Truth can come in shades of gray.
Early Tuesday morning, GoLocalProv called to inquire whether it was true that Warwick Mayor Joseph J. Solomon had instructed municipal department directors to pull all legal advertising from this paper. Indeed, I had heard that from two sources about 10 days ago, but I had not been able to confirm it from personal inquiries with the mayor’s office last Friday or in response to a letter that was hand-delivered to the mayor’s office on Monday.
I should preface that over the last two months it has become increasingly difficult to get information out of City Hall. Some directors won’t comment on issues directly affecting their departments, instead referring questions to the mayor’s office – which, in some cases, asks that the questions be submitted via email. Responses can take days, if they are made at all. The standard response of late is that the mayor is working on the budget.
This is not to say that Mayor Solomon is totally inaccessible or that only the information the mayor’s office releases is available. When our paths cross at events outside City Hall, the mayor doesn’t dodge the media and answers questions.
There is also no question he faces a difficult task putting together a budget that is going to require an increase in taxes and a drawdown of city reserves.
So far, relating to the budget only, he has not given us his reaction to the dire financial picture painted by former Councilman Bob Cushman at a public meeting held by the newly formed group, the Warwick Financial Crisis Committee. We have not been provided a copy of the mediator’s agreement that settled the school deficit dispute with the reallocation of pension funds, and we had been unable to confirm the dates of hearings for the upcoming budget until yesterday.
These questions and others were noted in the Monday letter to the mayor. It also included the information that the Beacon’s legal advertising rate of $11 a column inch has not changed since 2006 and that it represents a 19 percent discount over the open rate.
That night, I saw Mayor Solomon at the inauguration mass for Father Robert Marciano as president of Bishop Hendricken High School. He acknowledged receipt of the letter, suggesting we have coffee. I said that would be good and left it at that.
When Josh Fenton, founder of GoLocalProv, called Tuesday, I could only say I had been told of the directive on legal advertising by sources, but had not confirmed it with the mayor. I asked, if he was going to run a story, that I have the chance to call the mayor’s office. He said he would get back to me mid-morning. I wondered if Fenton would be calling the mayor. From his report, I gather he didn’t.
I called the mayor’s office, but didn’t get through. I then left a message on the mayor’s cell, as well as that of one of his assistants, and sent an email to his chief of staff informing them that GoLocalProv was asking questions.
I heard back from the mayor’s assistants, who said he is looking for wider distribution of zoning and planning notices so as to show the vitality of Warwick developments. I was told the city would be using the Providence Journal.
When Fenton called back, he said he was running the story and it would be online that morning. I let the mayor’s office know and repeated questions about the budget.
After the GoLocalProv story broke, I received a call from the mayor. He said the “city had not pulled any advertising from the Beacon.” I did not ask if there was a directive not to use the Beacon.
We also talked about the budget, and he told me of his goal not to implement the maximum allowable 4-percent increase in the levy. He was not able to say at that time when public budget hearings would be held or whether he planned to use reserves to balance the budget. He said he was looking to provide funding for a firefighters’ contact, although they don’t have an agreement and it appears the city could be faced with an arbitrator’s ruling relative to the current budget that could further financially burden the city.
On Wednesday morning, I was informed by our production department that City Hall had called and requested an extension of our noon deadline in order to run a legal advertisement on the budget as required by ordinance. We extended the deadline, and the ad with the mayor’s spending plan and proposed tax rates appears in today’s Beacon.
Is this the end to the story? I can’t say.
But I can say that for Mayor Solomon to run a transparent administration, as he says he is doing, he and his directors must be accessible.