The Uprising! April 5, 2019

“We’ve heard from residents that they want more clarity about how a transaction would have worked, and there also is a great deal of anxiety any time you talk about water, it being a natural resource, it being a public resource, that it be maintained in public hands.” – Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza And just like that, the idea of

Rhode Island News: The Uprising! April 5, 2019

April 5, 2019, 5:46 am

By Steve Ahlquist

“We’ve heard from residents that they want more clarity about how a transaction would have worked, and there also is a great deal of anxiety any time you talk about water, it being a natural resource, it being a public resource, that it be maintained in public hands.”

– Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza

And just like that, the idea of “monetizing” the Providence Water Supply is off the table. Meanwhile, the hearings to consider Invenergy‘s plans to build a fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant amidst the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island are on hiatus as the lawyers on both side prepare their final arguments. This means the biggest story I’m tracking right now is the Wyatt Detention Center, which recently made a deal to incarcerate ICE detainees. In reaction to this news, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and City Council President Maria Rivera announced that they were going to shut the Wyatt down.

Of course, this being Rhode Island, I’m sure there will be plenty of things happening to keep me busy…

1a. Protest

Lead by Central Falls City Council President Maria Rivera (at large) and City Councilors Jessica Vega (Ward 5), Jonathan Acosta (Ward 1) and Franklin Solano (Ward 4), around 150 people marched from Central Falls City Hall to Wyatt Detention Center last Saturday to demand the revocation of the contract with the United States Marshall Service to house United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees and the immediate closure of the facility.

The first goal of the City Council, said Council President Rivera, “is to make sure that the contract the City signed is not a valid contract and that we reverse that as soon as possible. We cannot allow them to continue detaining our immigrants that are being detained at the border right now…

Maria Rivera

“The second mission is to shut down the Wyatt!,” continued Rivera. “We are a community built by immigrants and we are hurting our own people. We need to shut them down! …

“None of us in the City were aware of the contract just signed in February. So regardless of what you here, I can reassure you over and over and over that we did not know that that was happening and if we knew that that was going to happen we would have stopped that and that contract would have never been signed….”

1b. Counter Protest

According to GoLocalProv:

Boston attorney Adrienne K Walker, who is representing the bondholders for the Wyatt Detention Center, is claiming that Central Falls officials — specifically Mayor James Diossa and City Attorney Matthew Jerzyk — have acted recklessly and put people at risk.

In the letter sent to Diossa and Jerzyk — with Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and others cc’d — Walker wrote, “Your actions to incite demonstrations at the Wyatt is reckless and directly threatens the safety of the detainees and the Corporation’s dedicated employees.

Walker charges that Diossa’s actions were intentional and put both staff and detainees at risk:

“Trustee takes no position with the Mayor, or any person, expressing their political views with respect to the federal government’s immigration practices. Rather, it is the Mayor’s intentional interference with the Corporation’s business operations and contractual relationships that raise significant legal issues and exposure for the Mayor, the City and State,” wrote Walker.

“Also, the protests led by the Mayor in front of the Wyatt on March 28th and again on March 30th, including protestors shouting ‘We see you!’ and ‘We are here for you!’ — inciting hundreds of detainees to react (the overwhelming majority of which are not ICE detainees) — negligently put the staff and detainees at the Wyatt at risk of danger and immediate harm,” wrote Walker.

Diossa and City officials had nothing to do with the first protest, which was organized by AMOR (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance) an immigration advocacy group. The second protest, as noted in item 1a above, was organized by members of the Central Falls City Council.

I asked Rivera what she thought about Walker’s charge that protests outside the Wyatt putting “the staff and detainees at the Wyatt at risk of danger and immediate harm.”

“I don’t think that’s true,” said Rivera. “That’s first amendment. We have every right to do that. And I know that the detainees in there were happy that people are advocating for them and that’s what matters to me.”

1c. APRA

Last week I sent Wyatt officials an Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request for the names of the detainees being held at the facility. This is basic information easily available to the public when it comes to inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) in Rhode Island. Rhode Island maintains an inmate search database, which makes it relatively easy to find out a host of details about those being incarcerated.

Instead of filling this request, Wyatt lawyered up. Attorney Kerry Walsh of Pannone, Lopes, Devereaux & O’Gara responded to my request by writing that the prisoner records were being denied to me on the grounds that the inmates maintain “a significant privacy interest and no cognizable interest has been identified that would be be advanced through disclosure.”

Further, the “request for information are also specifically denied pursuant to [Rhode Island General Laws] in that the request seeks information, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” wrote the lawyers. In my appeal to the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office, I made the following points:

  • While it is true that prisoners have privacy rights, the specifics as to a prisoners name, age, gender, country of origin, and specifics of why the prisoner is being detained are of significant interest to a public that wants to be informed about the actions of its government.
  • Rhode Island maintains an inmate search database, which makes it relatively easy to find out a host of details about those being incarcerated. There is no expectation of privacy or privacy interest of concern in this instance.
  • Concealing the names of the inmates at the Wyatt makes it almost impossible to research who is being detained, or to reach out with community aid and assistance. It makes it impossible to interview relatives and friends about the condition of the inmate’s imprisonment. It masks the process of the current administration’s immigration policy.
  • There is a corporate interest in keeping the identities of the detainees from the public. The for-profit prison industry wants to be understood as protecting the public from violent offenders, not ordinary people crossing a border in search of a better life. But the interests of the corporation cannot be placed higher than the interests of a public that needs to know who is being indefinitely detained in our country and why.
  • The Wyatt has a checkered history when it comes to detaining immigrants. Jason Ng was infamously killed while in detention, and though there are some new safeguards in place, the public has a right to know that these safeguards are working for specific individuals currently incarcerated. Without the identity of these individuals, the public cannot know.

You can see the letter I received and the contracts between the United States Marshall Service and the Wyatt Detention Center here.

1d. Visiting the Wyatt

On Wednesday Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and City Council President Maria Rivera visited the Wyatt Detention Center to check on the condition of the inmates. Diossa brought with him his Chief of Staff Joshua Giraldo, Immigration Attorney Deborah Gonzalez, community activist Natalie Lerner from AMOR, City Solicitor Matthew Jerzyk, Dr Jody Rich and Providence Journal reporter Kevin Andrade. All the names were added by the Mayor after Warden Martin had, in a letter, invited the Mayor to add additional people to the list of visitors.

Once inside, however, the invitation for additional visitors was revoked. Attorneys Matthew Lopes and Angelynne Cooper, both from the law firm of Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O’Gara (See item 1c above), were with Wyatt Warden Daniel Martin when the group of visitors arrived. At first the they tried to get Diossa alone, and out of the earshot of the reporters and other visitors, but in the end the reporters were left behind as Martin, Lopes and Cooper explained, behind closed doors, why only Diossa, Rivera and Giraldo would be allowed entry.

Lopes, Diossa, Cooper and Martin

The Mayor and Council President would not be allowed to interact with the prisoners, but would be able to see them and see their cells and living conditions.

I talked to Rivera after her tour of the facility:

“The detainees seemed like they were pretty relaxed,” said Rivera. “Sitting around, talking to each other, playing board games. We didn’t have access, couldn’t speak to them, so I don’t have details… They have 62 [detainees] right now. They had 133. I was told that the other ones have signed a waiver with their consulate to go back to their country.”

Rivera later said that the detainees all looked like minors. Since most have no documentation, the Warden told her that they accept the age given is accurate, and treat them as adults.

2019-04-03 Wyatt 03

1e. Central Falls City Council

On Wednesday evening the Central Falls City Council approved two new nominations to the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation (CFDFC) which brings the board to a full compliment of five. That same evening, the City Council revoked two resolutions passed by the City Council in 1991. These two resolutions were necessary under the Municipal Detention Facility Act, the state law that enabled the creation of the CFDFC and ultimately brought the Wyatt into being.

Rescinding these resolutions is the first step in shutting down the Wyatt.

At that meeting City Solicitor Matthew Jerzyk gave a rundown of the history of the Wyatt and it’s present insolvency.

After being elected Mayor, said Jerzyk, Diossa, “made three very high profile appointments” to be chair of the Wyatt Board in an “attempt to figure out why is the Wyatt owing over $100 million in debt, why is it not making payments to the City, [and] why is it not a healthy and vital partner with the City.”

All three appointees, said Jerzyk, reported back to the Mayor that the Wyatt is “insolvent, the debt is crushing the institution, and there is no viable way, in our judgement, that the institution can get out from underneath that crushing debt.”

1f. CFDFC Board meeting

On Friday night the Central Falls Detention Facility Corporation (CFDFC) meets to elect a new board chair and to consider the agreement between the United States Marshall Service and the Wyatt Detention Center that has brought ICE detainees to Central Falls.

That meeting is at 6pm at the Wyatt Detention Center Training Building, 935 High Street, Central Falls.

2. Water

Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza has reversed course on his plan to monetize the Providence Water Supply and has asked General Assembly sponsors of the Municipal Water Supply Systems Transaction Act to withdraw their bills in the House and Senate. This comes after the Mayor held three “community conversations” in an attempt to get Providence residents on board with the idea of leasing Providence Water to a private company and using the money to shore up the City’s ballooning pension obligation.

You can read about and watch the community conversations here, here and here.

“Putting Providence on solid financial footing has been a priority for my administration since day one,” said Elorza at a press conference in his office on Thursday, surrounded by state and city elected officials. “We’ve listened to community members and we want to ensure that we take our next steps together, as a city. While we have withdrawn our support of the proposed Municipal Water Supply Systems Transaction Act, we will continue to meet with residents to discuss the city’s financial challenges and to put forward new and different ideas to address them. We believe that doing nothing is not an option and we look forward to working together with the City Council, our state delegation, and our residents to find solutions to make our city stronger and more vibrant.”

Elorza is planning to continue the discussion around the pension crisis, looking for community input to solve the problem.

3. Invenergy

The hearings before the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) on Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine and irreplaceable forests of northwest Rhode Island are over. The last witness, Invenergy’s Director of Development John Niland, was cross-examined over the course of days, with a substantial part of his testimony behind closed doors, due to Invenergy’s claims that the information being discussed is proprietary in nature.

Final Briefs in this case are due to be presented to the EFSB on May 17 at 4pm. Briefs will be limited to 50 pages. The scheduling of the open meetings, where the three members of the EFSB will publicly discuss the case and vote on the licensing, will be made after the briefs are received.

This may all be over, more or less, by mid-summer, though both sides seemingly plan to appeal the ruling whichever way it falls. Note that the Rhode Island Supreme Court has yet to overturn a ruling by the EFSB. By the same token, the EFSB has never ruled against a power plant application.

4a. Reproductive Rights

While Rhode Island waits for action in the Senate to pass or dismiss the Reproductive Health Care Act (RHCA) (S0152A), which will codify the protections of Roe v Wade into Rhode Island State Law, activists on both sides of the issue continue to advocate at the State House.

Dr Leana Wen, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), visited the Rhode Island State House to help local advocates push for the Senate passage of the RHCA.

“In 2019, already more than 250 bills have been introduced across the country that directly restrict abortion access. With Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, the landscape for women is even more dire. States are a critical backstop to protecting the right to safe, legal abortion,” said Dr Wen. “It’s Rhode Island’s turn to stop politicians from directly interfering with medical practice and endangering women’s lives. We urge the Senate to stand with us and vote to protect women’s health and the health of families and communities.”


4b. Dominick Ruggerio

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (Democrat, District 4, Providence) told Rhode Island Public Radio‘s Ian Donnis that it’s “our intention as far as the committee process at this time, to put it out there for a vote.” Ruggerio added, “I would like to see that happen before June, but I just can’t say at this time point in time because we’re still working on the legislation.”

Some are worried about the legislation, which passed the House without amendments.

“Right now, some people, they’re sitting down discussing some of the issues, some of the specifics of the legislation,” Ruggerio said. “Some people are interested in proposing amendments. We haven’t seen them yet at this point in time, so we’re still in the discussion phase.”

4c. RIC School of Social Work

“I feel that women have the right to choose,” said Hollie, a student at Rhode Island College School of Social Work. “You have the right over your own body and just because your religious beliefs are one way doesn’t mean that others don’t have the right to choose, and I think that, from someone that is spiritual, I thin should have nothing to do with it. Yes, I may never make that choice in my personal life, but I believe that women have a right to make that choice.”

“I think it should be a choice,” said Tayla, also a student at Rhode Island College School of Social Work. “No one can tell me what to do with my body.”

Hollie and Tayla were two of about a dozen students who came to the State House on Thursday to advocate for the passage of the Reproductive Health Care Act. The students, who chanted and held signs, were immediately swarmed by those opposed to abortion rights, who chanted, sang and prayed at them.

In the video below you can see Senator Elaine Morgan (Republican, District 34, Exeter Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich) putting herself between the two sides, only to be escorted away by Senator Frank Lombardi (Democrat, District 26, Cranston). Both Senators are staunchly “pro-life.”

2019-04-04 Senate Chamber

Later, the students found themselves surrounded by anti-abortion activists in the main rotunda, encircled and being loudly prayed at. Once again Senator Morgan found her way into the fray.

2019-04-05 State House Rotunda

The woman with the “Pro-Gun Pro-Life” sign on her back also has a yellow pin with a gun on it that says, “My Body My Choice.” In the tweet below Wendy Becker mistakenly tweets out to former Representative Patricia Morgan rather than Senator Morgan at @Elaine4Senator.

5. Guns

The Rhode Island State Senate Judiciary Committee heard a slate of bills on guns Tuesday evening. The bills include preventing conceal carry permit holders from bringing their guns into schools, a ban on large capacity magazines, and a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons.

Senator Frank Lombardi (Democrat, District 26, Cranston) found himself in an argument with a gun advocate, despite Lombardi being a pro-gun Democrat himself.

“You guys are the criminals,” said the man to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Not us!”

“Sir,” said Lombardi, “Let me interrupt you, okay?”

“Yup, go ahead,” said the man.

“I’m going to tell you, truthfully, what this great project that we have called the United States of America…” began Lombardi.

“Yup,” said the man.

“…allows everybody to come in and debate. To debate with respect…”

“And I’m not being disrespectful,” interrupted the man.

“Don’t interrupt me, I didn’t interrupt you,” said Lombardi, who seconds earlier had said, “Let me interrupt you, okay?”

“But you did,” pointed out the man, correctly.

“No I didn’t,” said Lombardi.

“Yes you did,” said the man.

The two went back and forth, with Lombardi becoming very annoyed, saying “You’re not going to incite me. I’m not incite-able. But I’m going to tell you this: When you call somebody a criminal, that’s not protected speech.”

There was more back and forth between the two. “I’m already on your side on many of these issues,” said Lombardi.

2019-04-02 Gun Adovocate povokes Pro-Gun Senator

6. Republicans v Democrats

Say what you will about their politics, when it comes to democracy, the real democracy that governs their inner workings, the Rhode Island Republican Party owns the Rhode Island Democratic Party. I’m not sure, but I may be the only person to have attended both the Rhode Island Republican (RI GOP) State Central Committee elections and the the Rhode Island Democratic Party (RIDP) State Committee elections.

The differences were startling. The RIDP holds their votes for officers by roll call. The Secretary calls off each name and those attending announce their votes out loud, under the watchful, judging eyes of party leaders, movers and shakers. The RI GOP votes by secret ballot.

Secret ballots “are anonymous, forestalling attempts to influence the voter by intimidation, blackmailing, and potential vote buying,” Wikipedia notes. “Today, the practice of casting secret ballots is so commonplace that most voters would not consider that any other method might be used.”

Other differences include not filling vacant seats in the days before the election and allowing all candidates full access to the voter rolls. RIDP could learn a lot from the way the RI GOP runs their in house elections.

7. The Bartholomewtown Podcast

Three new interviews:

8. ConvergenceRI

Capturing the data on childhood obesity in RI: Racial, ethnic disparities dominate, with 35 percent of Rhode Island children overweight or obese by Richard Asinof

9. The College Hill Independent

10. Picture of the Week

Rhode Island College School of Social Work students surrounded at the State House

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