site was now a vacant lot and the developers were proposing a convenience store with a gas station and a 24-hour operating license. Bob Ricci, John Zambarano and Eileen Cook, the councilors that represented the district in which the facility would be located, were briefed by the developers and announced their support before I even had an opportunity to review the plans. I had learned to become leery of anything promoted by Ricci and Zambarano, however, so their pronouncement prompted me to take a very close look at the project. 

While they viewed the proposed construction as economic development and focused on small issues such as egress and ingress, I focused on more critical issues such as the potential for increased traffic, disrupted traffic patterns, unsightly gas pumps that would abut a residential area, a 24-hour nuisance and a noisy late-night hangout in an area that abutted a residential zone. 

The other major issue was that the development was proposed for a site that had been rezoned to Village Commercial when the Town’s Comprehensive Plan was adopted in the mid 1990’s. A Village Commercial Zone prohibits chain stores of any kind. 

While Ricci was normally assertive and authoritative, Zambarano was generally meek and mild mannered. By this stage of his Council tenure however the 1981 graduate of North Providence High School was learning the political ropes from his best friend and mentor.

Yet, in this case, both Ricci and Zambarano groped and reached for reasons to justify their position. Ricci noted that there was once a Cumberland Farms across the street. When it closed, the people lost a convenience store and this was an opportunity to get one back. Ricci never mentioned that the Cumberland Farms had closed before the area was rezoned Village Commercial. He added that the Town had two other 24-hour stores, one in Marieville (the east side of Town) near the off ramp of Rt. 146, the other in Woodville, the middle of Town. This would be an opportunity for the west side of Town to enjoy the convenience that a 24-hour store provides. He neglected to point out, however, that in a Town of only 5.4 square miles, the other two locations were, at most, a four-minute drive away from the western-most part of Town during the late night and early morning hours when traffic was at a minimum. Ricci also failed to acknowledge that the two established 24-hour stores that he referenced were on a very commercial stretch of Mineral Spring Avenue and not in a Village Commercial zone. 

Mayor Mollis even noted that construction of a 7-Eleven store in that location “didn’t fit into his vision of revitalization for Smith Street.” In fact, the site had been previously selected by Mollis for the construction of a new Senior Citizen Center, which had outgrown its current location in the heart of Centredale. In January 2002, Zambarano called for a special Saturday morning Council meeting so that residents would have an opportunity to see the 7-Eleven proposal and weigh in on it. About thirty or so residents responded to Zambarano’s call and attended the meeting. Despite Bob Ricci and the developers announcing that the “revised” plan no longer included access on Whipple Avenue, one of the side streets on which the facility was proposed, the residents made their opposition to a 24-hour 7-Eleven store very evident. As the meeting was drawing to a close, Ricci proposed to the developers that they ask their corporate officers if they could live with extended hours that would require the store to close only 5-6 hours a day. The developers responded several days later with a resounding “no,” causing Ricci to announce that the plan was dead and that the Council should formally reject the proposal at its March meeting. 

Normally one might think that such a pronouncement would signal the end of discussion on the issue. However, controversy erupted again at the March meeting. Jason Sisto, the owner of the property on which the 7-Eleven construction was proposed, told the Council that he had gotten several calls from people interested in locating a gas station at that same site, a station that wouldn’t require a 24-hour license. In response Ricci told the few residents that attended, “If it were a choice between 7-Eleven and another gas station, I would choose 7-Eleven.” It was very evident to me that this entire conversation had been contrived in an attempt to provide one more delay with the hope of being able to grant the license at a subsequent meeting. 

In what was now becoming a very discernible pattern, the justification was feeble. Imagine opting for a 24-hour 7-Eleven with four gas pumps, eight service locations, and an 18’ concrete canopy rather than a straight gas station without a 24-hour license. I countered, “If 7-Eleven is turned down and another service station takes its place, at least it wouldn’t operate 24-hours a day.” After all, it wasn’t the gas station that the neighbors objected to; it was the issuance of a 24-hour license. As before, Ricci’s latest argument was invalid and defied logic.

I continued my letter writing campaign and contacted residents to ensure their cohesiveness. Finally, on March 20, 2002, the Providence Journal reported, “’Seven-Eleven is dead,’ Councilman Robert Ricci proclaimed yesterday. Ricci said that continued neighborhood opposition has persuaded a majority of council members – including himself – to deny granting 7-Eleven a 24-hour license.” Saying that he and Zambarano spoke to neighbors recently and found “‘…they didn’t share the same sentiment. The residents, he said, remained concerned that a 24-hour store would attract people leaving nightclubs at closing time and lead to late night disturbances. They weren’t concerned about the aesthetics as much,’ Ricci said.” The developers said they would still ask the Council for a vote on the issue at the April meeting. 

In the final analysis, the developers of the 7-Eleven did not pursue their proposal, as it was clear that there were too many legal and zoning hurdles to overcome. The entire episode did provide a glimpse into how Ricci and Zambarano conduct themselves when trying to support something that was clearly not in the best interest of the Town. The attempts at feeble excuses were a pattern that would be consistently and constantly repeated each time I tried to reason with them. I was simply left to my own devices to try to determine their motives. In hindsight, with the revelations of their “kleptocracy” it all makes perfect sense.

Appointing a New Town Clerk Another Unnecessary Controversy

Perhaps the most contentious item of an otherwise quiet political year was the appointment of a new Town Clerk. Joseph Rendine, the former District 1 councilman and Frank Anzeveno’s 1982 opponent for state representative, announced his retirement from a position to which he was appointed following the election of Dick Fossa as mayor. Both men were raised on Federal Hill, an Italian-American section of Providence, and although Rendine had been an ardent supporter of Fossa foe Sal Mancini, his friendship with Fossa was never seriously strained beyond the limits of repair. 

The employment ad prompted several applications from many qualified and some not-so-qualified respondents. Because the Town Clerk’s position is the only full time position appointed by the Council, I took the selection responsibility very seriously. Two meetings were held in executive session to review the applications. I wasn’t able to attend the first meeting due to a work conflict, but after asking Council President Sisto, I learned that the discussions were shallow and devoid of any real evaluation. Essentially, he told me, "I read certain parts of some of the applications and we talked about them." Fearing that the Council was going to make an appointment without a real evaluation, I took it upon myself to develop a matrix for evaluating the applicants on a point-based system and I then ranked them in top-down order suggesting an interview for the top 3 candidates. 

MaryAnn DeAngelus, the sister of Councilman Zambarano, was a high school graduate who, according to her resume, worked part-time as a banquet manager at the popular Twin Oaks Restaurant owned by her ex-husband, and part-time as a clerk in the Cranston Municipal Court. She had no full-time experience in a public office setting and did not even live in Town at a time when a residency requirement made that a condition of employment. (Note: The residency requirement did allow for new hires to move into Town within six months of their appointment if they were out-of-town residents at the time of their appointment.) Other applicants included a man who worked as a full-time town clerk in a municipality in Connecticut, a law school graduate who was a life-long town resident and another three-generation lifelong resident who worked in a similar full-time position for many years in the R.I. House of Representatives. That candidate also happened to be the grandson of retired State Senator Frank Sgambato, a well-respected former town councilman and senate majority leader to whom the Council chamber was dedicated. 

 

The Council held a second executive session to discuss the candidates and narrow the field of choices to a few. At least that’s what I thought the meeting had been called for. In reality, it appeared that the other members were ready to announce their selection, one that they seemed to have been previously agreed to. 

The Council would not even consider my evaluation system or ranking of the 18 applicants. I pleaded that they at least review my work even if they don’t want to accept the recommendations. Despite my admonitions, Peter Simone quickly made the motion to appoint MaryAnn DeAngelus. The motion was second by Ricci and Burchfield and the roll call vote was 5-0. I refused to vote noting that the committee had not done a thorough evaluation of the candidates and I believed a vote was premature. Zambarano wisely recused himself from the vote to appoint his sister although he failed to file the appropriate recusal form required by State law. 

I argued that the selection of a councilman’s sister would present a major conflict of interest since the town clerk is responsible for taking meeting notes, preparing meeting agendas, disseminating all Council information, keeping town records and other duties that could be considered problematic if partiality could be shown to one specific Council member. “What would happen,” I asked hypothetically, “if a split council decision regarding a liquor license is appealed to the Department of Business Regulation? Would the council members that voted contrary to Zambarano have concerns about the Clerk’s impartiality?” I asked the Council to request an advisory opinion from the Ethics Commission to determine if a councilman’s sister, sitting as town clerk, could pose an appearance of impropriety. No one would second my motion. I believe they all feared what the answer might be. Instead, they insisted that Zambarano had already sought an Ethics Commission advisory ruling that indicated that he must recuse himself from the selection process.

Ricci bristled when I suggested that the appointment might give the appearance of a “political fix.” He shot back with accusations of hypocrisy because my wife Margie was serving as the clerk to the school committee and my father was a doorman in the House of Representatives. The fact that neither I, nor the Town Council, had anything to do with either part-time appointment apparently didn't matter to Ricci. 

Neither of those appointments could possibly pose a conflict for me for two reasons. First, as mentioned, the Council had no voice in the appointment of either position. Second, the School Committee appointed Margie to her part-time position in 1992, and the Speaker of the House appointed my father to his part-time position in 1981. I wasn't elected to the Council until 1994. Further, neither position could ever pose a conflict with my duties as a councilman since neither person had any interaction with the Council. My sister, Linda Corsini, was particularly upset that Ricci would use my father in such a personal attack against me and made a point to say as much in a carefully crafted letter-to-the-editor. 

Councilman Burchfield told the reporter that my criticisms of the Council’s evaluation process and resulting appointment were unwarranted. “I think all of this is somewhat immature. He has aspirations to be mayor. He’s probably trying to get positive publicity for that purpose alone.”

Ricci justified the selection of his best friend’s sister to Richard Salit of the Providence Journal saying, “I was really impressed with the interview she gave. And, to be perfectly frank, I know the family and their character. Certainly that makes me a little more comfortable with her.” In reality, I believed that the appointment, and the same tired personal attacks against the person logically anticipating the problems such an appointment could create, gave my suspicions of the collusion between Ricci and Zambarano even more validity.

For his part, Zambarano said that he recused himself from both the vote and the selection process. “I have had nothing to do with it,” he said, “I haven’t lobbied any of the council members. I haven’t talked to any of them except Ricci.” Apparently, that was the only person he needed to speak to. It should also have been enough to place Zambarano in violation of the State’s ethics laws.

When the reporter called me for a response to their charges, I was on a family vacation in Florida and driving through Lion Country Safari with my children in the back seat of the car. As I was speaking with the reporter, several monkeys climbed over my car forcing me to stop the car and wait for the monkeys to move away before driving on. The kids were hysterical with laughter. Monkeys - how appropriate, I thought, as I tried to restrain my own guffaws.

 

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Paul F. Caranci is a historian and serves on the board of directors for the RI Heritage Hall of Fame. He is a cofounder of, and consultant to The Municipal Heritage Group and the author of five published books including two produced by The History Press. North Providence: A History & The People Who Shaped It (2012) and The Hanging & Redemption of John Gordon: The True Story of Rhode Island’s Last Execution (2013) that was selected by The Providence Journal as one of the top five non-fiction books of 2013. Paul served for eight years as Rhode Island’s Deputy Secretary of State and for almost seventeen years as a councilman in his hometown of North Providence. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Margie. They have two adult children, Heather and Matthew, and four grandsons, Matthew Jr., Jacob, Vincent and Casey.

 

Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s History of Political Corruption

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Buddy Cianci

Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci resigned as Providence Mayor in 1984 after pleading nolo contendere to charges of assaulting a Bristol man with a lit cigarette, ashtray, and fireplace log. Cianci believed the man to be involved in an affair with his wife. 

Cianci did not serve time in prison, but received a 5-year suspended sentence. He was replaced by Joseph R. Paolino, Jr. in a special election. 

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Joseph Bevilacqua

Joseph Bevilacqua was RI Speaker of the House from 1969 to 1975, and was appointed as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court in 1976.  It was alleged that Bevilacqua had connections to organized crime throughout his political career.  

According to a 1989 article that appeared in The New York Times at the time of his death:

The series of events that finally brought Mr. Bevilacqua down began at the end of 1984... stating that reporters and state police officers had observed Mr. Bevilacqua repeatedly visiting the homes of underworld figures.

The state police alleged that Mr. Bevilacqua had also visited a Smithfield motel, owned by men linked to gambling and drugs...

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Thomas Fay

Thomas Fay, the successor to Bevilacqua as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, resigned in 1993, and was later found guilty on three misdemeanor counts of directing arbitration work to a partner in his real estate firm, Lincoln Center Properties.  

Fay was also alleged to use court employees, offices, and other resources for the purposes of the real estate firm.  Fay, along with court administrator and former Speaker of the House, Matthew "Mattie" Smith were alleged to have used court secretaries to conduct business for Lincoln, for which Fay and Smith were business partners. 

Fay was fined $3,000 and placed on one year probation. He could have been sentenced for up to three years in prison. 

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Brian J. Sarault

Former Pawtucket Mayor Brian J. Sarault was sentenced in 1992 to more than 5 years in prison, after pleading guilty to a charge of racketeering.  

Sarault was arrested by state police and FBI agents at Pawtucket City Hall in 1991, who alleged that the mayor had attempted to extort $3,000 from former RI State Rep. Robert Weygand as a kickback from awarding city contracts.

Weygand, after alerting federal authorities to the extortion attempt, wore a concealed recording device to a meeting where he delivered $1,750 to Sarault.

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Edward DiPrete

Edward DiPrete became the first Rhode Island Governor to be serve time in prison after pleading guilty in 1998 to multiple charges of corruption.

He admitted to accepting bribes and extorting money from contractors, and accepted a plea bargain which included a one-year prison sentence.

DiPrete served as Governor from 1985-1991, losing his 1990 re-election campaign to Bruce Sundlun.

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Plunder Dome

Cianci was forced to resign from the Mayor’s office a second time in 2002 after being convicted on one several charges levied against him in the scandal popularly known as “Operation Plunder Dome.” 

The one guilty charge—racketeering conspiracy--led to a five-year sentence in federal prison. Cianci was acquitted on all other charges, which included bribery, extortion, and mail fraud.

While it was alleged that City Hall had been soliciting bribes since Cianci’s 1991 return to office, much of the case revolved around a video showing a Cianci aide, Frank Corrente, accepting a $1,000 bribe from businessman Antonio Freitas. Freitas had also recorded more than 100 conversations with city officials.

Operation Plunder Dome began in 1998, and became public when the FBI executed a search warrant of City Hall in April 1999. 

Cianci Aide Frank Corrente, Tax Board Chairman Joseph Pannone, Tax Board Vice Chairman David C. Ead, Deputy tax assessor Rosemary Glancy were among the nine individuals convicted in the scandal. 

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N. Providence Councilmen

Three North Providence City Councilmen were convicted in 2011 on charges relating to a scheme to extort bribes in exchange for favorable council votes. In all, the councilmen sought more than $100,000 in bribes.

Councilmen Raimond A. Zambarano, Joseph Burchfield, and Raymond L. Douglas III were sentenced to prison terms of 71 months, 64 months, and 78 months, respectively. 

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Charles Moreau

Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau resigned in 2012 before pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. 

Moreau admitted that he had give contractor Michael Bouthillette a no-bid contract to board up vacant homes in exchange for having a boiler installed in his home. 

He was freed from prison in February 2014, less than one year into a 24 month prison term, after his original sentence was vacated in exchange for a guilty plea on a bribery charge.  He was credited with tim served, placed on three years probation, and given 300 hours of community service.

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Joe Almeida

State Representative Joseph S. Almeida was arrested and charged on February 10, 2015 for allegedly misappropriating $6,122.03 in campaign contributions for his personal use. Following his arrest, he resigned his position as House Democratic Whip, but remains a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly.

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Gordon Fox

The Rhode Island State Police and FBI raided and sealed off the State House office of Speaker of the House Gordon Fox on March 21--marking the first time an office in the building has ever been raided. 

Fox pled guilty to 3 criminal counts on March 3, 2015 - accepting a bribe, wire fraud, and filing a false tax return. The plea deal reached with the US Attorney's office calls for 3 years in federal prison, but Fox will be officially sentenced on June 11.

 
 

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