WARWICK, R.I. — The Warwick Beacon has experienced recent difficulty accessing city officials for its reporting, as well as a rumored order against advertising with the twice-weekly newspaper, Publisher John Howell reports.
Howell said Tuesday afternoon that “sources I trust” say there’s a directive from Mayor Joseph J. Solomon not to advertise legal notices in the Beacon. He said that when he spoke with Solomon about it this afternoon, the mayor denied there’s any such directive.
“What you’re told is, you’ve got to go through (spokeswoman) Courtney (Marciano) and the Mayor’s office,” Howell said, adding department heads ask him and his reporters to email questions to them, “and then you don’t hear back.”
Howell said when he managed to reach City Assessor Neal Dupuis to ask about the recent revaluation and the new total value of property in the city following the reval, Dupuis told him he wouldn’t comment until the results are certified in June. When Howell asked for an estimate on the percentage property value increase, Dupuis also declined to answer.
WarwickPost.com has also been unable to interview Dupuis about the revaluation. A series of phone calls and emails to the office seeking information about the timing of the revaluation and notifications of new values sent to property owners, as well as the new total value for city property, was returned with a request for the questions in writing, which the Post submitted to Dupuis’ office.
On Tuesday, May 7 Publisher Rob Borkowski asked Solomon directly to authorize Dupuis to speak to the press on the subject. Solomon agreed, sealing the discussion with a handshake.
The next day, Dupuis emailed Borkowski in reply to the written questions: “I would recommend putting in an APRA (the Rhode Island Access to Public Records Act) request with the City Clerk’s Office at this point. However, please know that there are currently no documents relating to (in your words) ‘the overall status of property values’ at this point. That information will not be known until the tax roll is certified in June.”
When asked if he thought the city is responding defensively to unflattering news reports, Howell said he doesn’t know.
“It’s hard to understand if it’s that or if it’s an overall effort by the Mayor to clamp down on information,” Howell said.
Shaky start as mayor
Solomon’s first year in the mayor’s office — which began last May after former Mayor Scott Avedisian resigned to take the CEO position at Rhode Island Public Transit Authority — has been marked by turmoil, starting with the departure of several high-ranking city officials and continuing through an ongoing rift with the school department over its budget.
During that time, Solomon has often blamed Avedisian for the city’s fiscal woes — including a fire contract “side deal” that Avedisian says he didn’t sign and that resulted in a $2.6 million judgement against the city, and the reduction of the city’s surplus from a reported $25 million when Avedisian departed to under $15 million.
Solomon has also confirmed an FBI investigation and retained the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council to review the city’s books — both of which remain shrouded in secrecy — and used his State of the City address in March to lay out a case that puts the majority of the blame for Warwick’s current financial state on Avedisian, without addressing his own 20 years on the Warwick City Council.
Criticism of Solomon’s lack of access to the media isn’t limited to the local outlets — radio show host Dan Yorke recently called on Solomon to “buy a jock strap” and agree to an interview.
Solomon did not respond to requests for comment by the publication of this article.